23 December 2010
Obama's other 'surge': US drone war in Pakistan
by Staff Writers

http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Obamas_other_surge _US_drone_war_in_Pakistan_999.html

US missile attack kills at least 15 in Pakistan
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) Dec 27, 2010 - US missiles killed at least 15 militants in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt where the United Nations said Monday it was suspending food handouts in one district after a suicide attack. The missiles destroyed a vehicle and compound in North Waziristan, reputedly the country's most impregnable Taliban and Al-Qaeda fortress where US officials want Pakistan to launch a ground offensive to eliminate the militant threat. Local security officials said unmanned US aircraft struck Mir Ali village, 25 kilometres (16 miles) east of Miranshah, the tribal district's main town. The identities of the dead were not immediately known, but officials believed that most were Pakistani, rather than Afghan or Arab fighters. The Mir Ali area is a renowned stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.

"According to initial reports a compound was hit, but later on it was confirmed that a vehicle was also hit," said a Pakistani security official in Peshawar, the administrative capital of the northwest. "Both the targets were in Mir Ali and hit almost back to back. We have reports of 18 militants death, but can confirm only 15 at the moment," he said. Intelligence officials in Miranshah put the death toll as high as 21 and said that two vehicles were destroyed by four missiles fired from US drones. Separately officials said Taliban militants have detained 23 tribesmen for meeting Pakistan's powerful army chief in the country's lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border this month. Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP from an undisclosed location that a militant "court" would decide their fate for meeting General Ashfaq Kayani.

Intelligence officials and a local government official said the elders from a district of South Waziristan were summoned by the Taliban to Razmak, a town in neighbouring North Waziristan, on December 17 and are yet to return. Washington says wiping-out the militant threat in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt is vital to winning the nine-year war against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan and defeating Al-Qaeda. The United States does not confirm drone attacks, but its military and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the aircraft in the region. The covert campaign has doubled missile attacks in the tribal area this year where around 100 drone strikes have killed more than 640 people since January 1, compared to 45 killing 420 people in 2009, according to an AFP tally. Pakistan tacitly cooperates with the bombing campaign, which US officials say has severely weakened Al-Qaeda's leadership, but has stalled on launching an offensive in North Waziristan, saying its troops are overstretched.

Washington (AFP) -
As the United States pressed ahead with a grinding campaign in Afghanistan in 2010, President Barack Obama dramatically escalated another war across the border in Pakistan, using robotic planes to pound Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The effect of the expanding covert war remains unclear and some skeptics have warned civilian casualties from the strikes could ultimately feed extremism in Pakistan's tribal areas. But US officials say Al-Qaeda's leadership has been severely weakened.

Coinciding with an influx of US troops in the Afghan war, Obama has pursued the "surge" in CIA bombing raids in Pakistan's northwest, despite criticism from rights groups that the strikes amount to extrajudicial killings.

As of December 17, Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs carried out 113 strikes against Islamist militants in Pakistan, double the number in 2009 and more than the total number of raids conducted in the previous six years, according to a tally by the independent New America Foundation.

The covert bombing raids are backed up by a clandestine CIA-run paramilitary force of 3,000 Afghans, reportedly carrying out sensitive cross-border operations in Pakistan.

Unlike the nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, the drone war has steadily expanded with little US public debate while American officials avoid openly discussing the CIA raids.

"By the old standards, this would be viewed as a war," Peter Singer, author of a book on robotic weapons, "Wired for War," told a congressional hearing in March.

"But why do we not view it as such? Is it because it is being run by the CIA, not by the military and thus not following the same lines of authority and authorization?" he asked.

"Is it because Congress never debated it?"

Officials credit the drone strikes with knocking out hundreds of insurgents, including some senior figures, with media reports putting the toll as high as 897 militants.

But the number of civilian casualties caused by the strikes in the remote tribal areas is hotly disputed and virtually impossible to verify.

US officials have privately maintained that civilians only make up one or two percent of those killed by the strikes, while others charge the raids have caused hundreds casualties.

The strikes reflect Washington's uneasy alliance with Pakistan, which tacitly cooperates with the bombing raids but has been reluctant to go after the Haqqani network and other militants in North Waziristan and elsewhere.

The drone raids, and the civilian casualties associated with them, are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, placing the Islamabad government in an uncomfortable position.

The overwhelming majority of the raids are carried out in North Waziristan, and US officials have pressed Islamabad for permission to expand the drone war to other areas, according to the new book "Obama's War" by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward.

With Al-Qaeda's affiliates in Yemen and elsewhere posing a mounting threat, the remotely-piloted drones have become the weapon of choice for US strikes against terror suspects.

Recently leaked diplomatic cables confirmed the US mounted missile strikes against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, even though the country's leaders publicly claimed their own forces carried out the attack.

Critics question the tactic, saying militant networks are able to replace fallen leaders and that countering Islamist extremists requires prevailing in a broader struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims.

The drone raids are akin to "going after a beehive, one bee at a time," former CIA officer Bruce Reidel told the New Yorker last year, and "the hive will always produce more bees."

But there are no other good options, he said.

"It's really all we've got to disrupt Al-Qaeda. The reason the administration continues to use it is obvious: it doesn't really have anything else."

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