Newsweek reported Saturday that while there is pressure from "some counterterrorism officials" to expand the Afpak drone war by expanding it into "urban areas like Quetta, where intelligence reports suggest that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other high-level militants have sometimes taken shelter," President Barack Obama "has sided with political and diplomatic advisers who argue that widening the scope of the drone attacks would be risky and unwise."[1]  --  Obama appears to be changing his mind, however.  --  On Tuesday the Pakistani paper Dawn noted that Obama said specifically in an interview on Monday that he was prepared to order such strikes if he had "actual war intelligence" to target "high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders, or for that matter high-ranking Taliban leaders who are directing actions against U.S. troops."[2]  --  Also on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Obama has endorsed an expansion of CIA operations in [Pakistan]," and Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes suggested that the president is in the process of yielding to pressure from people like one "senior U.S. official involved in war planning" interviewed, who said:  "If we don't do this -- at least have a real discussion of it -- Pakistan might not think we are serious."[3]  --  COMMENT: The drone war as it is now being conducted makes the commission of war crimes and terrorism frequent and almost routine, Max Kantar recently argued in an in-depth analysis according to which these new tactics clearly fail to conform to existing standards of international and U.S. laws regarding the conduct of war and regarding terrorism....

1.

THE DRONE DILEMMA

By Mark Hosenball

Newsweek
December 21, 2009 (posted Dec. 12)

http://www.newsweek.com/id/226522


A clandestine CIA search-and-destroy program, which launches missile strikes from remotely piloted drone aircraft, has killed more than a dozen senior leaders of Al Qaeda during the last two years.  Among the dead:  Abu Khabab al-Masri, reputed to be Al Qaeda's top expert on weapons of mass destruction, and Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban and reputed mastermind of the murder of Benazir Bhutto.  U.S. government spokesmen won't even confirm the program's existence, but a U.S. national-security official -- who, like others cited in this article, declined to be named talking about sensitive information -- says the program has been so successful that some counterterrorism officials want to expand it.  They say the drones have been effective not just in killing terrorists but also in keeping them on the run and disrupting their ability to plan new attacks.  They have asked for authority to target terrorists in more densely populated areas of Pakistan.

One person standing in the way of expanded missile strikes:  President Obama.  Five administration officials tell NEWSWEEK that the president has sided with political and diplomatic advisers who argue that widening the scope of the drone attacks would be risky and unwise.  Obama is concerned that firing missiles into urban areas like Quetta, where intelligence reports suggest that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other high-level militants have sometimes taken shelter, would greatly increase the risk of civilian casualties.  It would also draw protests from Pakistani politicians and military leaders, who have been largely quiet about the drone attacks as long as they've been confined to the country's out-of-sight border region.  The White House has been encouraged by Pakistan's own recent military efforts to root out militants along the Afghan border, and it does not want to jeopardize that cooperation.

The internal debate about the drone program has been going on for nearly a year.  A former senior intelligence official says that, within days of his inauguration, Obama and his top aides began discussing expanding the operation from a relatively limited area along the AfPak border to a broader range of targets like the Pakistani regions of Baluchistan and South Waziristan.  Obama has not closed the door on wider drone attacks.  One of the officials notes that the administration is likely to continue to debate, and even plan for the possibility of expanding, drone operations in the future -- if only to keep the pressure on Pakistan to maintain its current efforts to capture and kill terrorists.  A White House spokesperson had no comment.

2.

World

OBAMA REFUSES TO RULE OUT DRONE ATTACKS IN QUETTA

By Anwar Iqbal

Dawn (Pakistan)
December 15, 2009

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world/07-afghan-war-decision-toughest-of-presidency-obama-ha-03

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has warned that the United States would launch strikes inside Pakistan if it had actionable intelligence about the presence of top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in a particular area.

His statement -- included in the transcript of an interview released on Monday -- contradicts earlier U.S. media reports that President Obama opposed drone attacks at suspected Taliban targets in and around Quetta.

Mr. Obama made the statement when he was reminded that for almost a year officials in his administration had been saying that the Taliban leadership was now somewhere in Quetta and yet he was reluctant to call in drones to target those leaders.

‘Well I don’t want to comment on certain sensitive aspects to our efforts in this border region.  I think it is fair to say, number one, that my principle -- and I articulated this in the campaign -- is if we’ve got actual war intelligence on high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders, or for that matter high-ranking Taliban leaders who are directing actions against U.S. troops -- then we will take action,’ Mr. Obama told CBS’s Steve Kroft. 

’Now, a lot of this border region is big and complicated.  And even a city like Quetta is a big city.  And, you know, we have to respect the sovereignty of Pakistan as we engage in potential actions that would involve going into a major metropolitan area with a lot of civilians around it.  We expect Pakistan to cooperate more effectively in the future than they have in the past,’ he added.

Mr. Obama pointed out that the U.S. would like Pakistan to recognize the degree to which the presence of such elements inside its borders threatened its own stability.  ‘This isn’t America’s war.  This isn’t the West’s war.  This is a situation in which you’ve got a very dangerous, extremist network that is growing, and right now is killing more Pakistanis than anybody else,’ he said.

The Pakistani public and the military were both turning against the militants and it grew with the threat.  ‘But it takes some time to operationalize, and our hope is that we see progress over the next couple of years,’ he added.

‘Do you believe the Pakistanis have any appetite for going into Quetta and finding Mullah Omar?’ he was asked.

‘I think that the Pakistanis recognize that these networks are killing Pakistanis a lot more than they’re killing Americans right now, and that it’s in their interest to start moving in a new direction.  How fast they do that in part is gonna depend on how effectively we can partner with them,’ said Mr. Obama.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reported on Monday that President Obama had ‘nixed the expansion’ of drone strikes to Quetta.

‘Five administration officials tell Newsweek that the president has sided with political and diplomatic advisers who argue that widening the scope of the drone attacks would be risky and unwise,’ the report said.

‘Mr. Obama is concerned that firing missiles into urban areas like Quetta, where intelligence reports suggest that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other high-level militants have sometimes taken shelter, would greatly increase the risk of civilian casualties.’

But the Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama administration was leaning towards expanding the drone war to places like Quetta.

‘The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option,’ the newspaper noted.  ‘Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta -- or at least threatening to do so -- is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.’

A senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations told LAT that it’s all about sending a message to the Taliban.  ‘What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the U.S.,’ the officials said.  ‘We can’t allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore.’

In his interview to CBS, Mr. Obama also said that ever since occupying the White House, his administration had been trying to convince Pakistan that it was terrorism and not India which posed a threat to the country and thus impressing upon Islamabad to shift more troops from its eastern border with India to its western front.

‘We have had very detailed and serious conversations with the Pakistan government and the Pakistan military about the fact that their traditional orientation, which has been to compete with India, has now been overtaken by extremists within their own midst that are exploding bombs with impunity throughout Pakistan,’ he said.

3.

U.S. & World

Afghanistan/Paksitan

DRONE ATTACKS MAY BE EXPANDED IN PAKISTAN

By Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes

** U.S. officials seek to push CIA drone strikes into the major city of Quetta to try to pressure Pakistan into pursuing Taliban leaders based there. **

Los Angeles Times
December 14, 2009

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-us-pakistan14-2009dec14,0,3724162.story


WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan's tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in Quetta.

The proposal has opened a contentious new front in the clandestine war.  The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban.  But it also risks rupturing Washington's relationship with Islamabad.

The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option.  Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta -- or at least threatening to do so -- is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.

"If we don't do this -- at least have a real discussion of it -- Pakistan might not think we are serious," said a senior U.S. official involved in war planning.  "What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the U.S.; we can't allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore."

But others, including high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, have been more skeptical of employing drone attacks in a place that Pakistanis see as part of their country's core.  Pakistani officials have warned that the fallout would be severe.

"We are not a banana republic," said a senior Pakistani official involved in discussions of security issues with the Obama administration.  If the United States follows through, the official said, "this might be the end of the road."

The CIA in recent years has stepped up a campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, much of it with drone strikes in the rural tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.  The operations have been conducted with the consent of the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who has proved a reliable ally to America in his first 15 months in office.

Zardari, however, is facing mounting political woes, and the CIA airstrikes are highly unpopular among the Pakistani public, because of concerns over national sovereignty and civilian casualties.  If drone attacks now confined to small villages were to be mounted in a sizable city, the death rate of innocent bystanders would probably increase.

Obama has endorsed an expansion of CIA operations in the country, approving the deployment of more spies and resources in a clandestine counterpart to the 30,000 additional U.S. troops being sent into Afghanistan.

But the push to expand drone strikes underscores the limits of the Obama offensive.  The administration has given itself 18 months to show evidence of a turnaround in Afghanistan.  But progress in Pakistan depends almost entirely on drone strikes and prodding a sometimes reluctant ally, which provides much of the intelligence to conduct the strikes, to do more.

U.S. and Pakistani officials stressed that the United States has stopped short of issuing an ultimatum to Pakistan.  "It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to use heavy-handed tactics when you've got this kind of relationship," said a U.S. counter-terrorism official.  Like others, he discussed the issue on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Obama alluded to the effort to enlist more Pakistani help on the day his strategy was announced.

"The most important thing we can do in Pakistan is to change their strategic orientation," Obama said in a meeting with news columnists Dec. 1.  The pursuit of Al Qaeda involves a range of activities, he said, "some of which I can't discuss."

As Obama deliberated over the strategy for Afghanistan through fall, administration officials consulted with Pakistan in high-level meetings in Islamabad, also using those sessions to pressure the government to do more.

Among those involved were Gen. James L. Jones, Obama's national security advisor; Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and Leon E. Panetta, director of the CIA.

"We have applied enormous pressure," the senior U.S. official said.

Pakistan is not expected to hand over Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader and longtime ally of Osama bin Laden who fled Afghanistan when U.S. forces invaded after the Sept. 11 attacks.  Omar is believed to have used Quetta as a base from which to orchestrate insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.

But U.S. officials said they have presented Pakistan with a list of Taliban lieutenants and argued that, with a U.S. pullout scheduled to begin in 18 months, the urgency of dismantling the so-called Quetta shura is greater than at any time in the 8-year-old war.

The senior Pakistani official bristled at the suggestion that Pakistan has been reluctant to target militants in Quetta, saying U.S. assertions about the city's role as a sanctuary have been exaggerated.

"We keep hearing that there is a shadow government in Quetta, but we have never been given actionable intelligence," the Pakistani official said.

Pakistan is prepared to pursue Taliban leaders, including Omar, even when the intelligence is imprecise, the official said.  "Even if a compound 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer is identified, we will go find him."  But, he added, "for the past two years we haven't heard anything more."

Pakistan has launched a series of military operations against Islamic militants over the last year.  But those operations have been aimed primarily at Taliban factions accused of carrying out attacks in Pakistan, not the groups directing strikes on U.S. forces across the border.

The CIA has carried out dozens of Predator strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt over the last two years, relying extensively on information provided by informant networks run by Pakistan's spy service, Inter-Services Intelligence.

The campaign is credited with killing at least 10 senior Al Qaeda operatives since the pace of the strikes was accelerated in August 2008, but has enraged many Pakistanis because of civilian casualties.

The number of attacks has slowed in recent months.  Possible causes include weather disruptions and difficulty finding targets as insurgents get better at eluding the Predator, and larger Reaper, drone patrols.

Of 48 attacks carried out this year, only six have taken place since the end of September, according to data compiled by the website The Long War Journal.  The latest attack occurred Friday, in which a senior Al Qaeda operations planner named Saleh Somali is believed to have been killed.

The drone attacks have been confined to territories along Pakistan's northwestern border, regions essentially self-governed by Pashtun tribes.  The province of Baluchistan, however, has a distinct ethnic identity and its own separatist movement.  It is one of Pakistan's main provinces, and strikes against its main city, Quetta, would probably be seen as a violation of the nation's sovereignty.

A former senior CIA official said he and others were repeatedly rebuffed when proposing operations in Baluchistan or pushing Pakistan to target the Taliban in Quetta.  "It wasn't easy to talk about," the official said.  "The conversations didn't last a long time."

Pakistan is working with the CIA to coax certain Taliban lieutenants in Omar's fold to defect.  U.S. officials said contacts have been handled primarily by the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services.  The results of the effort are unclear.

The CIA's main objective in Pakistan remains the hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently said that it had been "years" since any meaningful information had surfaced in that search.

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