Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
America seeking revenge in Pakistan for CIA raid ?
The United States has carried out the most intensive series of unmanned ”Predator” drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal areas since the covert war began, following December’s deadly raid on a CIA base just over the border in Afghanistan. Pakistani newspapers citing interior ministry data, say there were 12 missile strikes in January fired by the unmanned Predator and Reaper planes, the highest for any single month. The highest number of attacks in a month stood at six previously, which was in December 2009. There were just two strikes in January 2009, reflecting the surge in the drone campaign to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban since the Obama administration took over last year.
The strikes began a day after the attack on the CIA base in Khost in eastern Afghanistan in which seven Americans were killed when a Jordanian suicide bomber linked to both al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban detonated his explosives inside the base. Since then the drones have been in South and North Waziristan targeting the head of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban) Hakimullah Mehsud, who according to some reports may have been killed in a Jan.14 strike.
“The consequent increase in US strikes, first in North Waziristan and then South Waziristan, specifically targeting the fugitive TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud clearly shows that revenge is the major motive for these attacks. The US intelligence sleuths stationed in Afghanistan are convinced the Khost suicide attack was planned in Waziristan with the help of the TTP. Therefore, it is believed Afghanistan-based American drones will continue to hunt the most wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, especially Hakimullah, with a view to avenge the loss of the seven CIA agents and to raise morale of its forces in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s The News, which has compiled details of each strike, writes.
The Khost attack cost the CIA dearly, taking the lives of the most experienced analysts of Al Qaeda whose intelligence helped guide the drone attacks inside Pakistan since the campaign began in earnest in the summer of 2008. “For the C.I.A., there is certainly an element of wanting to show that they can hit back,” said Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal which tracks the drone campaign in Pakistan, told the New York Times. The agency, which took its second biggest lost in history in Khost, has responded with a furious burst of strikes.
According to that same Times report, soon after the Khost raid, a senior U.S. intelligence official said there would be a price to pay. “Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day,” he was quoted as saying.
But according to The News an overwhelming number of people killed in the attacks last month were civilians. Others such as Geo TV have said the attacks killed militants. What is interesting is that there are no longer mass protests against these attacks. Is it because people have reconciled to them ? Or is it that Pakistan’s political-security establishment is more favourably inclined to them, now that the United States is targeting the Pakistani Taliban with as much fury ?
In fact, if there is opposition to the U.S. policy of targeted killings in Pakistan, it is coming from home. This month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for government documents revealing procedures for approving targets and legal justifications for the killings. It goes back to the original question. Does the United States have the legal authority to fire missile from unmanned aircraft into Pakistan, a friendly country ?
“The American public has a right to know whether the drone program is consistent with international law, and that all efforts are made to minimize the loss of innocent lives,” said Jonathan Manes, a legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. “The Obama administration has reportedly expanded the drone program, but it has not explained publicly what the legal basis for the program is, what limitations it recognizes on the use of drones outside active theaters of war and what the civilian casualty toll has been thus far.
The New America Foundation released a report last year on the impact of the drone campaign and its collateral damage . While arguing that most drone critics overstate civilian casualties, it still found that one in every three Pakistanis killed by the drones is a civilian, not a combatant.
And if civilian casualties cannot be avoided in a remote area where intelligence can hardly be perfect, then does it really work ? You could argue that the more the programme succeeds the more it fails. An increase in attacks only makes more people angrier, not just the militants but also those opposed to a sustained violation of national sovereignty, as John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School says here.