This week, the Pakistani Taliban finally confirmed what the Pakistani army had claimed many days ago — that Hakimullah Mehsud was killed last month in a missile strike by U.S. drones.
While there are conflicting reports about which strike dealt Mehsud the mortal blow, the Pakistani Taliban are left leaderless for the second time in six months.
As the late Mehsud’s faction — as well as various other Taliban-affiliated groups — scramble to defend themselves from unmanned aerial vehicles, some policymakers are wondering whether these assassinations are strategically sound.
Although many of President Barack Obama’s harshest critics at home have lavished praise on the administration for its escalation of the drone campaign, some naysayers now contend that the U.S. may be killing high-value targets before being able to extract information from them — in northwest Pakistan, as well as in other anti-terror arenas such as Yemen.
Marc Thiessen explains this problem in Foreign Policy:
The Predator has become for President Obama what the cruise missile was to President Bill Clinton — an easy way to appear like he is taking tough action against terrorists, when he is really shying away from the hard decisions needed to protect the United States.
To be sure, unmanned drones are critical in the struggle against al-Qaeda. They allow the United States to reach terrorists hiding in remote regions where it would be difficult for special operations forces to reach them, or to act on perishable intelligence when the only choice is to kill a terrorist or lose him. Constantly hovering Predator (or Reaper) drones also have a psychological effect on the enemy, forcing al-Qaeda leaders to live in fear and spend time focusing on self-preservation that would otherwise be used planning the next attack. All this is for the good.
The problem is that Obama is increasingly using drone strikes as a substitute for operations to bring terrorist leaders in alive for questioning — and that is putting the country at risk…
With every drone strike that vaporizes a senior al-Qaeda leader, actionable intelligence is vaporized along with him. Dead terrorists can’t tell you their plans to strike America.
Meanwhile, Dawn reports that the Obama administration’s recent budget proposal includes a 75 percent increase in funds for the drone campaign, which also includes new, more advanced crafts.
View our interactive map showing approximate locations of all U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004:
See larger map. [Yellow = pre-2008 strikes / Red = 2008 strikes / Green = Obama administration strikes]
In a Sydney Morning Herald analysis piece America’s Deadly Robots Rewrite the Rules, Paul McGeough writes:
The changed ground rules making extrajudicial killing more acceptable are a product of post-September 11 thinking. In 2001 Bush overturned President Gerald Ford’s 1976 prohibition on assassinations by US intelligence agencies – but there’s something else in the works, too…
But, as critics of the drone wars struggle to get traction in public debate, it is curious that in the absence of any negative reaction to Obama’s expansion of his remote killing program last year, the former Bush administration was under attack for revelations that it had considered dispatching more traditional hit-squads abroad to take out al-Qaeda operatives.
Forty-four countries now use unmanned aircraft for surveillance – only the US and Israel deploy them as killers.
In the first weeks of his presidency Obama reportedly wrestled with the moral and strategic implications of the program. But, as reported in The New York Times, he pointedly declared to one of his earliest Situation Room gatherings: “The CIA gets what it needs.”
The American Civil Liberties Union explained in a Freedom of Information application last month: “It appears … that lethal force is being exercised by individuals who are not in the military chain of command, are not subject to military rules and discipline; and do not operate under any other public system of accountability or oversight.”
A Democrat’s targeted killings, it seems, are not quite the same as those of a Republican.
The first drones flew before the September 11 attacks – searching for Osama bin Laden. Now the US Air Force estimates that about 15 per cent of its $US230 billion ($260 billion) arms-procurement program will be spent on robot equipment within five years.
Predators can fly [420 miles], then hover for 30 hours at a stretch, feeding real-time video and other data through 10 simultaneous streams to controllers in 10 locations. Priced at $4.5 million, Predators carry sensors that intercept electronic signals and listen in on phone conversations – and they carry missiles. The newer Reapers cost $17 million and can fly nearly [3600 miles].
The US Air Force now has more drone operators in training than fighter and bomber pilots.
A recent article from the Associated Press argues that two main factors have enabled the drone war to take off: the drawdown of troops and resources in Iraq and the Obama administration’s increased intelligence-sharing with the governments of Pakistan and Yemen:
Intelligence officials and analysts say the drawdown of troops in an increasingly stable Iraq is part of the reason for the increase in drone strikes. The military once relied on drones for around-the-clock surveillance to flush out insurgents, support troops in battle and help avoid roadside bombs.
With fewer of those missions required, the U.S. has moved many of those planes to Afghanistan, roughly doubling the size of the military and CIA fleet that can patrol the lawless border with Pakistan, officials said.
“These tools were not Obama creations, but he’s increased their use and he has shifted the U.S. attention full front to Afghanistan,” said Thomas Sanderson, a defense analyst and national security fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The article goes on to explain the second reason for the drone war’s escalation:
Obama has also abandoned terms like “radical Islam” and “Islamo-fascism,” rhetoric that was seen as anti-Muslim by many in the Arab world and which [Yemen’s Ambassador to the UN] al-Saidi said made it harder for governments to openly cooperate with Washington.
View our original post: U.S. intensifies drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal region
– Ben Piven