Posts Tagged ‘ Drones ’

Western Peace Activists March in Pakistan Against Drone Strikes

By Mark Mcdonald for The New York Times

Dozens of Western peace activists, including 32 Americans, participated in a convoy in Pakistan over the weekend to protest deadly American drone strikes in the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The motorcade was almost certain to be turned away Sunday from entering South Waziristan and the town of Kotkai, the hometown of the founder of the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government, as my colleague Salman Masood reported, was expected to block the group.

The activists, most of them from the group Codepink, object to the civilian deaths that occur in the aerial strikes against Taliban fighters and other militants. (Rendezvous recently explored the controversy over drone warfare in a piece, “Are Drone Strikes Worth the Costs?”)

“We kill a lot of innocent people,” said Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Codepink and part of the delegation in Pakistan. She called the attacks “barbaric assassinations.”

Speaking of the tribal areas, she said, “This is a culture that very much believes in revenge, and then they seek revenge by trying to kill Americans. So we are just perpetuating a cycle of violence and it’s got to stop somewhere, and that’s why we are putting our bodies on the line by trying to go to Waziristan to say no.”

Ms. Benjamin said her group also was participating in the march to “put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are.”

Before the convoy got under way in Pakistan, members of the Codepink delegation met with Richard E. Hoagland, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, and he was presented with a petition calling for an end to the drone strikes.

“I wish I could tell you how enormously, enormously careful the various deciders are before there is any strike these days,” Mr. Hoagland said. “I know you object to any strike at all, absolutely, I know that, but I wish I could also tell you the extreme process that is undertaken to avoid what is very sadly called ‘collateral damage.’ ”

“I looked at the numbers before I came here today,” Mr. Hoagland told the group, “and I saw a number for civilian casualties that officially — U.S. government classified information — since July 2008, it is in the two figures. I can’t vouch for you that that’s accurate, in any way, so I can’t talk about numbers. I wanted to see what we have on the internal record, it’s quite low.”

The so-called “peace march” — which was more like a motorcade — was organized by Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the opposition political party led by the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. In a recent profile in The New York Times Magazine, the writer Pankaj Mishra called Mr. Khan “Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto.”

“His long and uncompromising opposition to American presence in the region,” the article said, “not only pleases assorted Islamic radicals; it also echoes a deep Pakistani anger about the C.I.A.’s drone attacks, whose frequency has increased under the Obama administration.”

Before the march, Mr. Khan said of the campaign of drone strikes: “It’s totally counterproductive. All it does is it helps the militants to recruit poor people. Clearly if they were succeeding, these drone attacks, we would be winning the war. But there’s a stalemate.”

In an interview on BBC Radio 4, Mr. Khan said Pakistani government officials were “completely complicit” in the U.S drone efforts, “covertly and tacitly giving their approval.”

If he becomes the Pakistani leader, Mr. Khan said, he would appeal to the United States and the United Nations to halt the aerial attacks. If those appeals failed, he said, he would have the Pakistani Air Force begin shooting down the drones.

In a scathing opinion piece Sunday in the Express Tribune newspaper from Karachi, the attorney and commentator Saroop Ijaz said Mr. Khan’s march was principally linked to domestic Pakistani politics. He also objected to Mr. Khan not denouncing Taliban suicide attacks that have killed numerous civilians. An excerpt from his commentary, headlined “Game of Drones”:

This is not about Waziristan, this is not even about drones; this is about politics and very dangerous and cowardly politics. By indulging and showing indecent deference to these murderers, Mr. Khan is insulting thousands of those dead in suicide attacks over these years.

By all means, go and play your political games and make populist, unrealistic promises, but a line needs to be drawn when the memory of thousands of our martyrs and the survival of our society is at stake. Unless, of course, Mr. Khan can give us his solemn word that his new friends are willing to lay down their weapons and stop killing our innocent civilians.
The journalist Ahmed Wali Mujeeb recently spent nearly a month in Waziristan. A condensed excerpt from his report for the BBC:

The drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon, carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing buzzing sound. They call them “mosquitoes.”

“Anybody who has been listening to the buzzing all through the day usually can’t sleep at night,” says Abdul Waheed, a tribesman in North Waziristan. “It’s like a blind man’s stick — it can hit anybody at any time.”

Taliban and local tribesmen say the drones almost always depend on a local spy who gives word when the target is there. Some say the spy leaves a chip or microchip at the site, which guides drones in for the kill. Others say special marker ink is used — rather like “X” marks the spot.

Anyone coming under suspicion is unlikely to get a hearing. The Taliban kill first and decide afterwards if the suspect was involved or not. It is better to be safe than sorry, they say.
Jennifer Gibson, an attorney with Reprieve, a legal charity in Britain that represents a number of Pakistani drone victims, was a researcher in Pakistan for the recent report, “Living Under Drones,” a joint project by the law schools at Stanford University and New York University.

In a commentary for The Los Angeles Times, Ms. Gibson said drones did not simply fly to a target, launch their missiles and then withdraw to a distant base. Instead, she said, drones were “a constant presence” overhead, “with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time.”

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school,” she wrote. “Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier strikes. Drivers are afraid to deliver food from other parts of the country.

“The routines of daily life have been ripped to shreds. Indisputably innocent people cower in their homes, afraid to assemble on the streets. ‘Double taps,’ or secondary strikes on the same target, have stopped residents from aiding those who have been injured. A leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance by an astonishing six hours.”

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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.

Pakistani Panel Demands End to US Drone Attacks, Apology for NATO Air Strike

As Reported By The Voice Of America

A Pakistani parliamentary committee — tasked with laying out new terms of engagement with the United States and NATO — on Tuesday demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes and an apology from Washington for a NATO strike last year that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The report, read to a joint session of both houses of parliament by committee chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, calls on the United States to review its activities and cease all drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Rabbani said that “drone strikes are counterproductive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments.”

U.S. lawmakers, however, are rejecting those calls. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman told VOA the drone strikes are critically important to America’s national security, adding he does not believe they should stop.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the drones are needed due to the lack of a more aggressive effort by Pakistan to root out terrorists and radical militants along its border with Afghanistan.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that although sovereignty is a big issue for any country, he would like to see Pakistan embrace the idea that extremism has no welcome home in Pakistan. He said drone strikes have been effective and that, in his words, “it is not in Pakistan’s long-term interest to be seen by the world-at-large as a safe haven for terrorists.”

Rabbani also demanded an unconditional U.S. apology for the NATO airstrike in November that killed the 24 Pakistani soldiers. He said “the condemnable and unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack” represents “a breach of international law and constitutes a blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Washington has expressed regret for the loss of life and accepted partial responsibility for the airstrike, but has so far refused to apologize, saying NATO forces acted in self-defense.

Pakistani lawmakers are expected to eventually approve the panel’s recommendations. But, ultimately, Pakistan’s government and powerful army have the final say in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Tuesday said she would not comment on the issue until the process is completed.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters outside of Parliament that Pakistan needs to balance good diplomatic relations with its own interests.

Pakistan Wants U.S. Drones Out

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan for Bloomberg News

Pakistan has told the White House it no longer will permit U.S. drones to use its airspace to attack and collect intelligence on Al-Qaida and other militants, according to officials involved.

Eliminating drone missions would aid the resurgence of extremist groups operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, said Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Antony Blinken, on Friday and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end, officials involved said.

Pakistan’s sovereignty over its airspace and the civilian casualties that have resulted from drone strikes are emotional issues in Pakistan, where public opinion heavily favors terminating drone missions.

The only chance for a compromise, Pakistani officials said, may be if the United States agrees to share intelligence and coordinate strikes first. The United States has resisted giving information to Pakistan in advance because of fears that some in Pakistan’s security forces might warn the targets of impending strikes.

The drone program has been part of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan since 2004, officials and experts say. The administration authorized 53 drone attacks in 2009 and 117 in 2010, compared with 35 in 2008 under former President George W. Bush, according to Bill Roggio, a U.S. military analyst whose website, the Long War Journal, maintains a database of the campaign.

The drone program is “critical” because it provides better real-time surveillance and reconnaissance than satellite imagery does, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corp. research institute, said in an interview.

Singer said that “for several years, Pakistan has openly said, ‘How dare you violate our sovereignty,’ but it turned out the CIA was flying from Pakistani bases with Pakistan’s permission.” This time, it’s possible “they really mean it,” after a series of high-profile disputes have damaged relations, Singer said.

U.S.: Al-Awlaki Believed Dead in Attack

As reported by the Detroit News

American forces targeted al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki’s convoy with a drone and jet attack and believe he’s been killed, a U.S. counterterrorism official said Friday.

The U.S.-born cleric known for fiery anti-American rhetoric has been suspected of ties to the Fort Hood attack and the attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing in 2009.

The counterterrorism official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Word from the U.S. comes after the government of Yemen reported that al-Awlaki was targeted and killed Friday about five miles from the town of Khashef, some 87 miles from the capital Sanaa. He would be the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials have said they believe al-Awlaki directed, led and planned attempted attacks on the U.S. He was believed to have inspired the Fort Hood shooter, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, and to have played a more direct role in the Christmas 2009 attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner. Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas.

On Sept. 13, an FBI Special Agent testified in Detroit that al-Awlaki played a key role in the radicalization of so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Abdulmutallab spent hours listening to al-Awlaki’s video clips posted on the Internet, Special Agent Timothy Waters testified.

Abdulmutallab faces up to life in prison if convicted of a host of charges stemming from his alleged attempt to blow up the plane from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Al-Awlaki’s death “will especially impact the group’s ability to recruit, inspire and raise funds as al-Awlaki’s influence and ability to connect to a broad demographic of potential supporters was unprecedented,” said terrorist analyst Ben Venzke of the private intelligence monitoring firm, the IntelCenter.

But Venzke said the terror group al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula will remain the most dangerous regional arm “both in its region and for the direct threat it poses to the U.S. following three recent failed attacks,” with AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi still at large.

Venzke said al-Awlaki was due to release a new article in the next issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine justifying attacking civilians in the West.

“The article, which may already have been completed, was announced by AQAP on Tuesday as being entitled, ‘Targeting Populations of Countries at War with Muslims,'” he said.

C.I.A. Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda’s No. 2

By Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times


A drone operated by the CIA killed Al Qaeda’s second-ranking figure in the mountains of Pakistan on Monday, American and Pakistani officials said Saturday, further damaging a terrorism network that appears significantly weakened since the death of Osama bin Laden in May.

An American official said that the drone strike killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who in the last year had taken over as Al Qaeda’s top operational planner. Mr. Rahman was in frequent contact with Bin Laden in the months before the terrorist leader was killed on May 2 by a Navy Seals team, intelligence officials have said.

American officials described Mr. Rahman’s death as particularly significant as compared with other high-ranking Qaeda operatives who have been killed, because he was one of a new generation of leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after Bin Laden’s death.

Thousands of electronic files recovered at Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, revealed that Bin Laden communicated frequently with Mr. Rahman. They also showed that Bin Laden relied on Mr. Rahman to get messages to other Qaeda leaders and to ensure that Bin Laden’s recorded communications were broadcast widely.

After Bin Laden was killed, Mr. Rahman became Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader under Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Bin Laden.

There were few details on Saturday about the strike that killed Mr. Rahman. In the months since Bin Laden’s death, the C.I.A. has maintained a barrage of drone missile strikes on mountainous redoubts in Pakistan, a bombing campaign that continues to strain America’s already turbulent relationship with Pakistan.

The C.I.A almost never consults Pakistani officials in advance of a drone strike, and a Pakistani government official said Saturday that the United States had told Pakistan’s government that Mr. Rahman had been the target of the strike only after the spy agency confirmed that he had been killed.

The drone strikes have been the Obama administration’s preferred means of hunting and killing operatives from Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups. Over the past year the United States has expanded the drone war to Yemen and Somalia.

Some top American officials have said publicly that they believe Al Qaeda is in its death throes, though many intelligence analysts are less certain, saying that the network built by Bin Laden has repeatedly shown an ability to regenerate.

Yet even as Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen and North Africa continue to plot attacks against the West, most intelligence analysts believe that the remnants of Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan have been weakened considerably. Mr. Rahman’s death is another significant blow to the group.

“Atiyah was at the top of Al Qaeda’s trusted core,” the American official said. “His combination of background, experience and abilities are unique in Al Qaeda — without question, they will not be easily replaced.”

The files captured in Abbottabad revealed, among other things, that Bin Laden and Mr. Rahman discussed brokering a deal with Pakistan: Al Qaeda would refrain from mounting attacks in the country in exchange for protection for Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan.

American officials said that they found no evidence that either of the men ever raised the idea directly with Pakistani officials, or that Pakistan’s government had any knowledge that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.

Mr. Rahman also served as Bin Laden’s liaison to Qaeda affiliates. Last year, American officials said, Mr. Rahman notified Bin Laden of a request by the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to install Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, as the leader of the group in Yemen.

That group, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, apparently thought Mr. Awlaki’s status as an Internet celebrity, for his popular video sermons, and his knowledge of the United States might help the group’s fund-raising efforts. But according to the electronic files in Abbottabad, Bin Laden told Mr. Rahman that the group’s leadership should remain unchanged.

After Bin Laden’s death, some intelligence officials saw a cadre of Libyan operatives as poised to assume greater control inside Al Qaeda, which at times has been fractured by cultural rivalries.

Libyan operatives like Mr. Rahman, they said, had long bristled at the leadership of an older generation, many of them Egyptian like Mr. Zawahri and Sheikh Saeed al-Masri.

Mr. Masri was killed last year by a C.I.A. missile, as were several Qaeda operations chiefs before him. The job has proved to be particularly deadly, American officials said, because the operations chief has had to transmit the guidance of Bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri to Qaeda operatives elsewhere, providing a way for the Americans to track him through electronic intercepts.

Mr. Rahman assumed the role after Mr. Masri’s death. Now that Mr. Rahman has died, American officials said it was unclear who would take over the job.

Pakistan Kicks U.S. Off Air Base

By Farhan Bokhari for CBS News

The U.S. faces the challenge of quickly establishing alternative facilities from which to launch drone aircraft inside Afghanistan after Pakistan ordered U.S. personnel and hardware out of a base believed to have been used in the past for CIA drones, two senior Western defense officials tell CBS News.

Concern mounted Wednesday over the future of Pakistan’s clandestine support for Washington’s use of drones after the country’s defense minister announced Pakistan had told the U.S. to vacate the small Shamsi air base in the southwestern Baluchistan province.

Only “Pakistani aircraft will be flown from Shamsi in future,” Pakistani defense minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar told reporters. “No U.S. aircraft will fly from Shamsi.”

“U.S. personnel will not be allowed to use the Shamsi air base,” a senior Pakistani government official added to CBS News.

Another senior Pakistani official, who spoke Thursday to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said there previously “have been U.S. activities at the Shamsi air base. All those activities are being ceased now.”

The news comes as the Obama administration details its new strategy for combating extremism across the globe — a strategy which shifts the focus sharply away from the large-scale ground operations espoused by President George W. Bush, to smaller “surgical” strikes, like drone attacks.

The official refused to specify the types of U.S. activities that have now been ceased at Shamsi.

Pakistan has always publicly criticized the U.S. for carrying out attacks using pilotless drones, and has never acknowledged that it cooperates with Washington on the use of such aircraft. The drones have become widely unpopular across Pakistan after some of the attacks reportedly resulted in civilian casualties, including women and children.

“The damage to the U.S. drone program will not be substantial. But Pakistan’s decision is a setback for efforts to improve U.S. relations with Pakistan,” a senior Western defense official based in Islamabad told CBS, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It will take some time for the Americans to establish the program in Afghanistan. It can be done.”

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have remained frosty since U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in the country’s northern city of Abbottabad.

That attack was undertaken without the U.S. offering advanced information to Pakistan, out of fear that militant sympathizers in Pakistan’s intelligence and security establishment might have alerted al Qaeda or the Taliban.

The 2nd May operation has been followed by a hardening of attitude by Pakistan’s influential military, which claims the attack violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. In reaction to the raid, Pakistan has already ordered more than 150 U.S. military trainers to leave the country.