SALEH AL-SOMALI…. Late Thursday, NBC News reported that U.S. forces had killed a “high-ranking” al Qaeda “figure” in northwest Pakistan. Officials who confirmed the attack emphasized that it was not Osama bin Laden, but offered little else in the way of details.

We’ve since learned more about what transpired, and why it matters.

The senior al Qaeda operative killed in a drone strike in Pakistan earlier this week was Saleh al-Somali, a major operations planner for the terrorist group, ABC News has learned. […]

Al-Somali was believed killed in a drone strike Tuesday that likely was part of the CIA’s continuing program that uses armed Predator drones to target al Qaeda terrorists operating along the lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan that border Afghanistan. […]

According to the U.S. official, Saleh al-Somali was responsible for al Qaeda’s operations outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and formed part of al Qaeda’s senior leadership circle. He is also said to have had “connections with other Pakistan-based extremists.”

Al-Somali was engaged in plotting terrorist acts around the world and “given his central role, this probably included plotting attacks against the United States and Europe,” the official said.

Al-Somali took operations guidance from senior al Qaeda leaders and “translated it into operational blueprints for prospective terrorist attacks,” the official added.

If the reports are accurate, the strike is the first top al Qaeda leader to be killed by U.S. forces in almost a year, though it comes on the heels of successful strikes against Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the ringleader of a Qaeda cell in Kenya and one of the most wanted Islamic militants in Africa, and Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s enemy No.1 and the leader of its Taliban movement.

Developments like these remind me of how odd the far-right criticisms of the Obama administration have been. Rudy Giuliani recently whined that the White House “is getting away from the fact that we’re at war with these terrorists.” A Republican cheerleader called James Taranto, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, recently argued that President Obama prefers a “see-no-evil approach” to national security, and has decided not to “worry so much about terrorism.”

Fortunately, the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Indeed, if the counter-terrorism successes of 2009 had occurred in 2008, can there be any doubt that the White House would be releasing photos of Dick Cheney and Bill Kristol chest-bumping each other on the South Lawn?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.