Do US Drones Kill More Pakistani Extremists Than They Recruit Them?

Amerikaanse aanvallen van bewapende onbemande vliegtuigen (‘drones’) op Al Qaida en Taliban in Pakistan zijn militair succesvol, maar politiek in toenemende mate controversieel. Tegenover het uitschakelen van vijandelijke kopstukken staan burgerslachtoffers, het verspreiden van islamisten over het land en inbreuk op de souvereiniteit van Pakistan – tezamen leidend tot groeiend anti-Amerikanisme en radicalisering van moslims.
De inzet van onbemande vliegtuigen boven Afghanistan en Pakistan heeft de laatste jaren een grote vlucht genomen. Voor verkenningen zijn zij onontbeerlijk geworden, terwijl hun ondersteuning van landoperaties in Afghanistan, groeit. Voor aanvallen in Pakistan zijn zij (voorlopig?) de enige middelen die de Amerikanen blijven gebruiken – ook in de ‘nieuwe’ strategie van Obama voor Af-Pak.
Men verwacht dat zij binnen tien jaar ook luchtgevechten kunnen uitvoeren.
[Terzijde: dit zou het aanschaffen van de veel duurdere, bemande, JSF’s overbodig – of zelfs ongewenst – kunnen maken].

Even as the Obama administration launches new drone attacks into Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, concerns are growing among US intelligence and military officials that the strikes are bolstering the Islamic insurgency by prompting Islamist radicals to disperse into the country’s heartland.

Al Qaida, Taliban and other militants who’ve been relocating to Pakistan’s overcrowded and impoverished cities may be harder to find and stop from staging terrorist attacks, the officials said.

Moreover, they said, the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.

"Putting these guys on the run forces a lot of good things to happen," said a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity because the drone operations, run by the CIA and the Air Force, are top-secret. "It gives you more targeting opportunities. The downside is that you get a much more dispersed target set and they go to places where we are not operating."

U.S. drone attacks "may have hurt more than they have helped," said a U.S. military official who’s been deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. The official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, called the drone operations a "recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban."

"A significant number of bad actors aren’t where they used to be," but have moved to "places where we can’t get at them the way we could," he added.

As a result of the drone attacks, insurgent activities are "more dispersed in Pakistan and focusing on Pakistani targets," said Christine Fair of the RAND Corp., a policy institute that advises the Pentagon. "So we have shifted the costs."

President Barack Obama for now has embraced the drone strikes, which U.S. officials said have killed up to one dozen important al Qaida operatives.

"If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them," Obama said in a March 29 interview with CBS News.

Several U.S. intelligence, military officials and independent experts, however, said that they’re especially worried by an influx of extremists from the tribal areas into the slums of Karachi. The capital of southern Sindh Province, with a population of at least 12 million, is Pakistan’s financial center and main port as well as the entry point for most of the supplies bound for U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Many militants are thought to have taken refuge among Karachi’s estimated 3.5 million Pashtuns, the ethnic group comprising the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their presence is stoking tensions with other groups in the southern city, which has a long history of communal bloodshed and terrorism, including against Western targets.

"The who’s who of extremism is present in Karachi," said Faisal Ali Subzwari, a Sindh government minister. "There are many areas where police and (paramilitary) Rangers cannot even dare to enter. It is a safe haven for those who want a hiding place."

Subzwari, whose Mohajir Quami Movement represents immigrants from India and has repeatedly warned of the "Talibanization" of Karachi, said that part of his own constituency is one of these "no-go" areas…

Concerns over "blowback" from the drone strikes is fueling a debate in the Obama administration over whether they should be extended from the Federally Administered Tribal Area, the region bordering eastern Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding, to Baluchistan Province, the alleged refuge of the Afghan Taliban leadership, U.S. officials said…

There’ve been dozens of drone strikes in the past year, the most recent killing 13 people in the tribal region of North Waziristan on Saturday. The next day, a top Pakistani Taliban leader threatened to launch two suicide attacks every week unless the strikes stop. His threat followed a series of suicide bombings in the heartland province of Punjab.

A senior Pakistani official reiterated the government’s opposition to the drone operations after talks Tuesday in Islamabad with Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"They (drone strikes) are counterproductive," said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. "My view is they are causing collateral damage, my view is that they are alienating people, my view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We (Pakistan and the U.S.) have agreed to disagree on this."..

Do US Drones Kill Pakistani Extremists or Recruit Them? (by: Jonathan S. Landay / McClatchy Newspapers & Truthout)

Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda (By CHRISTOPHER DREW in New York Times)

A missile fired by an American drone killed at least four people late Sunday at the house of a militant commander in northwest Pakistan, the latest use of what intelligence officials have called their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda.

And Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The planes have become one of the military’s favorite weapons despite many shortcomings resulting from the rush to get them into the field.

An explosion in demand for the drones is contributing to new thinking inside the Pentagon about how to develop and deploy new weapons systems.

Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes — which are 27 feet long, powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine, and cost $4.5 million apiece — have crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pilots, who fly them from trailers halfway around the world using joysticks and computer screens, say some of the controls are clunky. For example, the missile-firing button sits dangerously close to the switch that shuts off the plane’s engines. Pilots are also in such short supply that the service recently put out a call for retirees to help.

But military leaders say they can easily live with all that.

Since the height of the cold war, the military has tended to chase the boldest and most technologically advanced solution to every threat, leading to long delays and cost overruns that result in rarely used fighter jets that cost $143 million apiece, and plans for a $3 billion destroyer that the Navy says it can no longer afford.

Now the Pentagon appears to be warming up to Voltaire’s saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

In speeches, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has urged his weapons buyers to rush out “75 percent solutions over a period of months” rather than waiting for “gold-plated” solutions.

And as the Obama administration prepares its first budget, officials say they plan to free up more money for simpler systems like drones that can pay dividends now, especially as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan and Pakistan…

Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Air Force is in charge of the Predators, say their ability to linger over an area for hours, streaming instant video warnings of insurgent activity, has been crucial to reducing threats from roadside bombs and identifying terrorist compounds. The C.I.A. is in charge of drone flights in Pakistan, where more than three dozen missiles strikes have been launched against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in recent months.

Considered a novelty a few years ago, the Air Force’s fleet has grown to 195 Predators and 28 Reapers, a new and more heavily armed cousin of the Predator. Both models are made by General Atomics, a contractor based in San Diego. Including drones that the Army has used to counter roadside bombs and tiny hand-launched models that can help soldiers to peer past the next hill or building, the total number of military drones has soared to 5,500, from 167 in 2001…

Complaints about civilian casualties, particularly from strikes in Pakistan, have stirred some concerns among human rights advocates. Military officials say the ability of drones to observe targets for lengthy periods makes strikes more accurate. They also said they do not fire if they think civilians are nearby…

The Predators and Reapers are now flying 34 surveillance patrols each day in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from 12 in 2006. They are also transmitting 16,000 hours of video each month, some of it directly to troops on the ground…

Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda (By CHRISTOPHER DREW in New York Times)

Terminator Planet – Launching the Drone Wars (By Tom Engelhardt in TomDispatch.com)

.. As you sit in that movie theater in May, actual unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), pilotless surveillance and assassination drones armed with Hellfire missiles, will be patrolling our expanding global battlefields, hunting down human beings. And in the Pentagon and the labs of defense contractors, UAV supporters are already talking about and working on next-generation machines. Post-2020, according to these dreamers, drones will be able to fly and fight, discern enemies and incinerate them without human decision-making. They’re even wondering about just how to program human ethics, maybe even American ethics, into them…

Now, keep our present drones, those MQ-1 Predators and more advanced MQ-9 Reapers, in mind for a moment. Remember that, as you read, they’re cruising Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani skies looking for potential "targets," and in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, are employing what Centcom commander General David Petraeus calls "the right of last resort" to take out "threats" (as well as tribespeople who just happen to be in the vicinity). ..

In Pakistan, a war of machine assassins is visibly provoking terror (and terrorism), as well as anger and hatred among people who are by no means fundamentalists. It is part of a larger destabilization of the country. To those who know their air power history, that shouldn’t be so surprising. Air power has had a remarkably stellar record when it comes to causing death and destruction, but a remarkably poor one when it comes to breaking the will of nations, peoples, or even modest-sized organizations. Our drone wars are destructive, but they are unlikely to achieve Washington’s goals…

By 2020, so claim UAV enthusiasts, drones could be engaging in aerial battle and choosing their victims themselves. As Robert S. Boyd of McClatchy reported recently, "The Defense Department is financing studies of autonomous, or self-governing, armed robots that could find and destroy targets on their own. On-board computer programs, not flesh-and-blood people, would decide whether to fire their weapons."..

Terminator Planet – Launching the Drone Wars (By Tom Engelhardt in TomDispatch.com)

The U.S. programme of drone aircraft strikes against higher-ranking officials of al Qaeda and allied militant organisations, which has been touted by proponents as having eliminated nine of the 20 top al Qaeda leaders, is actually weakening Pakistan’s defence against the insurgency of the Islamic militants there by killing large numbers of civilians based on faulty intelligence and discrediting the Pakistani military, according to data from the Pakistani government and interviews with senior analysts.

Errant Drone Attacks Spur Militants in Pakistan (Gareth Porter in IPS)

US House Members to Obama: Rethink Afghanistan Surge (by John Nichols, The Nation)

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