The drone war drones on
This year's anniversary of Sept. 11 was dominated by debate about a would-be Koran burner in Florida and a would-be mosque near Ground Zero, about America's allegedly shrinking tolerance for Islam and flagging will to fight in Afghanistan. Less noticed was what may have been the most significant development: another acceleration of the U.S. drone war in Pakistan.
News services are reporting that four missiles fired by drones killed 11 people in the tribal area of North Waziristan on Tuesday. That makes, according to my count, at least ten drone attacks in the last 12 days -- and at least 72 deaths reported by "Pakistani security sources."
In fact, no one really knows how many people have died in the strikes, or even how many there have been. I got my count by adding up the various news agency reports issued one-by-one since Sept. 3. The Post and most other news media no longer bother to report many of the strikes, since they happen so frequently and so little is known about their results. The Pentagon and CIA, of course, still officially refuse to confirm that the attacks take place, and so release no information about them.
Still, the sketchy reports from Pakistan tell us a lot about the state of the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. First, both groups still have many militants based in the Pakistani tribal areas, which are just across the border from Afghanistan. You'd think that after the scores of strikes (one news agency, Agence France Presse, counts "more than 125" since August 2008, with "over 1,070 people killed"), the two groups might have moved to places less accessible to drones -- or that they would have found ways to disguise their movements from U.S. intelligence sources. Yet the strikes are coming thicker and faster than ever.
It's interesting to note, too, that all ten of those reported this month have occurred in North Waziristan, the one tribal area where Pakistan has refused to deploy its armed forces, despite repeated requests from the Obama administration. The Pakistani army is believed to be reluctant to rupture its relationship with the Taliban's Haqqani faction, which is based in North Waziristan. Yet that hasn't stopped U.S. commanders from targeting the faction. Many of this month's attacks -- including four that were launched in one 24-hour period last Wednesday and Thursday -- were apparently aimed at the Haqqani network. Others have hit at forces of the Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who struck a truce last year with the Pakistani government but continues to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
How much damage are the drones doing to the Taliban and al-Qaeda? It's very difficult to say. Both organizations have lost at least one senior leader in strikes this year, but many of the other casualties appear to have been rank-and-file fighters who are easily replaced. President Obama said at his news conference last week that the top leaders of al-Qaeda "have been holed up in ways that have made it harder for them to operate. Bin Laden has gone deep underground. Even Zawahiri, who is more often out there, has been much more cautious."
Drone strikes, in other words, are probably having more negative effect on al-Qaeda -- and perhaps on senior leaders of the Taliban -- than anything else the United States is doing. Too bad they aren't getting as much attention as the spectacles that are probably helping al-Qaeda -- from Florida to New York.
Posted by: knjincvc | September 14, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bloggersvilleusa | September 16, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.