Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

While Pakistan deals with floods, U.S. turns up the heat in northwest

September 12, 2010


While Pakistan’s devastating floods may have set back the army’s campaign against militants, the US drone war in the northwest is unabated. Indeed America may have just stepped up the deadly attacks, if the first 12 days of this month are any indication. At least nine attacks have already been carried out in what may well turn out to the most active month since the U.S. military began drone strikes against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan in 2004. On Sunday there was a fresh air strike in North Waziristan in which five suspected militants were killed, intelligence officials said.

The most active month recorded so far was January 2010, with the US launching 11 strikes in Pakistan in the aftermath of the suicide attack on a US combat outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer, according to the Long War Journal which tracks the drone campaign.

 Is there a pattern to this ? Is America stepping into the breach caused by the floods which have forced Pakistan’s attention away from the battle against extremists ? And there seems to be a particular target. Five of the last eight strikes have taken place in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan including Sunday’s attack. The area is a hub of the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban commander for North Waziristan, administers the region which is also home to some central Asian jihadi groups. The most successful strike was in May when a missile struck Mustafa Abu Yazid, who was al Qaeda’s top leader in Afghanistan and its chief financial officer.

 To be sure the drone war had escalated even before the floods struck. Already this year the U.S. has carried out 63 attacks inside Pakistan, more than last year’s total of 53. Most of these attacks have taken place in North Waziristan where the U.S. has been urging Pakistan to launch a ground offensive against the militants. That hasn’t happened yet in part because the Pakistan miltary said it wanted to consolidate the gains made in South Waziristan following the offensive there. It also said it didn’t have the resources immediately to launch a large-scale assault. Now with the army involved in the desperate struggle to bring the country back on its feet following the floods, that offensive seems even more distant. Even in military terms, if a ground offensive has to be launched, some of the infrastructure such as roads and bridges washed away in the floods needs to be rebuilt first.

 The U.S. air war, though, suffers from no such limitations.

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