Drone Strikes in Pakistan Ramp Up Despite Skepticism

War-watchers want to know why Obama is increasing the unpopular program

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The CIA's controversial program of using missile strikes from unmanned aerial vehicles to find and kill terrorists in Pakistan is getting an upgrade. The White House has asked the CIA to expand its program, to coincide with the 30,000 additional U.S. troops that will go to Afghanistan. However, the use of drone strikes in Pakistan has drawn sharp criticism there and in the U.S. Critics worry that the program kills too many civilians, antagonizes an increasingly anti-American population, and strains the already tense diplomatic relationship with Pakistan. That President Obama has boosted the program despite this has inflamed critics and renewed fears that drones are doing more harm than good.

  • Inflames Militants  The Majlis's Gregg Carlstrom worries, "[E]ven if drone strikes might be successful at decapitating the Taliban leadership, this is the kind of reductive thinking that leads to tactical successes and strategic failures. A drone campaign in Baluchistan would be another huge infringement upon Pakistani sovereignty; it would inevitably kill civilians and stoke anti-American anger in Pakistan. It also risks linking Baluchistan's nationalist movement, a purely local grievance, with the U.S. war on terror. That's not an outcome U.S. policymakers want."
  • What About Afghan Drones?  Wired's David Hambling wonders about a new stealth drone, "the Beast of Kandahar," spotted in Afghanistan. "Why use such a fancy, stealthy aircraft in Afghanistan? The Taliban have neither the radar to spot the plane, nor the weaponry to shoot it down." Hambling asks why a stealth drone would be used against a Taliban army with no radar, concluding that it isn't. "There has of course been plenty of speculation. Much of it is focused on the idea that while it is based in Kandahar, the Beast may be carrying out missions outside of Afghanistan, with Iran and Pakistan both being possible candidates. For both of those radar stealth could be an important asset, and the beast may be carrying out signals-intercept or other tasks (looking for traces of nuclear material?)."
  • Drones and Raids in Taliban's Back Yard  Afghanistan military advisor Seth Jones writes in the New York Times, "The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan [a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan]. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces." He explains, "The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. [...] The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas."
  • One Third Killed Are Civilian  Foreign Policy's Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedeman caution that about a third of those killed by drones are civilians, not militants. "Our own data shows that if we consider just the period from 2008 until the present, the average civilian fatality rate is between 35 and 40 percent; far more than the five percent claimed by the government official." Their study reports overall, "Based on our count of the estimated number of militants killed, the real total of civilian deaths since 2006 appears to be in the range of 250 to 320, or between 31 and 33 percent."
  • It's About Containment  Spencer Ackerman concludes from an NPR interview with CENTCOM chief General David Petraeus, "Because this sounds very much like Petraeus acknowledging that the U.S. cannot and will not kill every last al-Qaeda operative. What it can do, along with its Pakistani partners — and can’t do without them — is degrade al-Qaeda-central’s safe haven and harass it militarily when possible, so that it can’t export the extremism that senior officials continue to see emanating from the region. There’s a word for that: containment."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.