ABC Nightline poll: Should US increase drone attacks 'even at the cost of significant collateral damage'?

Ever since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, critics have suggested that reports of deaths of key al Qaeda figures have been -- as Mark Twain might put it -- "greatly exaggerated."

Many times, terrorists reported killed -- usually by Predator strike, but hardly ever acknowledged -- by Pakistani or US administration or Pentagon officials on and off the record later show up in videos "back from the dead."

Tuesday's Washington Post reports, "Al-Qaeda's third-ranking operative, an Egyptian who was a founding member of the terrorist network and a key conduit to Osama bin Laden, has been killed in Pakistan, according to a statement Monday from al-Qaeda that U.S. intelligence officials believe is accurate."

The article, written by Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock, continues, "A U.S. official said there is "strong reason" to believe that Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, known as Sheik Saeed al-Masri, apparently was killed by a CIA drone strike in Pakistan's tribal belt within the past two weeks."

Previous reports of Yazid's death proved unfounded. Some Pakistani military officials said he was killed in August 2008 in the Bajaur tribal area. Fourteen months later, Pakistani media reported he was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan. Not long after, Yazid appeared in videos posted on the Internet by al-Qaeda.

One senior Pakistani official sounded a note of caution, saying: "There have been so many wrong calls, bad calls, on him before, we're not confirming it now."

But the U.S. official said of the latest report: "In terms of level of confidence, it's very high."

Monday night, ABC News reported, "US officials tell ABC News that al Qaeda’s No. 3 -- Mustafa Ahmed Muhammad Uthman Abu al-Yazid, known as Shaikh Sa’id al-Masri and Mustafa Abu al-Yazid – has been killed. Al Qaeda released a eulogy of Shaikh Sa’id tonight, officials said."

"Word is spreading in extremist circles of the death of Sheikh Sa'id al-Masri, widely viewed as the number three figure in al-Qaeda,” a US official told ABC News. “We have strong reason to believe that's true, and that al-Masri was killed recently in Pakistan's tribal areas. In terms of counterterrorism, this would be a big victory.”

Interestingly, the Washington Post article suggests that Qaeda statements often turn out to be more "reliable" that what officials say.

Although many of the network's members have been incorrectly reported dead in the past by U.S. and Pakistani officials, al-Qaeda's official announcements regarding the "martyrdom" of its senior leaders have been highly reliable.

An AP article from Tuesday morning notes, "A statement posted on an al-Qaida Website said al-Yazid, which it described as the organization's top commander in Afghanistan, was killed along with his wife, three daughters, a grandchild and other men, women and children but did not say how or where."

"Al-Yazid has been reported killed before, in 2008, but this is the first time his death has been acknowledged by the militant group on the Internet," the AP article added.

The latest Associated Press article adds, "Two Pakistani intelligence officials are offering more details on the apparent death of the third-ranking al-Qaida figure."

They say Mustafa al-Yazid died in a U.S. missile strike on May 21 in the North Waziristan (vah-ZEER'-ih-stahn) tribal area.

The intelligence officials say they received word of al-Yazid's death last week and confirmed it by speaking with local tribal elders and Taliban members. But they said the sources hadn't seen al-Yazid's body and didn't know where he was buried.

At ABC News, after reporting that al-Yazid "was trumped in rank only by Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri," a Nightline poll asks, "Is this further evidence that we should increase the use of drones in the war on al Qaeda's leadership? Even at the cost of significant collateral damage?"