January 20, 2012

Drones are Key Weapons in Obama's Counter-terrorism Strategy

The United States government has made a series of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004 using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division. These attacks are part of the United States' War on Terrorism campaign, seeking to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. These strikes have increased substantially under the Presidency of Barack Obama. Some media refer to the series of attacks as a "drone war." Drone strikes were halted in November 2011 after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala incident. Shamsi Airfield was evacuated of Americans and taken over by the Pakistanis the next month. The incident prompted an approximately two-month stop to the drone strikes, which resumed on January 10, 2012.

According to unnamed counterterrorism officials, in 2009 or 2010 CIA drones began employing smaller missiles in airstrikes in Pakistan in order to reduce civilian casualties. The new missiles, called the Small Smart Weapon or Scorpion, are reportedly about the size of a violin case (21 inches long) and weigh 16 kg. The missiles are used in combination with new technology intended to increase accuracy and expand surveillance, including the use of small, unarmed surveillance drones to exactly pinpoint the location of targets. These "micro-UAVs" (unmanned aerial vehicles) can be roughly the size of a pizza platter and meant to monitor potential targets at close range, for hours or days at a time. One former U.S. official who worked with micro-UAVs said that they can be almost impossible to detect at night. "It can be outside your window and you won't hear a whisper," the official said. The drone operators also have changed to trying to target insurgents in vehicles rather than residences to reduce the chances of civilian casualties.

The U.S. Government believed that 1,300 militants and only 30 civilians had been killed in drone strikes since mid-2008, with no civilians killed since August 2010. According to the Long War Journal, as of mid-2011, the drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 had killed 2,018 militants and 138 civilians. The New America Foundation stated in mid-2011 that since 2004 2,551 people have been killed in the strikes, with 80% of those militants. The Foundation stated that 95% of those killed in 2010 were militants. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism based on extensive research found in mid-2011 that at least 385 civilians were among the dead, including more than 160 children.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Exclusive: Senior al Qaeda Figure Killed in Drone Strike

January 20, 2012

A militant who acted as a senior operations organizer for al Qaeda was targeted and killed in one of two U.S. drone strikes launched against targets inside Pakistan last week, a U.S. official said.

U.S. and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a U.S. commando team. They said he was targeted in a strike by a U.S.-operated drone on January 10 directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.

That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol Pakistan's tribal areas and are a key weapon in U.S. President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism strategy.
The sources described Awan, who also was known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which U.S. officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

Pakistani officials could not confirm that Awan was killed in the drone attack, but the U.S. official said he was.

One of the sources described Awan as an associate of al Qaeda's current chief of external operations, whose identity is known to intelligence officials but not to the general public.
"Aslam Awan was a senior al-Qaeda external operations planner who was working on attacks against the West. His death reduces al-Qaeda's thinning bench of another operative devoted to plotting the death of innocent civilians," a U.S. official said.
Several previous alleged chiefs of external operations for al Qaeda have been caught or killed in drone attacks or counter-terrorism operations, the most notorious being Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington D.C. Mohammed was captured and is being held by U.S. authorities in the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility.

Because their role in arranging operations involves interacting with militants in the field, external operations chiefs of al Qaeda have found themselves more vulnerable to exposure and counter-attacks by security forces than the movement's most senior leaders, who until bin Laden's demise last year appeared to be able to move about the region and issue provocative audio and video messages with near-impunity.

A Pakistani security source based in the country's border region said that Awan was the remaining member of an al Qaeda cell Pakistani authorities have been trying to roll up since 2008.
"We thought he was very close to Ayman al-Zawahiri," the source said, referring to al Qaeda's current leader and bin Laden's long-time deputy, a former Egyptian doctor.
However, a U.S. source said that American experts did not believe that Awan was particularly close to al-Zawahiri.

The drone strike that targeted Awan was one of two such attacks last week, in what U.S. sources indicated was a resumption of the U.S. drone campaign following the eight-week pause. In the other drone strike, also in North Waziristan, a group of "foreign fighters" sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, some of Uzbek ethnicity, were targeted on January 12.


The targeted militants were believed to be travelling, possibly in preparation for an operation near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, and some were injured or killed in the attack, the U.S. source said.

U.S. officials said they could not confirm news reports, based on claims from Pakistani sources, that Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the TTP, Pakistan's most potent domestic affiliate of the Taliban movement, was also killed in the June 12 attack. Pakistani and U.S. sources said that Mehsud was not targeted in the drone strike, and one Pakistani source said:
"He is alive. Hakimullah is alive."
U.S. officials insisted that the drone strike lull did not represent an official moratorium on such operations by the Obama administration. The officials maintained that any fall-off in the pace of such operations was related to the availability of intelligence and operating conditions, such as weather.

However, some officials did privately acknowledge that the drone lull was at least in part calculated to try to improve strained relations between Washington and Islamabad, which had been on a downswing for much of last year in the wake of Pakistan's detention of a CIA operative and the secret U.S. commando raid on bin Laden's Pakistani hideout.

Relations plummeted to a new low following a late November incident in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed accidentally in a NATO aerial attack on border outposts.

Some U.S. and Pakistani officials say that both governments are making efforts to improve relations. As part of this process, a U.S. official said, it is possible that some permanent tweaks could be made in the U.S. drone program which could slow the pace of attacks.

For Our Allies, Death from Above

The New York Times
November 3, 2011

LAST Friday, I took part in an unusual meeting in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The meeting had been organized so that Pashtun tribal elders who lived along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier could meet with Westerners for the first time to offer their perspectives on the shadowy drone war being waged by the Central Intelligence Agency in their region. Twenty men came to air their views; some brought their young sons along to experience this rare interaction with Americans. In all, 60 villagers made the journey.

The meeting was organized as a traditional jirga. In Pashtun culture, a jirga acts as both a parliament and a courtroom: it is the time-honored way in which Pashtuns have tried to establish rules and settle differences amicably with those who they feel have wronged them.

On the night before the meeting, we had a dinner, to break the ice. During the meal, I met a boy named Tariq Aziz. He was 16. As we ate, the stern, bearded faces all around me slowly melted into smiles. Tariq smiled much sooner; he was too young to boast much facial hair, and too young to have learned to hate.

The next day, the jirga lasted several hours. I had a translator, but the gist of each man’s speech was clear. American drones would circle their homes all day before unleashing Hellfire missiles, often in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. Death lurked everywhere around them.

When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the official American position: that these were precision strikes and no innocent civilian had been killed in 15 months. My comment was met with snorts of derision.

I told the elders that the only way to convince the American people of their suffering was to accumulate physical proof that civilians had been killed. Three of the men, at considerable personal risk, had collected the detritus of half a dozen missiles; they had taken 100 pictures of the carnage.

In one instance, they matched missile fragments with a photograph of a dead child, killed in August 2010 during the C.I.A.’s period of supposed infallibility. This made their grievances much more tangible.

Collecting evidence is a dangerous business. The drones are not the only enemy. The Pakistani military has sealed the area off from journalists, so the truth is hard to come by. One man investigating drone strikes that killed civilians was captured by the Taliban and held for 63 days on suspicion of spying for the United States.

At the end of the day, Tariq stepped forward. He volunteered to gather proof if it would help to protect his family from future harm. We told him to think about it some more before moving forward; if he carried a camera he might attract the hostility of the extremists.

But the militants never had the chance to harm him. On Monday, he was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. The two of them had been dispatched, with Tariq driving, to pick up their aunt and bring her home to the village of Norak, when their short lives were ended by a Hellfire missile.

My mistake had been to see the drone war in Waziristan in terms of abstract legal theory — as a blatantly illegal invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, akin to President Richard M. Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970.

But now, the issue has suddenly become very real and personal. Tariq was a good kid, and courageous. My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government.

And Tariq’s extended family, so recently hoping to be our allies for peace, has now been ripped apart by an American missile — most likely making any effort we make at reconciliation futile.

Q&A: The Use of Drones to Kill Terrorists Comes Under Fire

New Jersey On-Line
October 2, 2011

EPA Site/Intelligence HandoutAn undated handout photograph provided by the Site Intelligence Group on September 30 shows Anwar al-Awlaki speaking in a video message posted on an internet website in an unkown location.

The U.S. government on Friday trumpeted the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who rose to the top of al Qaeda in Yemen. He was taken out by a CIA-operated drone missile as he sat in a vehicle with another American radical, reportedly the editor of an online jihadist magazine.

Awlaki’s death comes in the midst of a contentious debate between the State Department and the Pentagon: In its ongoing efforts to prevent another terrorist attack, can the United States use drone missiles to kill suspected terrorists? And what if those suspects are far from any battlefield, in countries with whom we are not at war? Getting Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking al Qaeda officials has been the focus of U.S. efforts so far, but that soon may change.

David Cole, a professor of constitutional law, national security and criminal justice at Georgetown University Law Center, recently wrote about the implications of that discussion for the New York Review of Books. Editorial writer Linda Ocasio spoke with Cole about his thoughts on what the shift in strategy might mean for the United States and its relations with other nations.

Q. We’ve been told for the last 10 years that the war on terror is a war like no other. We’re fighting stateless terrorists, so why is it a problem to chase after them, no matter where they are?

A. First of all, it’s not a war on terror. That’s like having a war on murder; it doesn’t make sense. Obama has avoided that rhetoric. It’s a war with the organization that attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda, and the group that harbored it, the Taliban.

Using military force against them is one thing. When you start saying you can target anyone, not just members of groups against which Congress authorized military action, in any country, we’re overstepping the authority that international law and the U.S. Constitution give us.

In a military conflict, the U.S. unquestionably has the authority to kill those fighting against us on the battlefield. But where do we get the right to target and kill a member of al Shabab, a militant group in Somalia, where we are not at war? Is it enough that the group is believed to have some al Qaeda sympathies?

The use of military force is permitted within the confines of war, not outside it. From my view, it’s critical we have clear lines about when it is appropriate to use these practices and when it is not. And thus far, the policy has operated in secret, without any clear lines that we can see.

Q. Was the killing of al-Awlaki legal?

A. The killing of al-Awlaki may or not have been legal. He was far from any battlefield, but news reports state that he was involved in encouraging or directing several attacks, including that of the "Christmas Day bomber," and may have been planning future attacks. If that is true, and if he was effectively a "co-belligerent" fighting with al Qaeda, and if Yemen could not detain him, the attack may well have been legal. But because the entire drone program operates under a shroud of secrecy, we just don’t know.

And regardless of the legality of this particular attack, it ought to be a matter of grave concern to all Americans that our government is killing its own citizens pursuant to a program that it has yet to delineate or defend publicly.

Q. Was there any question that we had a right to assassinate Osama bin Laden?

A. No, he’s the leader of al Qaeda, and we targeted him in Pakistan, from which many attacks have been launched by al Qaeda, so that was permissible. What’s troubling about the debates within the Obama administration is that they’re not talking about targeting al Qaeda leaders, but rank-and-file members of other groups that never attacked us, in countries far from the military conflict, like Yemen and Somalia.

Q. What would be the consequences to the U.S. of pursuing that strategy?

A. We have to ask: Is this a strategy we would be comfortable with other countries employing? Other countries may already have, or will soon develop, drone capability.

Do we want China, Russia or Pakistan to use targeted missiles to kill people, in other countries, they claim they suspect of terrorism? It’s a very dangerous sort of strategy, which could create more military conflict, war and instability around the world.

Q. How then do we effectively pursue those plotting against the United States?

A. Outside of a specific ongoing war, the state generally may not simply kill those it suspects of wrongdoing. We require a trial and appeals process so we don’t punish, much less kill, the wrong people — even for terrorist offenses.

We have successfully dealt with many terrorist threats through the criminal process, working with allies and other nations to bring people to justice. It is dangerous to put that aside and adopt a strategy that allows us to kill without any process.

While killing is an inevitable part of war, it is critical that we have clear lines that distinguish war and peacetime authorities. And the fact that the current policy has been maintained in secret means that we the people have no opportunity to judge whether our government is overstepping its bounds.

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