By Debbie Gregory.
The CIA and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces have launched a secret drone program designed to hunt down and kill high-value members of the Islamic State (IS).
Among those recently killed was 21 year old Junaid Hussain, a British militant thought to be an architect of the terrorist group’s effort to use social media to incite attacks in the United States. Hussain moved up in the “target list” after his name was linked to one of the two gunmen who opened fire at the Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland in Texas earlier this year.
The collaboration represents a significant escalation of the CIA’s involvement in the war in Syria, enlisting the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) against a militant group that many officials believe has eclipsed al-Qaeda as a threat.
The CTC has been given an expanded role in identifying and locating senior IS figures, with the strikes being carried out exclusively by JSOC. The officials said the program is aimed at terrorism suspects deemed “high-value targets.”
The program is a move away from the president’s stated ambition to end the CIA’s involvement in drone strikes and return the agency to its traditional spy role.
The decision to enlist the CIA and JSOC reflects rising anxiety among U.S. counterterrorism officials about the danger the Islamic State poses, as well as frustration with the failure of conventional strikes to degrade the group’s strength. President Barack Obama’s goal is to “degrade” and “destroy” the jihadist movement, as it continues to control large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
IS poses different challenges, because unlike al-Qaeda, IS has extensive territory, a seemingly endless stream of recruits, and a deep roster of senior operatives, many of whom served in the military of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.