Posts Tagged ‘ Drone Attacks ’

Latest U.S. Drone Operation in Pakistan Should Be Judged a Success

An Editorial By The Globe and Mail

The use of a drone to kill al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Pakistan, confirmed on Tuesday by U.S. officials, is good news that has nonetheless provoked a diplomatic protest by Pakistan. The country’s position is understandable, and doubtless its posturing is necessary for domestic consumption. But it does not alter the fact that Pakistan is either unable or unwilling to act against terrorists in its lawless tribal lands and, though they occur in a foreign country, that Washington’s actions are defensive in nature.

Abu Yahya al-Libi was a global jihadi figure who incited attacks on Western targets and served a critical propaganda role for al-Qaeda. His apparent death follows several similar drone strikes against senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, that have seriously diminished the terrorist group’s capability and, frankly, have made the world a safer place. What is more, the use of the unmanned stealth weapons has both preserved the lives of U.S. servicemen and women and resulted in limited civilian casualties.

Louise Arbour, the former war crimes prosecutor and Supreme Court of Canada justice, wrote recently in Foreign Policy that the use of drones “stretches legal boundaries to the breaking point and alienates people in Pakistan.” In calling for the rules for use of strike drones to be “clarified,” Ms. Arbour expressed concerns over the “very real risks to civilians.” There is indeed a need for a clarification of the rules. It would be folly to believe that the proliferation of the technology is without implications for international law and policy.

But any such debate must be built upon some pertinent facts. Strike drones are surgically targeted, and those killed are generally not good people (there is always the unfortunate risk of exceptions when terrorists hide among civilians).

In the case of the latest attack, American officials say Mr. Libi was the only person who died. Local tribesmen dispute this, saying others died, but they confirm no civilians were harmed. The same can hardly be said of the consequences of U.S. inaction in the face of al-Qaeda’s threat. This operation was then, by any reasonable measure, a success. Ms. Arbour and others concerned about drone wars need to reflect on the question of proportionality.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteUntil and unless Pakistan goes after the terrorists in its borders earnestly, the drone strikes and their often effectiveness in killing top wanted members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will most likely continue, despite the collateral damage to Pakistan’s sovereignty and loss of civilian lives.

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How Pakistan Continues to Help US Drone Campaign Despite Political Tensions

As Reported by Reuters

The death of a senior Al-Qaeda leader in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signaled that the US-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions. The Jan 10 strike-and its follow-up two days later- were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters. They made use of Pakistani “spotters” on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.

“Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship,” the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. “It’s more productive.” US and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a US commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a US-operated drone 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 the tribal areas and are a key weapon in US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which US officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation.

The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the US official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan. The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how US-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations. “We run a network of human intelligence sources,” he said. “Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones. “Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our US and UK friends,” he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive. Pakistani and US intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint “priority of targets lists” in regular face-to-face meetings, he said. “Al-Qaeda is our top priority,” he said. He declined to say where the meetings take place. Once a target is identified and “marked,” his network coordinates with drone operators on the US side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles (40 km) north of the capital. From spotting to firing a missile “hardly takes about two to three hours”, he said.

It was impossible to verify the source’s claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone program, say the Pakistanis’ cooperation has been less helpful in the past. US officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape. Drone strikes have been a sore point with the public and Pakistani politicians, who describe them as violations of sovereignty that produce unacceptable civilian casualties. The last strike before January had been on Nov 16, 10 days before 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in what NATO says was an inadvertent cross-border attack on a Pakistani border post. That incident sent US-Pakistan relations into the deepest crisis since Islamabad joined the US-led war on militancy following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. On Thursday, Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said ties were “on hold” while Pakistan completes a review of the alliance.

Staying Nimble to Fight Al-Qaeda’s Shifting Threat

By David Ignatius for The Washington Post

Behind the latest terrorism plots is an al-Qaeda leadership that is getting battered in Pakistan but that is determined to strike back wherever it can – using a dispersed network and new tactics that are harder to detect.

The package bombs sent last week from Yemen are one face of al-Qaeda’s continuing campaign. The Yemeni operatives are nimble, adaptive and “frustratingly clever,” says a U.S. counterterrorism official. “They have one main goal, which is to mess with us.”

The Yemen-based operations came as intelligence officials were struggling to disrupt another al-Qaeda plot to launch Mumbai-style attacks in European cities. Officials say that plan involved roughly 25 al-Qaeda terrorists, organized into cells of perhaps three to five members who would stage roving assaults in one or more European cities. Of the 25, about 10 have been captured or killed, according to a second U.S. official.

While these operations are tactically separate, officials say they both reflect a secret mid-2009 directive from an embattled Osama bin Laden to his followers to demonstrate that al-Qaeda could still do damage.

For U.S. officials, these latest terror plots have been a grim reminder that there’s a long fight ahead against al-Qaeda, with no “quick fixes” available. Defense isn’t enough: The explosives sent from Yemen can’t be detected by conventional X-ray screening or sniffer dogs, so stopping these plots requires good intelligence, as was the case last week when Saudi Arabia tipped the United States about the package bombs.

Nobody wants to say so publicly, but the lesson of the past few weeks, for me at least, is that one of these days the terrorists will succeed – and people should be prepared for that likelihood. The greatest damage won’t be the attack itself but the public response. The Yemeni plotters saw the frenzy produced by their failed Christmas Day bombing attempt on a flight to Detroit. They must be hoping now, with the package bombs, to disrupt cargo-handling around the world and damage a fragile global economy.

As the CIA has stalked al-Qaeda over the past two years, this has been a story of punch and counterpunch, of escalating U.S. drone attacks over Pakistan’s tribal areas and defiant al-Qaeda responses. As the senior U.S. official says, this is a “learning enemy” that adapts its tools and tactics as the West alters its defenses.

To understand the latest news, it helps to scroll back to early 2008. The CIA gathered intelligence that al-Qaeda leaders were regrouping, forming new alliances and planning new operations in the West. At that time, the CIA’s attacks from Predator drones were sporadic, and Pakistan was consulted before each attack.

So the Bush administration escalated the drone attacks in mid-2008. Now, Pakistan was given only “concurrent” notification, which in practice meant it was informed after the drone had launched its missile. Moreover, the CIA was authorized to strike targets that had a “signature” of terrorist activity, rather than a precise identification. President Obama has increased the tempo of Predator attacks even more.

The drone attacks have pounded al-Qaeda and killed key members of its leadership. Bin Laden reacted with his mid-2009 directive, which the U.S. official summarizes this way: “Undertake operations however and wherever you can. We need to prove ourselves again.” Specifically, bin Laden directed operatives to plan assaults in Europe similar to the November 2008 attacks that killed about 175 people and terrified Mumbai.

The United States and its European allies have been working hard to disrupt the Mumbai copycat operations. Since the third week of August, the CIA has conducted more than 40 drone attacks on the tribal areas, more than in all of 2008. A British national was killed in Pakistan in September, and two Germans in October. Other plotters have been arrested in Europe and Pakistan. Officials say they can’t be sure yet whether the terror plans have been shelved.

A similar escalation is likely in Yemen, with soldiers from the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command working with Yemeni government forces. The JSOC sums up its lethal approach with the phrase “find, fix, finish,” but a U.S. official says it has been hard to keep track of al-Qaeda targets in Yemen’s tribal villages and cities.

The reality is that the adversary that declared war on the United States in 1996 is still active – morphing and mobilizing even as it is hunted by America and its allies. It’s a nasty fight, and it’s far from over.

The Continuous Struggle Along Pakistan’s Frontier

By David Ignatius for The Wall Street Journal

In the same week when U.S. helicopters mistakenly killed three members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps near the Afghan border, American Special Forces were training members of that same force on how to use radios, sniper rifles and other counterinsurgency tools at a remote base here.

Pakistanis and Americans don’t talk much about this joint training camp, northwest of Peshawar about 20 miles from Afghanistan. But the program is a symbol of the weird duality of the relationship — a mix of public distance and private cooperation that’s awkward for both sides.

“We have good relations; it’s going very well,” Col. Ahsan Raza, the camp commander, said when I visited Tuesday afternoon, two days before the fatal U.S. cross-border attack. But the Pakistani commandant was eager not to appear too close to America, stressing that the U.S. trainers were supplying technical skills, not running the show.

Both sides view the program here as a success story. But the joint effort masks a tension that is only likely to deepen in coming months.

Pakistan wants to use the 70,000-strong Frontier Corps to stabilize the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, and halt the domestic Taliban insurgency. The United States, struggling in Afghanistan, wants Pakistan to help seal the border and destroy the sanctuaries used by al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. The two sides talk as if their goals are identical, but they aren’t. The differing priorities became clear in conversations last week with Pakistani commanders.

Warsak is a pet project of Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of the Frontier Corps. At his headquarters in the ancient Bala Hissar fortress in Peshawar, the traditional garb of the tribal “scouts,” as they’re called, makes you wonder whether the days of the British Raj ever really ended. Behind Khan’s desk is a plaque bearing the names of his predecessors back to 1907.

Khan argues that it’s time for Pakistan to move from big military offensives in the tribal areas to what he calls “policing” actions. “No steamroller operations,” he says.

Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, who commands the Pakistani army in the western border areas and is Khan’s boss, makes the same point. “Don’t expect major new kinetic operations,” he says. “We have changed gears to a softer approach.”

This can’t be comforting to Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. He is said to have concluded, after several months in Kabul, that more Pakistani pressure on the havens is crucial for American success. That’s the basic conflict — an overstretched America wants a Pakistani surge in the tribal areas; an overstretched Pakistan just wants to keep the peace.

Khan’s strategy is an updated version of the old British approach: work through the tribal chiefs, or maliks, keep the roads open and pound any renegades back into line. He wants to maintain order through three tiers of force: local militias, known as “levies,” recruited by the maliks; the Frontier Corps dispersed across the FATA; and the big guns of the Pakistani army.

Working with the American trainers at Warsak, Khan has devised some smart tactics: Private vehicles in the FATA will have electronic chips that register their movements. The scouts will report suspicious activities on their American-made radios, and the snipers will blow away any miscreants using their American-made sniper rifles. To demonstrate that order is returning, the burly Khan, the scion of a princely Pashtun family, took a car trip last summer through the FATA with his wife and daughter.

Khan’s enthusiasm is infectious: “There are no safe havens in my area of responsibility — I can take you anywhere, any place, anytime.” That sidesteps the fact that North and South Waziristan, the main trouble spots, are still the responsibility of the army.

Driving down the roads of the border areas, you sometimes have the sense that you are traveling back in time. But that “back to the future” strategy is a temporary fix, at best. Pakistan, with U.S. support, should be moving forward, not in reverse. The years of war have shattered the old tribal order, and the long-run goal should be to bring the tribal areas into a modern Pakistan, rather than let them fester on their own.

U.S. drone attacks and other firepower can keep the insurgents on the run, but they won’t bring stability. Neither will Tariq Khan’s snipers. Somehow, the people in this desolate region have to feel they have a stake in a future that’s something other than continuous warfare.

Imran Khan Moves Supreme Court Against Drone Attacks

As reported on Despardes.com

Cricketing legend-turned politician Imran Khan has filed a lawsuit in Pakistan’s apex court asking it to declare drone attacks as war crimes.

According to published reports, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief on Wednesday filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to declare drone attacks as attacks on the sovereignty and defence of Pakistan and a war crime.

The petition, filed by Imran Khan’s lawyer Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, argues that the provisions of logistics and facilities to any foreign country or alliance for mass destruction through drone strikes inside the territory of Pakistan resulting into killings of Pakistani citizen is illegal, unwarranted, unconstitutional, in violation the United Nations Charter, universal declaration of human rights, international law as well as the international humanitarian law, a war crime and an attack on the sovereignty, solidarity, integrity and defence of Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s petition was filed today after a Lahore court Lahore cort ruled against drone strikes and called on the government to take appropriate measures to halt strikes by unmanned drones in Pakistan if they aren’t approved by Islamabad.

Federal authorities should take measures to stop drone attacks in Pakistan if they are carried out without formal approval, the court said on Wednesday. The court was responding to a petition that said drone strikes were a violation of national sovereignty.

Drone attacks have increased under the authority of U.S. President Barack Obama, notably inside Pakistan. The CIA, a civilian entity, said it is acting according to the code of law in carrying out the strikes.

Pakistan’s government publicly objects to the attacks, saying they violate its sovereignty. But it is widely thought there is a tacit agreement between the U.S. intelligence agency, the CIA, and Islamabad to allow such strikes, reported Voice of America on its website today.(http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Suspected-US-Missile-Strike-Kills-10-in-Pakistan-97396999.html)

Two missiles believed fired Tuesday by an unmanned drone struck a village in the tribal regions of Pakistan, killing militants including Hamza al-Jufi, an Egyptian allied with al-Qaida.

Al Qaeda Aide Believed Dead- Drone Attack in Pakistan Said to Have Killed No. 3 Official

By Kimberley Dozier for AP

Al Qaeda’s third in command, who played key roles in a recently foiled terrorist plot against the U.S. and the 2001 terrorist attacks, is believed to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas, potentially dealing a significant blow to the terrorist network. Mustafa al-Yazid, al Qaeda’s chief operating officer, was killed a little more than a week ago, according to two U.S. officials. This is the main person who everyone has been looking for,” one official said.

Al-Qaida announced Monday that its No. 3 official, Mustafa al-Yazid, had been killed along with members of his family — perhaps one of the most severe blows to the terror movement since the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida began. A U.S. official said al-Yazid was believed to have died in a U.S. missile strike.

A statement posted on an al-Qaida Website said al-Yazid, which it described as the organization’s top commander in Afghanistan, was killed along with his wife, three daughters, a grandchild and other men, women and children but did not say how or where.

The statement did not give an exact date for al-Yazid’s death, but it was dated by the Islamic calendar month of “Jemadi al-Akhar,” which falls in May.

A U.S. official in Washington said word was “spreading in extremist circles” of his death in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the past two weeks.

His death would be a major blow to al-Qaida, which in December “lost both its internal and external operations chiefs,” the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The Egyptian-born al-Yazid, also known as Sheik Saeed al-Masri, was a founding member of al-Qaida and the group’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. He was key to day-to-day control, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning, the U.S. official said.

Al-Yazid has been reported killed before, in 2008, but this is the first time his death has been acknowledged by the militant group on the Internet.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said al-Yazid died in a U.S. missile strike on May 21 in the North Waziristan tribal area.

Soon after the attack, officials reported that two foreigners were among the 10 people killed, but did not know their identities. Five women and two children were also wounded in the attack, which occurred in the village of Boya near the main town in the area, Miran Shah.

The intelligence officials said they received word of al-Yazid’s death last week and confirmed it by speaking to local tribal elders and Taliban members. They said their sources had not seen al-Yazid’s body and did not know where he was buried.

Al-Yazid has been one of many targets in a U.S. Predator drone campaign aimed at militants in Pakistan since President Barack Obama took office. Al-Yazid made no secret of his contempt for the United States, once calling it “the evil empire leading crusades against the Muslims.”

“We have reached the point where we see no difference between the state and the American people,” al-Yazid told Pakistan’s Geo TV in a June 2008 interview. “The United States is a non-Muslim state bent on the destruction of Muslims.”

The shadowy, 55-year-old al-Yazid has been involved with Islamic extremist movements for nearly 30 years since he joined radical student groups led by fellow Egyptian al-Zawahri, now the No. 2 figure in al-Qaida after bin Laden.

In the early 1980s, al-Yazid served three years in an Egyptian prison for purported links to the group responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. After his release, al-Yazid turned up in Afghanistan, where, according to al-Qaida’s propaganda wing Al-Sabah, he became a founding member of the terrorist group.

He later followed bin Laden to Sudan and back to Afghanistan, where he served as al-Qaida’s chief financial officer, managing secret bank accounts in the Persian Gulf that were used to help finance the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. After the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, al-Yazid went into hiding for years. He surfaced in May 2007 during a 45-minute interview posted on the Web by Al-Sabah, in which he was introduced as the “official in charge” of the terrorist movement’s operations in Afghanistan.

Some security analysts believe the choice of al-Yazid as the Afghan chief may have signaled a new approach for al-Qaida in the country where it once reigned supreme.

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit that tracked bin Laden, believes bin Laden and al-Zawahri wanted a trusted figure to handle Afghanistan “while they turn to other aspects of the jihad outside” the country.

Al-Yazid had little background in leading combat operations. But terrorism experts say his advantage was that he was close to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. As a fluent Pashto speaker known for impeccable manners, al-Yazid enjoyed better relations with the Afghans than many of the al-Qaida Arabs, whom the Afghans found arrogant and abrasive.

That suggested a conscious decision by al-Qaida to embed within the Taliban organization, helping the Afghan allies with expertise and training while at the same time putting an Afghan face on the war.

Al-Yazid himself alluded to such an approach in an interview this year with Al-Jazeera television’s Islamabad correspondent Ahmad Zaidan. Al-Yazid said al-Qaida fighters were involved at every level with the Taliban.

“We participate with our brothers in the Islamic Emirate in all fields,” al-Yazid said. “This had a big positive effect on the (Taliban) self-esteem in Afghanistan.”

A September 2007 al-Qaida video sought to promote the notion of close Taliban-al-Qaida ties at a time when the Afghan insurgents were launching their comeback six years after their ouster from power in Kabul.

The video showed al-Yazid sitting with a senior Taliban commander in a field surrounded by trees as a jihad anthem played. The Taliban commander vowed to “target the infidels in Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan” and to “focus our attacks, Allah willing, on the coalition forces in Afghanistan.”

There is also evidence that al-Yazid has promoted ties with Islamic extremist groups in Central Asia and Pakistan, where other top al-Qaida figures are believed to be hiding.

“He definitely seems to have significant influence among the Pakistani Taliban and the Central Asian groups,” terrorism expert Evan Kohlman said. “They regularly post and share his videos on the Web, just as they would with bin Laden or al-Zawahri.”

In August 2008, Pakistani military officials claimed al-Yazid had been killed in fighting in the Bajaur tribal area along the Afghan border. However, he turned up in subsequent al-Qaida videos, all of which had clearly been made after the Bajaur fighting.