Ilyas Kashmiri's (likely) death: A bigger deal than bin Laden's?

U.S. officials are nearly sure a drone strike killed one of Pakistan's most-wanted jihadists. Just how badly would this cripple terrorists?

Lead global terrorist and "high value target," Ilyas Kashmiri, pictured in 2001, was likely killed Friday by a drone attack in Pakistan.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Mian Kursheed )

A U.S. drone likely killed Pakistani-born terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri on Friday. (His al Qaeda-afiliated group, Harkat Jihad al-Islami, has confirmed Kashmiri's "martyrdom," but U.S. officials still haven't verified the death.) His demise would end the long career of a militant who appeared near the top of most-wanted lists in the U.S., Pakistan, and India — someone who was busily planning big attacks, including, reportedly, the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, while Osama bin Laden was holed up in his compound. Does that make Kashmiri's death a bigger deal than bin Laden's?

Kashmiri's death will have a bigger impact: It's hard to overstate what a "huge success" this is, if true, says Robert Chesney at Lawfare. Kashmiri's death might well "have a greater short-term operational significance than the far-more-widely noted killing" of bin Laden. And since Pakistan is obviously happy to see Kashmiri killed, this strike might even soothe ruffled feathers in Pakistan over the bin Laden raid.

"The (possible) death of Ilyas Kashmiri and its impact..."

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Get real. Bin Laden's demise was more important: Killing Kashmiri would be "another serious blow against al Qaeda," says Adam Roberts in The Economist. But how big? "Kashmiri's actual importance at the time of his death... may never be known." Since he was South Asian, not Arab, his rise through al Qaeda's ranks was probably limited. Also, Kashmiri's death didn't yield any intelligence; bin Laden's did — possibly including the info we needed to find Kashmiri in the first place.

"Droning on"

The U.S. better hope it didn't miss: "Kashmiri is al Qaeda's top Pakistani operative," and his death would definitely be considered a serious setback, says Bruce Riedel at The Daily Beast. But remember, "this is not the first time Kashmiri has been reported killed by a drone attack." If he survived this strike, as he did in 2009, "it will only add to his credentials," just as bin Laden's stature grew after he evaded a 1998 missile strike. So we either killed Kashmiri, or made him a legend.

"Al Qaeda's latest loss"

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