The HyperTexts

Are CIA Drones Killing Children?

The Obama administration must explain the legal basis for drone strikes in Pakistan to avoid the perception that it acts with impunity. The Pakistan government must also ensure accountability for indiscriminate killing, in violation of international law, that occurs inside Pakistan. Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International

Note: Shortly after I published this article, Pakistan accused American drones of killing 24 Pakistani troops, calling the drone attacks a "grave infringement" on the country's sovereignty. Americans should ask themselves how they would feel if foreign powers like Russia and China tried to "help" the United States solve its problems with gang violence by using robots to attack American citizens they deemed to be "criminals" and "terrorists," without the nuisance of fair trials. The U.S. government immediately expressed its "condolences" over the accidental deaths, but obviously Americans would not accept such condolences from other nations, so it seems like wild bigotry if they expect Pakistanis to accept what they would never accept themselves. But when women and children who are obviously completely innocent of any possible crimes are killed by mindless, heartless drones, the problem becomes almost infinitely worse ...

There have been reports from reputable sources such as The New York Times, ABC News, The Daily Telegraph and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism that CIA drone attacks have now killed more than 160 children, as many as 775 civilians, and have wounded more than 1,000 other people. And yet the US government has given the American public and the world the impression that its drones are highly accurate and seldom (if ever) harm civilians. Is the US government ignoring or obfuscating the truth? I heard similar reports from Pakistani newspapers in the past, but had no way of verifying them. But now it seems there is considerable evidence from trustworthy sources that large numbers of civilians, including children, really are being killed and maimed by unmanned drones piloted by joystick-wielding CIA agents. If so, it seems the CIA has become a terrorist organization.

If we are to have real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children.―Mohandas Gandhi

I believe Iain Overton, the editor of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, made an important point when he said: "It comes as no surprise that the US intelligence services would attack our findings in this way. But to claim our methodology is problematic before we had even published reveals how they really operate. A revelation that is reinforced by the fact that they cannot bring themselves to refer to non-combatants as what they really are: civilians and, all too often, children."

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?—Mohandas Gandhi

A valid and pertinent question is whether the security of Americans is in any way improved by the killing of children. Frankly, I doubt it, because the unjust killing of children is likely to produce legions of angry men seeking vengeance. Perhaps a better question is whether we can morally justify killing children even if their deaths do improve our security. If my odds of living are increased by tossing a child into the sea and grabbing the last seat on a lifeboat, should I become a child killer? But it seems to me that the "danger" to Americans has been vastly overrated. I believe it is time to consider this keen observation by a British prime minister wise enough to doubt some of his advisors:

If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the military, nothing is safe.Lord Salisbury

If the US government is killing large numbers of children and other civilians in its quest for "justice," something is clearly wrong. That fact that US intelligence services are unable to refer to civilians and children by their proper names seems indicative of a terrible soul-destroying disease. Hitler and his Nazis goons killed children of the "wrong races" indiscriminately. Ancient barbarians sometimes killed children of other ethnicities indiscriminately. But surely a modern democracy should be able to discriminate between the perhaps-justifiable killings of terrorists (how can we be sure everyone our government kills is really a terrorist?) and the murders and mutilations of innocents. I am disgusted to learn that what I feared seems to be true: Americans cannot rely on our government, military or intelligence services to tell us the truth. Nor can we rely on them to stop using unmanned drones because they cannot discern between terrorists and children.

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F. Kennedy

If it was wrong for al-Qaeda to kill American children and other civilians on 9-11, as it obviously was, then surely it is just as wrong for Americans to kill Pakistani children and other civilians. American civilians did not attack Al-Qaeda, but neither did Pakistani civilians attack Americans. We cannot justify killing children just because criminals are hard to find and bring to justice. And to be brutally honest, it seems that very few of the currently targeted people are actually "terrorists." Most of them are young foot soldiers who see American troops as foreign invaders. If armed Pakistanis showed up in the US and seemed intent on running things the Pakistani way, American men would take up arms and oppose them. So isn't it past time to abandon jingoism and hypocrisy, and admit that an American military presence on Muslim soil is bound to produce constant unrest and endless strife? How can we condemn young Pakistani men for doing exactly what young American men would do, under similar circumstances? The solution is to remove our troops from the Middle East, not to keep trying to kill young men who are only trying to defend their homeland. When we accidentally kill their younger sisters and brothers, and other civilians, we only make the world a more dangerous place for everyone. What if those young men get their hands on WMDs one day? They may well feel justified to use them against American civilians, because Americans killed so many Pakistani civilians.

I don't know about World War III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.—Albert Einstein

Pakistan did not attack the US. Rather, Pakistan has been an ally of the US in what is called "the war against terror." So what right do Americans have to keep killing Pakistani civilians, as they blow up the countryside while searching for elusive needles in an immense haystack? As Dennis Blair, a former Navy admiral and Director of National Intelligence, recently pointed out: "We're alienating the countries concerned because we are treating [them] just as places where we go attack groups that threaten us. We are threatening the prospects of long-term reform." In other words, we cannot pour out our outrage on people who never attacked us, killing their children and other civilians, however "accidentally," and expect those suddenly-destabilized countries to somehow reform and become our allies. When we shoot and kill other people's children, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

If there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.―Will Rogers

It seems to me that for every real terrorist the CIA manages to kill, it is killing or mutilating hundreds of civilians and ordinary foot soldiers. Those people are not natural enemies of Americans. But our government, military and intelligence services are creating legions of new enemies for our children and grandchildren, by bringing Afghanistan and Pakistan to the verge of ruin while insisting that Americans have the right to kill anyone who gets in the way, while they search for needles in a haystack. We completely lack wisdom and any sense of justice if we create thousands of new enemies in the quest to "take out" one or two hard-to-find-and-harder-to-kill kingpins. It is past time for the US to admit the limitations of its military and intelligence services, and bring our troops (and spies) home, because they are only destabilizing the Middle East and making another event like 9-11 more likely, as the family and friends of the people we have unjustly killed search for ways to take revenge. Once we pulled out of Vietnam, the cries for vengeance and hostilities on both sides soon abated. So the sooner we pull out and let the healing process begin, the better.

CIA Drone Attacks Allegedly Kill 168 Children
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Friday, August 12, 2011
by Rob Crilly, Islamabad

In an extensive analysis of open-source documents, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that 2,292 people had been killed by US missiles, including as many as 775 civilians.

The strikes, which began under President George W Bush but have since accelerated during the presidency of Barack Obama, are hated in Pakistan, where families live in fear of the bright specks that appear to hover in the sky overhead.

In just a single attack on a madrassah in 2006, up to 69 children lost their lives.

Chris Woods, who led the research, said the detailed database of deaths would send shockwaves through Pakistan, where political and military leaders repeatedly denounce the strikes in public, while privately allowing the US to continue.

"This is a military campaign run by a secret service which raised problems of accountability, transparency and you have a situation where neither the Pakistanis nor Americans are clear about any agreements in place and where the reporting is difficult," he said.

"All of this means that when things go wrong there is simply no redress for the families of those who have been mistakenly killed."

The research, culled from more than 2,000 news reports, leaked documents and witness statements, show how the drones gradually moved from a rarely used tool, beginning with a single strike in 2004, to a frontline weapon of war.

Notable successes include the death of Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Pakistan Taliban, in 2009. Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior al-Qaeda figure viewed as a possible successor to Osama bin Laden, is believed to have died in a drone strike in June.

However, under President Obama the strikes have been used to target low-level foot soldiers as well as senior commanders.

Today the attacks are running at a rate of one every four days, mostly centered on North Waziristan from where members of the Haqqani network launch cross-border attacks on international forces in eastern Afghanistan.

With Pakistan so far unwilling to bow to US pressure to launch a military offensive against the bases and with Islamabad ruling out any suggestion that American troops be deployed, that leaves the CIA's drones, said Imtiaz Gul, an analyst who has written extensively on the region.

At the same time, he added, they mean a president elected on a manifesto promising to close Guantanamo Bay does not have hundreds more detainees to process.

"As long as these peoples sit in jails they remain a problem, a living liability, so there seems to be a drive to kill them," said Mr. Gul.

Human rights campaigners have long argued that drones represent extra-judicial killings.

Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said: "The Obama administration must explain the legal basis for drone strikes in Pakistan to avoid the perception that it acts with impunity.

"The Pakistan government must also ensure accountability for indiscriminate killing, in violation of international law, that occurs inside Pakistan." The US refuses to acknowledge the existence of its drones program.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2011

Drone War Exposed – the complete picture of CIA strikes in Pakistan
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
August 10, 2011
by Chris Woods

CIA drone strikes have led to far more deaths in Pakistan than previously understood, according to extensive new research published by the Bureau. More than 160 children are among at least 2,292 people reported killed in US attacks since 2004. There are credible reports of at least 385 civilians among the dead.

In a surprise move, a counter-terrorism official has also released US government estimates of the numbers killed. These state that an estimated 2,050 people have been killed in drone strikes – of whom all but an estimated 50 are combatants.

The Bureau’s fundamental reassessment of the covert US campaign involved a complete re-examination of all that is known about each US drone strike.

‘The Obama administration must explain the legal basis for drone strikes in Pakistan to avoid the perception that it acts with impunity. The Pakistan government must also ensure accountability for indiscriminate killing, in violation of international law, that occurs inside Pakistan,’ Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International

The study is based on close analysis of credible materials: some 2,000 media reports; witness testimonies; field reports of NGOs and lawyers; secret US government cables; leaked intelligence documents, and relevant accounts by journalists, politicians and former intelligence officers.

The Bureau’s findings are published in a 22,000-word database which covers each individual strike in Pakistan in detail. A powerful search engine, an extensive timeline and searchable maps accompany the data.

The result is the clearest public understanding so far of the CIA’s covert drone war against the militants. Yet US intelligence officials are understood to be briefing against the Bureau’s work, claiming ‘significant problems with its numbers and methodologies.’

Iain Overton, the Bureau’s editor said: ‘It comes as no surprise that the US intelligence services would attack our findings in this way. But to claim our methodology is problematic before we had even published reveals how they really operate. A revelation that is reinforced by the fact that they cannot bring themselves to refer to non-combatants as what they really are: civilians and, all too often, children’.

The Bureau’s data reveals many more CIA attacks on alleged militant targets than previously reported. At least 291 US drone strikes are now known to have taken place since 2004.

The intended targets – militants in the tribal areas – appear to make up the majority of those killed. There are 126 named militants among the dead since 2004, though hundreds are unknown, low-ranking fighters. But as many as 168 children have also been reported killed among at least 385 civilians.

More than 1,100 people are also revealed to have been injured in the US drone attacks – the first time this number has been collated.

In the wake of the Bureau’s findings Amnesty International has called for more CIA transparency. ‘The Obama administration must explain the legal basis for drone strikes in Pakistan to avoid the perception that it acts with impunity. The Pakistan government must also ensure accountability for indiscriminate killing, in violation of international law, that occurs inside Pakistan,’ said Amnesty’s Director of Asia Pacific Sam Zarifi.

The Bureau’s key findings:

291 CIA attacks have taken place in Pakistan – 8% more than previously reported.
Under President Obama alone there have been 236 strikes – one every four days.
Between 2,292 and 2,863 people are reported to have died in the attacks – most of them militants
The minimum number of reported deaths is far higher than previously believed – with 40% more recorded casualties.
Most of those killed are likely to be low-ranking militants.
126 named militants have so far been killed.
The Bureau has collated credible news reports of 385-775 civilians being killed in the attacks.
The Bureau has identified credible reports of 164 children killed in the drone strikes.
Under President Bush, one in three of all attacks is reported to have killed a child.
For the first time the Bureau has compiled accurate details of recorded injuries in drone strikes, revealing that at least 1,114 people have been wounded.
Civilian deaths: With the US military unable to operate overtly inside Pakistan, the Obama administration has come to rely heavily on CIA drone strikes to attack alleged militants in the country’s western tribal areas. To date, at least 236 drone attacks have been ordered in Obama’s name, the Bureau’s research shows.
At least 1,842 people have been reported killed in the Obama strikes, most of them militants.
Recently, Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan stated that the president has ‘insisted’ that Pakistan drone strikes ‘do not put… innocent men, women and children in danger’. Yet at least 218 of those killed in drone attacks in Obama’s time in office may have been civilians.
More than 160 children are among at least 2,292 people reported killed in US attacks since 2004. There are credible reports of at least 385 civilians among the dead.

Civilian casualties do seem to have declined in the past year. Yet the Bureau still found credible evidence of at least 45 civilians killed in some ten strikes in this time. The US continues to insist that it ‘can’t confirm any noncombatant casualties’ in the past year.

The most recently reported civilian fatality was on July 12. Abdul Jalil, a migrant worker home on leave from Dubai, was ‘collateral damage’ when the CIA attacked a car carrying eight alleged militants, the Bureau’s researchers in Waziristan report.

Internal US figures: The US government’s own internal estimates of those killed in the drone strikes total about 2,050, the Bureau has learnt. All but 50 of these are militants, and that no ‘non-combatants’ have died in the past year, a US counter-terrorism official noted. The Bureau’s own minimum suggested casualty figure is 2,292.

Yet a US counter-terrorism official told the Bureau that its numbers were ‘way off the mark’. The Washington-based official said: ‘These actions target militants planning actively to kill Afghans, Pakistanis, Europeans, and Americans among others, and most often the operations occur when they’re training or on the move, getting ready to attack. Over 4,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed by terrorists since 2009—the threat is clear and real.’

Reprieve, the legal action charity which campaigns on human rights issues said: ‘With the Bureau’s findings, at last we have a hard and comprehensive look at the facts. It is a great start. From now on, Reprieve hopes people will read official propaganda about drone warfare with a grain of salt—and ask themselves whether drones are radicalizing as many young men as Guantánamo did.’

CIA drone attacks will remain secret
September 11, 2011

The CIA is not legally required to inform the public about the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists, US District Judge Rosemary Collyer has ruled.

The ruling was made on Friday in a case in which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the CIA's decision to reject a Freedom of Information Act request on the issue, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The CIA had said that anything about the relevant records is basically classified information.

The federal judge also rejected the ACLU's argument that "former CIA Director Leon Panetta had officially acknowledged the agency's use of drones."

The ACLU noted that media outlets have been covering the use of drones by the US, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan, for years.

The ACLU pointed out that when Panetta, who is currently the US defense secretary, was asked about the credibility of such attacks, which also endanger many civilian lives, he said, "I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise."

Despite the ACLU's argument, Judge Collyer ruled, "These comments by Director Panetta did not officially disclose the CIA's involvement in the drone strike program. Director Panetta spoke generally of his knowledge of 'covert and secret operations' in Pakistan and his assessment that those operations had been precise with minimal collateral damage."

In an interview with the Washington Post in 2010, Panetta "appeared to speak to the joint efforts of the military and non-military agencies of the US government… Director Panetta merely admitted that the CIA's operations in Pakistan, left undefined, were the most aggressive ever undertaken by the CIA," the judge said.

Former intelligence chief Dennis Blair questions the amount of money being spent to capture or kill a small number of people
ABC News
July 29, 2011
by MARTHA RADDATZ (@martharaddatz) and RYM MOMTAZ

Former intelligence chief Dennis Blair said in an interview Thursday that the terror threat from al Qaeda is a "narrow problem" and questioned the amount of money spent to capture or kill a small number of people.

Blair's critical comments on Obama administration policy were the harshest yet from the former Director of National Intelligence, who was pushed out of his post by President Obama in May 2010 after just 16 months on the job.

Blair, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, estimated there were 4,000 al Qaeda members around the globe, with much of a yearly intelligence budget of $80 billion devoted to catching them.

"That's $20 million for every one of these 4,000 people," said Blair. "The objective is to disrupt and destroy al Qaeda. … You think, wow, $20 million is a lot, is that proportionate?"

Blair noted that in the past decade terrorists have killed fewer than 20 Americans inside U.S. borders, most of them in a single attack at Fort Hood Texas in late 2009. He contrasted the terror body count with deaths from car accidents and street crime, which killed more than one million Americans in the same time frame.

"What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem versus the other ways we have to protect American lives?" asked Blair. "I think that's sort of the question we have to think ourselves through here at the 10th year anniversary."

Said Blair, "I think we need to reexamine what our fundamental goals are. I think by concentrating only on al Qaeda itself we get ourselves in this numbers game ... and I don't think that we can kill al Qaeda members and end this threat from Jihadist terrorism."

Blair also said he felt the unmanned CIA drone program, in which terrorists are targeted by missiles in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, was counterproductive. The former Navy admiral said that the drone strikes are more of a nuisance to al Qaeda than a threat, and that they harm the relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

"We're alienating the countries concerned because we are treating the countries just as places where we go attack groups that threaten us," said Blair. "We are threatening the prospects of long-term reform."

He suggested giving Pakistan more say in picking targets. "We should offer the Pakistanis to put two hands on the trigger," said Blair. "That would make our job in Afghanistan more difficult for a while but it would make it a lot easier over the long term."

Pakistan has come under serious criticism since the successful Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden for allegedly sheltering terrorists and tipping off militants to upcoming U.S. attacks. Bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad, Pakistan for years without interference by Pakistani officials, and when the U.S. forces raided his compound and killed him, the raid was conducted without Pakistani cooperation.

After the raid, CIA director Leon Panetta confronted Pakistani officials with photographic evidence that they had allegedly tipped off Islamic militants in advance of other U.S. raids.

The Director of National Intelligence is designated as the principal intelligence to the White House and the chief of 16 different federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency. Blair, who was forced to resign from his post and was replaced by James Clapper, said in Aspen that the White House had chosen to side with the CIA over him in an internal power struggle.

Obama White House v. CIA; Panetta Threatened to Quit
ABC World News
August 24, 2009

A "profanity-laced screaming match" at the White House involving CIA Director Leon Panetta, and the expected release today of another damning internal investigation, has administration officials worrying about the direction of its newly-appoint intelligence team, current and former senior intelligence officials tell ABC

Amid reports that Panetta had threatened to quit just seven months after taking over at the spy agency, other insiders tell that senior White House staff members are already discussing a possible shake-up of top national security officials.

"You can expect a larger than normal turnover in the next year," a senior adviser to Obama on intelligence matters told

Since 9/11, the CIA has had five directors or acting directors.

A White House spokesperson, Denis McDonough, said reports that Panetta had threatened to quit and that the White House was seeking a replacement were "inaccurate."

According to intelligence officials, Panetta erupted in a tirade last month during a meeting with a senior White House staff member. Panetta was reportedly upset over plans by Attorney General Eric Holder to open a criminal investigation of allegations that CIA officers broke the law in carrying out certain interrogation techniques that President Obama has termed "torture."

A CIA spokesman quoted Panetta as saying "it is absolutely untrue" that he has any plans to leave the CIA. As to the reported White House tirade, the spokesman said Panetta is known to use "salty language." CIA spokesman George Little said the report was "wrong, inaccurate, bogus and false."

Another source of contention for Panetta was today's public release of an investigation by the CIA inspector general on the first two years of the agency's interrogation and detention program. The report has been delayed by an internal administration debate over how much of the report should be kept secret.

One CIA official said colleagues involved in the interrogation program were preparing for a far-reaching criminal investigation.

In addition to concerns about the CIA's reputation and its legal exposure, other White House insiders say Panetta has been frustrated by what he perceives to be less of a role than he was promised in the administration's intelligence structure. Panetta has reportedly chafed at reporting through the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, according to the senior adviser who said Blair is equally unhappy with Panetta.

"Leon will be leaving," predicted a former top U.S. intelligence official, citing the conflict with Blair. The former official said Panetta is also "uncomfortable" with some of the operations being carried out by the CIA that he did not know about until he took the job.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the CIA had planned to use the private security contractor Blackwater to carry out assassinations of al Qaeda leaders.

Six other current and former senior intelligence officials said they too had been briefed about Panetta's frustrations in the job, including dealing with his former Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives.

One of the officials said the White House had begun informal discussions with candidates who were runners-up to Panetta in the CIA director selection process last year.

One of the candidates reportedly has begun a series of preparatory briefings.

"It would be a shame if such as talented a Washington hand as Panetta were to leave after one year," said Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant who worked on the national security team for the Clinton and Bush administrations and served as an adviser to President-elect Obama.

"It takes that long for any senior bureaucrat to begin to understand what needs to get done and how to do it, "said Clarke. "The CIA needs some stability."

ACLU Sues U.S. Government Over Awlaki's Hit List Designation
ABC News
Aug. 3, 2010
by JASON RYAN (@JasonRyanABC)

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) are suing Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner over the government's decision to put radical Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki on a hit list and freeze his U.S. assets.

Awlaki, a U.S. citizen now living in Yemen, has been linked to the Fort Hood shootings, the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest 253 and the failed car bombing of Times Square. He is on a U.S. intelligence hit list, and has already survived at least one cruise missile strike. In July, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) formally labeled Awlaki a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" so that it could freeze his assets.

Last month Awlaki's father Nasser Al-Awlaki asked the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights to challenge the government's placement of his son on a list of U.S. citizens who can be assassinated by U.S. forces and intelligence services for ties to terrorism.

However, when an individual has been designated a terrorist by OFAC, it is illegal for anyone to represent that person legally, and thus contest the designation or the freezing of assets, unless OFAC grants special permission. The suit filed today in U.S. District Court in Washington challenges the legal restrictions put in place as part of OFAC's terrorist designation.

"Unless the government grants the ACLU and CCR a specific license," notes the suit, "OFAC's regulations make it a criminal offense for ACLU and CCR attorneys to file a lawsuit on Mr. Awlaki's father's behalf seeking to protect the constitutional rights of his U.S. citizen son. In other words, under the regulations at issue in this case, the same government that is seeking to kill Anwar al-Awlaki has prohibited attorneys from contesting the legality of the government's decision to use lethal force against him."

The suit said that OFAC's restrictions are "particularly severe" since "they prevent designed individuals . . . from vindicating their rights in court without the express permission of the U.S. government."

"We've been concerned about the OFAC scheme for many, many months." ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said on a conference call with reporters.

Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico but has lived in Yemen since 2004, has become a prominent member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan exchanged emails with him prior to the massacre at the Texas Army base, and convicted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad said he was "inspired" by Awlaki. Intelligence sources also say accused "Underwear Bomber" Umar Abdulmutallab was allegedly in touch with Awlaki.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration formally placed Awlaki on a list for assassination by US intelligence and special operations forces in the US military, US officials told ABC News. In February former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said the intelligence community had the authority to target American citizens for assassination if they present a direct terrorist threat to the United States.

In December, according to U.S. officials, Awlaki was at a meeting with leaders of the terror group when the U.S. knowingly launched a cruise missile strike to eliminate the terror leaders. Several people were killed but Awlaki survived.

"President Obama is claiming the power to act as judge, jury and executioner while suspending any semblance of due process," said Vince Warren, the Executive Director of CCR.

C.I.A. Steps Up Drone Attacks on Taliban in Pakistan
The New York Times
September 27, 2010

WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. has drastically increased its bombing campaign in the mountains of Pakistan in recent weeks, American officials said. The strikes are part of an effort by military and intelligence operatives to try to cripple the Taliban in a stronghold being used to plan attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.

As part of its covert war in the region, the C.I.A. has launched 20 attacks with armed drone aircraft thus far in September, the most ever during a single month, and more than twice the number in a typical month. This expanded air campaign comes as top officials are racing to stem the rise of American casualties before the Obama administration’s comprehensive review of its Afghanistan strategy set for December. American and European officials are also evaluating reports of possible terrorist plots in the West from militants based in Pakistan.

The strikes also reflect mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan’s government has not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants from their bases in the country’s western mountains. In particular, the officials said, the Americans believe the Pakistanis are unlikely to launch military operations inside North Waziristan, a haven for Taliban and Qaeda operatives that has long been used as a base for attacks against troops in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani troops have also been diverted from counterinsurgency missions to help provide relief to victims of the country’s massive flooding.

Beyond the C.I.A. drone strikes, the war in the region is escalating in other ways. In recent days, American military helicopters have launched three airstrikes into Pakistan that military officials estimate killed more than 50 people suspected of being members of the militant group known as the Haqqani network, which is responsible for a spate of deadly attacks against American troops.

Such air raids by the military remain rare, and officials in Kabul said Monday that the helicopters entered Pakistani airspace on only one of the three raids, and acted in self-defense after militants fired rockets at an allied base just across the border in Afghanistan. At the same time, the strikes point to a new willingness by military officials to expand the boundaries of the campaign against the Taliban and Haqqani network — and to an acute concern in military and intelligence circles about the limited time to attack Taliban strongholds while American "surge" forces are in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials have angrily criticized the helicopter attacks, saying that NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan does not extend across the border in Pakistan.

As evidence of the growing frustration of American officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has recently issued veiled warnings to top Pakistani commanders that the United States could launch unilateral ground operations in the tribal areas should Pakistan refuse to dismantle the militant networks in North Waziristan, according to American officials.

"Petraeus wants to turn up the heat on the safe havens," said one senior administration official, explaining the sharp increase in drone strikes. "He has pointed out to the Pakistanis that they could do more."

Special Operations commanders have also been updating plans for cross-border raids, which would require approval from President Obama. For now, officials said, it remains unlikely that the United States would make good on such threats to send American troops over the border, given the potential blowback inside Pakistan, an ally.

But that could change, they said, if Pakistan-based militants were successful in carrying out a terrorist attack on American soil. American and European intelligence officials in recent days have spoken publicly about growing evidence that militants may be planning a large-scale attack in Europe, and have bolstered security at a number of European airports and railway stations.

"We are all seeing increased activity by a more diverse set of groups and a more diverse set of threats," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano before a Senate panel last week.

The senior administration official said the strikes were intended not only to attack Taliban and Haqqani fighters, but also to disrupt any plots directed from or supported by extremists in Pakistan’s tribal areas that were aimed at targets in Europe. "The goal is to suppress or disrupt that activity," the official said.

The 20 C.I.A. drone attacks in September represent the most intense bombardment by the spy agency since January, when the C.I.A. carried out 11 strikes after a suicide bomber killed seven agency operatives at a remote base in eastern Afghanistan.

According to one Pakistani intelligence official, the recent drone attacks have not killed any senior Taliban or Qaeda leaders. Many senior operatives have already fled North Waziristan, he said, to escape the C.I.A. drone campaign.

Over all the spy agency has carried out 74 drone attacks this year, according to the Web site The Long War Journal, which tracks the strikes. A vast majority of the attacks — which usually involve several drones firing multiple missiles or bombs — have taken place in North Waziristan.

The Obama administration has enthusiastically embraced the C.I.A.’s drone program, an ambitious and historically unusual war campaign by American spies. According to The Long War Journal, the spy agency in 2009 and 2010 has launched nearly four times as many attacks as it did during the final year of the Bush administration.

One American official said that the recent strikes had been aimed at several groups, including the Haqqani network, Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. The United States, he said, hopes to "keep the pressure on as long as we can."

But the C.I.A.’s campaign has also raised concerns that the drone strikes are fueling anger in the Muslim world. The man who attempted to detonate a truck filled with explosives in Times Square told a judge that the C.I.A. drone campaign was one of the factors that led him to attack the United States.

In a meeting with reporters on Monday, General Petraeus indicated that it was new intelligence gathering technology that helped NATO forces locate the militants killed by the helicopter raids against militants in Pakistan.

In particular, he said, the military has expanded its fleet of reconnaissance blimps that can hover over hide-outs thought to belong to the Taliban in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

The intelligence technology, General Petraeus said, has also enabled the expanded campaign of raids by Special Operations commandos against Taliban operatives in those areas.

Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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