"[T]he fifth missile strike by an unmanned U.S. spy plane so far this year" in Pakistan killed five militants "attached to Hafiz Gul Bahadur" in North Waziristan, AFP reported Friday.[1]  --  In an opinion piece posted Saturday, the Wall Street Journal praised President Barack Obama for having "embraced and ramped up the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones . . . [f]rom Pakistan to Yemen."[2]  --  However, "critics on the left in the academy, media, and United Nations [are] calling drones an unaccountable tool of 'targeted assassination' that inflames anti-American passions and kills civilians.  At some point, the President may have to defend the drone campaign on military and legal grounds," the Journal said.  --  (For an extended argument that the U.S. is routinely committing war crimes by violating the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Conventions in its prosecution of a drone war out of the Creech Air Force base in Nevada, see here.)  --  In Pakistan, a U.S. delegation made up of Sens. John McCain (R-AZ, John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), and Joseph Lieberman ("I"-CT) "took a tough stance on the drone issue," with Lieberman inviting ridicule by proclaiming that the U.S. and Paksitan are "'bound together forever' by common values," the Washington Post reported.[3]  --  Irked by the statements of the Americans, a spokesman of the Islamist party Jamaat e Islami "said Pakistan had been reduced to a U.S. colony due to the cowardice of the rulers and U.S. officials were freely moving around in vehicles carrying prohibited arms," Pakistan's International News reported Saturday.[4] ...



Agence France-Presse
January 8, 2010


MIRANSHAH, Pakistan --
A U.S. missile strike killed five militants Friday in Pakistan's northwest, officials said, as a U.S. senator defended the attacks which fuel anti-American sentiment in the Muslim nation.

The drone strike took place in Tappi village in North Waziristan, a stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the lawless northwest tribal belt which runs along the border with Afghanistan.

"The U.S. drone fired two missiles on a house.  The house was completely destroyed," a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Five militants were killed and three were injured in the attack.  A vehicle parked in the house was also destroyed," he added.

Two intelligence officials in the area and a local administrative official also confirmed the attack and the toll.

"The militants were using this house as hideout.  All the militants killed were local and were attached to Hafiz Gul Bahadur," said an official.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur is a militant who fought with the Taliban when U.S.-led troops invaded Afghanistan and is reputed to control up to 2,000 fighters whom he sends across the border but who do not attack in Pakistan.

It was the fifth missile strike by an unmanned U.S. spy plane so far this year, as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama puts Pakistan at the heart of its fight against Al-Qaeda and Islamist extremists.

Suspected U.S. drones have increasingly targeted North Waziristan, a bastion of Al-Qaeda fighters, the Taliban, and the Haqqani network that attacks the 113,000 U.S. and NATO troops fighting in neighboring Afghanistan.

Washington is increasing pressure on Pakistan to tackle militants who use its soil to launch attacks in Afghanistan and American officials have said that the highly secretive drone program has eliminated some top fighters.

But the attacks on Pakistani territory fuel anti-American sentiment in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation and the government publicly condemns the strikes.

Speaking during a visit to Islamabad on Friday, U.S. Republican Senator John McCain defended the attacks, saying "friends don't always agree on every issue," and admitting that it was an issue of tension between the nations.

"We will continue to try to find common ground with the Pakistani government as we have to do everything we can . . . to protect Americans from the attacks of terrorists who may be based here and operate out of Pakistan," he said.

His comments came a day after Al-Qaeda reportedly said an attack on a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan which killed seven CIA agents last month was carried out to avenge drone strikes that have killed prominent militants.

In the last strike on Wednesday, U.S. missiles flattened a fort used as a Taliban training center in North Waziristan, killing 11 militants.

North Waziristan neighbors South Waziristan, where Pakistan has been focusing its most ambitious military offensive yet against homegrown Taliban militants.  It sent about 30,000 troops into the region on October 17.


Review & outlook


** Weapons like the Predator kill far fewer civilians. **

Wall Street Journal
January 9, 2010


The Obama Administration has with good reason taken flak for its approach to terrorism since the Christmas Day near-bombing over Detroit.  So permit us to laud an antiterror success in the Commander in Chief's first year in office.

Though you won't hear him brag about it, President Obama has embraced and ramped up the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.  As tactic and as a technology, drones are one of the main U.S. advantages that have emerged from this long war.  (IEDs are one of the enemy's.)  Yet their use isn't without controversy, and it took nerve for the White House to approve some 50 strikes last year, exceeding the total in the last three years of the Bush Administration.

From Pakistan to Yemen, Islamic terrorists now fear the Predator and its cousin, the better-armed Reaper.  So do critics on the left in the academy, media, and United Nations; they're calling drones an unaccountable tool of "targeted assassination" that inflames anti-American passions and kills civilians.  At some point, the President may have to defend the drone campaign on military and legal grounds.

The case is easy.  Not even the critics deny its success against terrorists.  Able to go where American soldiers can't, the Predator and Reaper have since 9/11 killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al Qaeda suspects, the Uzbek, Yemeni, and Pakistani heads of allied groups and hundreds of militants.  Most of those hits were in the last four years.

"Very frankly, it's the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership," CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last May.  The agency's own troubles with gathering human intelligence were exposed by last week's deadly bombing attack on the CIA station near Khost, Afghanistan.

Critics such as counterinsurgency writers David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum allege that drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians.  The U.N. Human Rights Council's investigator on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, has warned the Administration that the attacks could fall afoul of "international humanitarian law principles."

Civilian casualties are hard to verify, since independent observers often can't access the bombing sites, and estimates vary widely.  But Pakistani government as well as independent studies have shown the Taliban claims are wild exaggerations.  The civilian toll is relatively low, especially if compared with previous conflicts.

Never before in the history of air warfare have we been able to distinguish as well between combatants and civilians as we can with drones.  Even if al Qaeda doesn't issue uniforms, the remote pilots can carefully identify targets, and then use Hellfire missiles that cause far less damage than older bombs or missiles.  Smarter weapons like the Predator make for a more moral campaign.

As for Mr. Alston's concerns, the legal case for drones is instructive.  President Bush approved their use under his Constitutional authority as Commander in Chief, buttressed by Congress's Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al Qaeda and its affiliates after 9/11.  Gerald Ford's executive order that forbids American intelligence from assassinating anyone doesn't apply to enemies in wartime.

International law also allows states to kill their enemies in a conflict, and to operate in "neutral" countries if the hosts allow bombing on their territory.  Pakistan and Yemen have both given their permission to the U.S., albeit quietly.  Even if they hadn't, the U.S. would be justified in attacking enemy sanctuaries there as a matter of self-defense.

Who gets on the drone approved "kill lists" is decided by a complex interagency process involving the CIA, Pentagon, and White House.  We hear the U.S. could have taken out the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki after his contacts with Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hassan came to light in November, missing the chance by not authorizing the strike.  Perhaps al-Awlaki's U.S. citizenship gave U.S. officials pause, but after he joined the jihad he became an enemy and his passport irrelevant.

Tellingly, after the attempted bombing over Detroit, the Administration rushed to leak that Yemenis, with unspecified American help, might have killed al-Awlaki in mid-December in a strike on al Qaeda forces.  Al-Awlaki, who also was also in contact with the Nigerian bomber on Northwest Flight 253, may have survived.

While this aggressive aerial bombing is commendable against a dangerous enemy, it also reveals the paradox of President Obama's antiterror strategy.  On the one hand, he's willing to kill terrorists in the field, but he's unwilling to hold these same terrorists under the rules of war at Guantanamo if we capture them in the field.  We can kill them as war fighters, but if they're captured they become common criminals.

Our own view is that either "we are at war," as Mr. Obama said on Thursday, or we're not.




Obama's War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan


By Pamela Constable

Washington Post

January 9, 2010


ISLAMABAD -- Two leading U.S. senators attempted Friday to depict U.S.-Pakistani relations as a crucial, permanent friendship, but their brief visit to the Pakistani capital highlighted tensions between the anti-terrorist allies, especially a sharp disagreement over strikes by unmanned aircraft against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.

"Friends don't always agree on every issue," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at a news conference in Islamabad, adding that the United States will "try to find common ground" with Pakistani leaders on the drone issue but that "we have to do everything we feel is necessary to protect Americans from the attacks of terrorists who may be based here."

On Thursday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asked McCain and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who traveled here with two other senators, to seek a halt to the drone attacks.  He said they are undermining domestic support for the war against Islamist militants and asked that the United States give Pakistan the technology to carry out such strikes on its own.

Washington has stepped up its use of the controversial strikes near the Afghan border since the suicide bombing at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Dec. 30 that killed seven CIA officers and contractors.

In the latest raid Friday, suspected U.S. missiles killed four people and injured three in the North Waziristan tribal area, the sixth attack in the region in a little more than a week, the Associated Press reported.  Two Pakistani intelligence officials said a pair of missiles struck a house and a vehicle in a village near the town of Miran Shah.  They did not identify the victims.

The drones sometimes kill civilians as well as the targeted militants, but they are considered a highly effective weapon against the elusive Islamist guerrillas in a rugged area that is legally off limits to U.S. ground forces.  Pakistani army and civilian leaders privately accept the drone attacks but face strong opposition from the public.

Lieberman stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation against Islamist extremism and tried to reassure Pakistanis that the United States will not abandon them as it did after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.  He said the two countries are "bound together forever" by common values and a "shared determination to defeat the evil of terrorism and extremism."

McCain also played down the disagreements as "respectful differences among friends" and said that "all of us are aware that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan unless we succeed in Pakistan."  He was referring to the new U.S. plan for a surge in troops and civilian experts over the next 18 months, which the Obama administration hopes can turn around the flagging war against Afghan Taliban forces.

But the senator from Arizona took a tough stance on the drone issue, brushing aside a journalist who asked whether he understood that fatal drone attacks soured Pakistani opinions of the United States.  McCain said some "elements" operating in Pakistan would like to "go to Afghanistan and kill Americans" and "reestablish Afghanistan as a base for attacks on the United States and our allies.  That's what I understand."

Several other recent sources of friction between the two countries arose during the visit, highlighting the uneasy nature of their partnership.  The issues included Pakistani resentment of conditions on a $7 billion aid package that the United States has pledged over the next five years.

Lieberman said that he understood why some Pakistanis are "troubled" by the reporting requirements on the aid but that they include "nothing meant to be offensive or mistrustful."  He described the aid package, known as the Kerry-Lugar bill, as "a very costly expression," at a difficult economic time, of the long-term U.S. commitment to the relationship with Pakistan.

Lieberman and McCain were accompanied by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John Thune (R-S.D). The group visited Afghanistan this week and left Pakistan late Friday.



By our correspondent

International News
January 9, 2010


Jamaat e Islami ameer Syed Munawar Hasan has condemned U.S. Senator John McCainís statement that drone attacks in Pakistan should continue.

Delivering Friday sermon at Mansoora mosque, he blasted the U.S. envoy’s demand for stopping "harassment of the U.S. officials in Pakistan,” terming it an attempt to divert the world attention from the U.S. aggression in the region.

The JI chief deplored that the drone attacks had greatly increased recently and innocent men, women, and children were being killed.

He said Pakistan had been reduced to a U.S. colony due to the cowardice of the rulers and U.S. officials were freely moving around in vehicles carrying prohibited arms.  On being asked for physical search, the officials issued threats to the security personnel, he said, adding that, in view of the law and order situation, no body could be exempted from physical search.  Therefore, these officials should be required to abide by the law of the land.

Condemning Israel’s continued siege of Gaza, Syed Munawar Hasan also deplored the Muslim world’s apathy towards the miserable plight of the Palestinians.