Al-Awlaki strike plan included jets, special ops

In this Nov. 8, 2010 file image taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites. A senior U.S. counterterrorism official says U.S. intelligence indicates that U.S.-bo
Anwar al-Awlaki, at left inset, speaks in a video message posted on radical websites.
AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group

WASHINGTON - U.S. military and intelligence forces have been tracking Anwar al-Awlaki for years. On Friday, they found him and killed him.

Awlaki, who apparently inspired the Fort Hood major who killed 13 service members and whose ties to al Qaeda may go back as far as the 9/11 hijackers, was tracked down leaving a funeral in Yemen and killed by a rocket fired from a U.S. drone aircraft.

Who was Anwar al-Awlaki?

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports the hunt for Awlaki was code-named "Objective Troy" and had been in high gear for months.

A CIA drone finally got him, but that was only the tip of a much larger military operation. Missiles fired by the drone took out Awlaki's vehicle. That made the American-born cleric the first U.S citizen to be targeted and killed as a terrorist.

A senior defense official said, "a very bad man just had a very bad day."

President Obama seemed to have no qualms about Awlaki's American roots. "Awlaki was the leader of external operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," Mr. Obama said after Friday's attack. "In that role, he took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans."

Obama: Awlaki death a "Major blow" to terror

Samir Khan, another American member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and two passengers were also killed. But Awlaki was the main target. He had narrowly escaped an earlier drone strike the week after the Bin Laden raid, and this time the U.S. was taking no chances.

His hideout in a remote Yemeni town was under continuous surveillance and the pattern of his daily routine monitored.

Harrier jets flying from an amphibious carrier off the coast were ready to take a shot if the CIA drone missed. There was even an option for sending in Marine Ospreys with Special Operations Forces to collect any intelligence left after the strike, but that was never used. It was all part of a secret buildup which has occurred in and around Yemen as that country emerged as home to one of al Qaeda's most active branches.

"This is further proof that al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world," Mr. Obama said.

Since the bin Laden raid last May, the U.S. has killed seven other senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Awlaki is number 8.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.