Americans start asking about Predators in Pakistan

March 27, 2008

A story in the Washington Post “U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan has attracted attention worldwide. It says the United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that Pakistan’s new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations there. 

File photo of Predator drone“Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives,” it says. “The moves followed a tacit understanding with (President Pervez) Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.”

Stories of missile attacks by unmanned CIA-operated Predator drones in Pakistan are not new, and nor indeed is Pakistani anger at what it sees as a violation of its sovereignty. In early February I highlighted a story by the Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai in The News saying that the American policy of hitting targets inside Pakistan had now become “the norm than the exception”. Neither U.S. nor Pakistani authorities officially confirm U.S. missile attacks on Pakistani territory.

What is new is the amount of attention the missile attacks are now gaining, particularly in the United States.  It’s worth reading the comments on the Washington Post article – 161 of them when I last looked — to see how many people are learning about them for the first time.

Senator Barack Obama/Ellen OzierSome comments give credit to Senator Barack Obama for suggesting targeted attacks on Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan — an idea he repeated this month, as I noted in a previous entry on this subject. As far as I know, the Predator attacks — including one in Bajaur Agency in January 2006 that was reported to have killed up to 18 people, including women and children — started before Obama suggested the idea. But he does seem to have got people talking about them.

So here is the question. If the American public is now waking up to the notion that the United States is launching missile attacks in Pakistan, will that affect U.S. policy? Will it become a U.S. election issue? And what does it mean for Pakistan and its new government?

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