The United States government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004 using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by the American Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. These strikes were begun by President George W. Bush and have increased substantially under President Barack Obama. Some media refer to the series of attacks as a “drone war”.
Estimates of those killed in strikes between 2004 and early 2013 range from around 2000 to around 3000; estimates of the proportion of civilian deaths vary dramatically. US Statements and View Point: George W. Bush vastly accelerated the drone strikes during the final year of his presidency. A list of the high-ranking victims of the drones was provided to Pakistan in 2009. Obama has broadened these attacks to include targets seeking to destabilize Pakistani civilian government and the attacks of 14 and 16 February 2009 were against training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud.
On 25 February 2009 Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, indicated the strikes will continue. On 4 March 2009 The Washington Times reported that the drones were targeting Baitullah Mehsud. Obama was reported in March 2009 as considering expanding these strikes to include Balochistan. On 25 March 2010 US State Department legal advisor Harold Koh stated that the drone strikes were legal because of the right to self-defense. According to Koh, the US is involved in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and
their affiliates and therefore may use force consistent with self-defense under international law. Former CIA officials state that the agency uses a careful screening process in making decisions on which individuals to kill via drone strikes. The process, carried out at the agency’s counterterrorist center, involves up to 10 lawyers who write briefs justifying the targeting of specific individuals. According to the former officials, if the briefs’ arguments are weak, the request to target the individual is denied.
Since 2008 the CIA has relied less on its list of individuals and increasingly targeted “signatures,” or suspect behavior. This change in tactics has resulted in fewer deaths of high-value targets and in more deaths of lower-level fighters, or “mere foot soldiers” as the one senior Pakistani official told the Washington Post. “Signature” targeting has been the source of controversy. Drone critics make the claim that regular citizen behaviors can easily be mistaken for militant signatures. US officials stated in March 2009 that the Predator strikes had killed nine of al Qaeda’s 20 top commanders.
The officials added that many top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, as a result of the strikes, had fled to Quetta or even further to Karachi. Some US politicians and academics have condemned the drone strikes. US Congressman Dennis Kucinich asserted that the United States was violating international law by carrying out strikes against a country that never attacked the United States. Georgetown University professor Gary D. Solis asserts that since the drone operators at the CIA are civilians directly engaged in armed conflict, this makes them “unlawful combatants” and possibly subject to prosecution.
US military reports asserted that al Qaeda is being slowly but systematically routed because of these attacks, and that they have served to sow the seeds of uncertainty and discord among their ranks. They also claimed that the drone attacks have addled and confused the Taliban, and have led them to turn against each other. In July 2009 it was reported that (according to US officials)Osama Bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden was believed to have been killed in a drone attack earlier in the year.
During a protest against drone attacks, in an event sponsored by Nevada Desert Experience, Father Louie Vitale, Kathy Kelly, Stephen Kelly, SJ, Eve Tetaz, John Dear, and others were arrested outside Creech Air Force Base on Wednesday 9 April 2009. In May 2009 it was reported that the USA was sharing drone intelligence with Pakistan. Leon Panetta reiterated on 19 May 2009 that the US intended to continue the drone attacks. In December 2009 expansion of the drone attacks was authorized by President Barack Obama to parallel the decision to send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.
Senior US officials are reportedly pushing for extending the strikes into Quetta in Balochistan against the Quetta Shura. Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad on 7 January 2010 Senators John McCainand Joe Lieberman stated the drone attacks were effective and would continue but stated that US would make greater efforts to prevent collateral damage. In an effort to strengthen trust with Pakistan ‘US sharing drone surveillance data with Pakistan, says Mike Mullen ‘ US defence budget for 2011 asked for a 75% increase in funds to enhance the drone operations.
Compare Mr. Obama’s use of drone strikes with that of his predecessor. During the Bush administration, there was an American drone attack in Pakistan every 43 days; during the first two years of the Obama administration, there was a drone strike there every four days. —Peter Bergen, April 2012 The Associated Press (AP) noted that Barack Obama apparently expanded the scope and increased the aggressiveness of the drone campaign against militants in Pakistan after taking office.
According to the news agency, the US increased strikes against the Pakistani Taliban, which earned favor from the Pakistani government, resulting in increased cooperation from Pakistani intelligence services. Also, the Obama administration toned down the US government’s public rhetoric against Islamic terrorism, garnering better cooperation from other Islamic governments. Furthermore, with the drawdown of the war in Iraq, more drones, support personnel, and intelligence assets became available for the campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Since Obama took office, according to the AP, the number of drones operated by the CIA over Afghanistan and Pakistan doubled. According to some current and former counterterrorism officials, the Obama administration’s increase in the use of drone strikes is an unintended consequence of the president’s executive orders banning secret CIA detention centers and his attempt to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and capturing prisoners has become a “less viable option”. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia alleged that, “Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value
targets… They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing. ” Mr. Obama’s aides argued that it is often impossible to capture targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen, and that other targets are in foreign custody thanks to American tips. Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, said that, “The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U. S. persons’ lives,” and continued, “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die.
And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things. ” In response to the concerns about the number of killings, Jeh C. Johnson stated, “We have to be vigilant to avoid a no-quarter, or take-no-prisoners policy. ” A study called ‘The Year of the Drone” published in February 2010 by the New America Foundation found that from a total of 114 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and early 2010, approximately between 834 and 1,216 individuals had been killed.
About two thirds of whom were thought to be militants and one third were civilians. On 28 April 2011, President Barack Obama appointed General David Petraeus as director of the CIA overseeing the drone attacks. According to Pakistani and American officials this could further inflame relations between the two nations. According to the Washington Post, as of September 2011, around 30 Predator and Reaper drones were operating under CIA direction in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area of operations. The drones are flown by United States Air Force pilots located at an unnamed base in the United States.
US Department of Defense armed drones, which also sometimes take part in strikes on terrorist targets, are flown by US Air Force pilots located at Creech Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base. The CIA drones are operated by an office called the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department, which operates under the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), based at CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. As of September 2011, the CTC had about 2,000 people on staff. US President Obama admitted on 30 January 2012 that the US was conducting drone strikes in Pakistan. He stressed that civilian casualties in the strikes were low.
In a February 2012 poll of 1,000 US adults, 83% of them (77% of the liberal Democrats) replied they support the drone strikes. The Obama administration offered its first extensive explanation on drone-strike policy in April 2012, concluding that it was “legal, ethical, and wise”. The CIA’s general counsel, Stephen Preston, in a speech entitled “CIA and the Rule of Law” at Harvard Law School on 10 April 2012, claimed the agency was not bound by the laws of war; in response, Human Rights Watch called for the strike program to be brought under the control of the US military.
In May, the US began stepping up drone attacks after talks at the NATO summit in Chicago did not lead to the progress it desired regarding Pakistan’s continued closure of its Afghan borders to the alliance’s supply convoys. In 2013, the sustained and growing criticism of his drone policy forced Obama to announce stricter conditions on executing drone strikes abroad, including an unspoken plan to partly shift the program from the CIA to the ostensibly more accountable Pentagon, In anticipation of his speech, Obama instructed Attorney General Eric Holder to divulge that four U. S.
citizens had been killed by drones since 2009, and that only one of those men had been intentionally targeted. Following Obama’s announcement, the United Nations’ drone investigator, British lawyer Ben Emmerson, made clear his expectation of a “significant reduction” in the number of strikes over the 18 months to follow, although the period immediately after Obama’s speech was “business as usual”. At Senator Dianne Feinstein’s insistence, beginning in early 2010 staffs of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have begun reviewing each CIA drone strike.
The staff members hold monthly meetings with CIA personnel involved with the drone campaign, review videos of each strike, and attempt to confirm that the strike was executed properly. One of the leading critics of drones in the US Congress is Republican senator Rand Paul. In 2013, he performed a thirteen-hour filibuster to try and achieve a public admission from President Obama that he could not kill an American citizen with a drone on American soil, who was not actively engaged in combat.
Attorney General Eric Holder responded soon after, confirming that the president had no authority to use drones for this purpose. Paul is now currently seeking further answers as to why the Obama administration is killing non-combatants in other countries. The US’ Policy of Targeted Killings by Drones Background The drones have been used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now in Pakistan, it is a regular part of its counterterrorism strategy to kill, rather than capture, suspects accused of taking part in terrorist activities.
Professor Gary Solis of Georgetown University argues that “In our current armed conflicts, there are two drone offensives. One is conducted by our armed forces in war theaters, and the other in Pakistan by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Drones are remotely operated by CIA headquarters from Langley, West Virginia, USA or from its bases in Host, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two programmers may not be as clearly separated as Professor Solis suggests, because many facts about the use of drones are classified, making it difficult to get a full and accurate picture.
However, the use of drones is part of “responsibility of US to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks”. The US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq has not been questioned because the US was at war with these states and still has military presence there, but drones strikes in Pakistan have raised questions. However, this is not the first time that the US has used unmanned drones for targeted killing in a country not at war with the US.
The first such state was Yemen. In 2002, a suspected al-Qaeda operative Qaed Salim Sinanal-Harethi, who was allegedly involved in killing 17 US sailors in USS Cole case, was killed in a drone attack while traveling in a car with six other companions. “Administration officials, intelligence operatives and military analysts, frustrated with the slow, torturous pace of locating and capturing individual terrorists in lawless areas of countries such as Yemen praised the CIA strikes as an “innovative way” to get the job done”.
Legal justifications were offered in the light of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The USclaimed that al-Qaeda had been at war with the US since September 11, 2001. Al Harethi was therefore a legitimate military target and the US had acted in its right of self defense. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice defended the US position by saying that killing was “well within the bounds of accepted practice”. The US also tried to kill Saddam Hussein by drones in the beginning of Iraq war but without success.
So the present policy is continuation of the approach adopted by President Bush, and President Clinton. However, it will be hard to predict the future use of drones by the US since now other states, including Pakistan, Russia, Georgia, Brazil, China, Iran, Israel, and non-state actors like Hamas, and most recently a gang of Taiwan thieves, are also acquiring the drone technology. Drone Attacks in Pakistan Strategic Logic “The Predator and Hellfire missile were identified early on by candidate Obama as the weapons of the future, as the US gradually seeks to ratchet down its full-on, overt wars”.
The Obama Administration unambiguously believes in the strategic advantages of the drone policy because it offers them “best hope for regional stability and success in dealing with al-Qaeda and ‘incorrigible’ Taliban”. It is based upon the premise that failed or near failed states, allegedly like Pakistan; do not have the capacity or willingness to deal with terrorists who are a threat to the US interests, its people and soldiers. This incompetency of such states confers more authority on the US to takenecessary steps, like drone attacks, to neutralize these threats.
The policy is domestically saleable because it does not endanger lives of the troops on the ground. Reliance on the technology is an attractive idea to target terrorists and to win the war without proclaiming a new war in Pakistan after Afghanistan and Iraq . In a public speech, on March 25, 2010, Harold Hong ju Koh, legal advisor to State Department, couched the above strategy in more elaborated manner and reiterated that the US should aggressively pursue this policy of drone attacks because it is in a continuous war against non-state actors like al-Qaeda, Taliban and their affiliates.
His speech was full of rhetoric of respect for international law, legal norms and human rights concerns. The policy echoes the opinion expressed by eminent professor Kenneth Anderson on the subject in May, 2009. For the last eight years there has been no legal justification offered by the US for the drone attacks. The effectiveness and success of drone attacks was considered to be the answer to all objections. In the following section an analysis of these claims is presented. Drones: Claims and Counterclaims; the US’ Point of View Frequency of Attacks
The US has been using drones to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan since 2004. “The numbers show a sharp upsurge in operations against al-Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan since Barack Obama took office”. “According to the US official, there were 55 Predator drone strikes last year in the Pakistani tribal areas. That’s nearly double the peak level during the Bush years, which reached the mid-30s in 2008. If that rate continues, the total number of attacks this year could roughly double again, to more than 100”, claims David Ignatius.
He adds that “since the beginning of 2009, the drone attacks have killed “several hundred” named militants from al-Qaeda and its allies, more than in all previous years combined. On a typical day, there are roughly a half-dozen Predators in the air over the tribal areas of western Pakistan, looking for targets, sources say”. According to one estimate there were 120 drone attacks still December 2, 2010. However, there are different claims and counterclaims about the number of strikes and body counts as given below.
Accuracy and Effectiveness in Eliminating top al-Qaeda Leadership Harold Koh and CIA Chief Leon Panetta are of the view that execution carried out by drones is very precise and accurate. In November 2009, Senator John Kerry claimed that 14 of the top 20 terrorists had been eliminated due to this effective drone program. Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann report that about 20 leaders of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied groups, had been killed since January 2008. “These raids have ravaged the top tier of al-Qaeda’s lieutenants. Al-Qaeda and its allies are indeed “on the run”, VicePresident Joe Biden holds the view.
Baitullah Mehsud, head of Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Pakistan was the most prominent target hit by these drones. Civilian Casualties Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of American Foundation compiled are port named “The Year of the Drone”. They studied 114 drone raids in which more than 1200 people were killed. “Of those, between 549 and 849 were reliably reported to be militant fighters, while the rest were civilians. The true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 per cent,” the Foundation reported. Public Support
It is mentioned; at least in one report of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy that these attacks enjoy public support in FATA and Pushtuns welcome these attacks. According to the authors, “the report is based upon the interviews of hundreds of Pashtuns in FATA and found that52 per cent of them considered the air strikes to be accurate, 58 per cent of them did not believe that the strikes caused anti-Americanism, 60 per cent of them felt that the strikes damaged the militants, and 70 per cent of them felt that the Pakistani army should also target the militants”.
Farhat Taj, an Oslo based contributor of this website says, According to the people of Waziristan, the only civilians who havebeen killed so far in the drone attacks are women or children of the militants in whose houses/compounds they hold meetings. But that, too, used to happen in the past”. In the same article she accepts that “The Pakistani government and media take the figure appearing in the American media as an admission by the American government. The US media, too, do not have access to the area. Moreover, thearea is simply not accessible for any kind of independent journalistic or scholarly work on drone attacks.
The Taliban simply kill anyone doing so. No US Loss Proponents of the policy say that drones are fascinating because anybody sitting in Nevada, the US can operate the drones and there are no chances of any loss to American soldiers on ground. Cost Effectiveness Economy of resources is also critical because a drone costs 4. 5 million dollars and it is 30 times cheaper than a jet fighter and there are no human costs even in case of failure of a mission, if any. There is no need of extensive training required to operate these drones.
Marry Cummings, a pilot and professor at MIT, says that it is as easy to use as an iPhone and “there is an app for that”. Other point of View Opponents of the policy say that policy makers in the US are not getting the true picture and understanding the effects of violence on the society which bears the consequences of such attacks. Innocent Casualties “According to the statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities, the Afghanistan-based US drones killed 708 people in 44 Predator attacks targeting the tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009.
For each al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities”. Another updated independent research has detailed data about each drone attack and it claims that there were only 35 al-Qaeda terrorists killed in these strikes and the rest were all 2317 civilians dead and523 injured during this campaign till December 2, 2010. This research by Dr. Usmani shows 98. 5 per cent of those killed in drone attacks are civilians.