Obama's drone policy dilemma

Screengrab of Abu Yahya al-Libi, file image 25 March 2007
Pakistani officials say two missiles from unmanned aircraft killed 15 people

They came to bury senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, not praise him.

But American officials are so keen to trumpet their latest drone kill that it sounds like they are about to offer him a job rather than announce they have killed a bitter enemy.

They say he was "experienced", "versatile", played a "critical role" as a "longstanding member of the leadership" who had "gravitas" and "religious credentials".

Rather like some official announcement of the retirement of a colleague, they continue: "[Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-]Zawahiri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya's shoes."

"There is no-one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise AQ has just lost," they add.

This rather strange, gushing testimonial to a terrorist is all part of the Obama administration's new-found enthusiasm to open up about their drone wars.

Indeed, it is part of their hard sell of a new way of warfare, which they believe has clear political advantages for President Barack Obama.

From their point of view, they have achieved a key military objective with no cost to American lives - and so no domestic political toll.

This was a successful operation, but even failures do not impose a heavy price within the US.

As one expert put it to me: "When a drone goes missing, no mothers weep."

But it is not true that there is no cost.

Pakistan has told the US that drones strikes must stop, they are a red line for the country, and are both against international law and a breach of national sovereignty.

For more on this subject, read my piece on President Obama's drone policy.