America’s escalating “Predator war” in Pakistan
In the dying days of the Bush administration, the United States military has stepped up missile strikes by remotely piloted Predator aircraft against militants in the mountains of Pakistan.
The raids have become deeper – as much as 25 miles into Pakistani territory – and more targeted like the latest one in a compound in South Waziristan where militants had gathered to mourn the victims of a previous strike two days before.
The U.S. has launched 18 Predator attacks since the beginning of August. compared with five strikes during the first seven months of 2008, the New York Times reported . It said that the White House was relying on air strikes after a ground operation by U.S. Special Forces triggered a furious reaction from the Pakistani government.
But arguably, the drones armed with deadly missiles can cause more destruction than any ground operation. Pakistan’s The News, citing Interior Ministry figures, says 355 people have been killed and 248 wounded in cross-border strikes, Predator and ground attacks carried out by Afghan-based American forces in Pakistan so far this year.
The News said the figures compiled by the Interior Ministry “show 301 of the 355 people killed by the American aerial attacks were innocent civilians, 36 were alleged militants belonging to al-Qaeda and the Taliban while the remaining 18 were Pakistani security personnel.”
Those figures will no doubt be contested and especially the allegation that most of the U.S. cross-border operations, based on faulty local intelligence, had gone wrong.
But regardless of the truth of those figures, given that there was only one known ground operation, the Predator would account for a significant share of those “kills”.
And it comes without risking any American life. This is an operation that the U.S. Central Command could actually run from its headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
The Predator carries Hellfire missiles and the pilot could be back in the United States studying the landscape through the eye in the plane that relays video to anywhere in the world that the military chooses, and often to several places at once. Before the enemy even gets to know he is under surveillance, the missiles have struck.
But can Islamabad really do anything more about it, or for that matter anyone else as the operation in Syria demonstrated, in the face of U.S. determination to cross borders in pursuit of its enemies?
The News’ well-respected editor Rahimullah Yusufzai said in a piece that government officials privately argue that the Pakistani Air Force’s F-16 fighters (ironically supplied by the United States) were capable of shooting down the drones flying at altitudes of 18,000 to 20,000 feet while those flying lower could be targeted by ground artillery.
But officials say that any such attack on U.S. planes entering Pakistani could affect relations and so a policy has evolved under which Islamabad is ignoring the air strikes (hoping doubtless they don’t cause civilian casualties), while opposing ground incursions.