Obama acknowledges Pakistan drone strikes

In a Jan. 30 Google-sponsored “video chat,” President Barack Obama gave the first public acknowledgment of what has been a very open secret—the use of US drones against militant forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Obama responded to a question from a young man in Brooklyn, who noted that the president had ordered more drone attacks in his first year in office than his predecessor George Bush. Saying the attacks cause “a lot of civilian casualties,” he asked if they were worth it. Obama responded (rather disingenuously, in light of some recent horrific news accounts): “I want to make sure that people understand that actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it has been applied.” Asked by another participant in a follow-up question whether drone strikes “send a message” that the US is interfering in other countries’ affairs, Obama responded with the kind of downright Orwellian logic that he has already proved himself capable of:

“[U]nderstand that probably our ability to respect the sovereignty of other countries and to limit our incursions into somebody else’s territory is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint strike on al-Qaeda operative in a place where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them.” And he added: “Obviously, a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] in going after al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the one we are already engaging in.” (VOA, USA Today, Jan. 31)

In November, the Washington Post cited unnamed US officials as saying that there were only two remaining “high-level” targets in the CIA’s drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Pakistan: Ayman al-Zawahiri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi. “Now is not the time to let up the pressure,” an anonymous official said. “We’ve got an opportunity to keep them down, and letting up now could allow them to regenerate.” (WP, Nov. 22)

Meanwhile, while Pakistan objects to being bombed by the US, it seems to have no problem bombing itself. Some 20 suspected militants were killed in strikes by Pakistani jets near the Afghan border, officials said Feb. 1. They say that the strikes came in response to an ambush by Taliban fighters in which at least eight soldiers were killed and 25 injured. Local military officials say that a Taliban leader, Maulvi Moinuddin, was killed in the strikes, which took place in the Jogi area of the Kurram tribal region. (BBC News, Feb. 1)

See our last posts on the Af-Pak theater and politics of drones.

Insert Orwell reference here.

  1. US bombs Pakistan —again
    Local officials said a US drone strike targeting a militant compound killed six presumed insurgents in Spalga, North Waziristan Agency, Feb. 16. (The News, Pakistan, Feb. 16)

  2. US bombs Pakistan —and admits it
    Pakistan on April 30 summoned a senior US diplomat to lodge a formal protest over the previous day’s drone attack. “US Political Councilor, Jonathan Pratt was summoned at the Foreign office by Director General America over yesterday’s drone attack,” according to an official statement issued in Islamabad. A similar protest was also lodged in Washington. The new drone strike targeted an abandoned girls’ school allegedly used by militants in Miranshah, North Waziristan, reportedly killing four militants and injuring three others. The attack was the first since Pakistan’s parliament approved new terms of engagements that seek an immediate halt to the drone strikes. (Pakistan Tribune, April 30)

    That same day, White House counterterrorism official John Brennan, in a speech before the Woodrow Wilson Center to mark the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, for the first time offered a rationale for the administration’s use of drone strikes: “In full accordance with the law—and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives—the United States Government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” Brennan said. “And I’m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.” Brennan argued that target strikes “dramatically reduce the danger to innocent civilians,” but acknowledged that in some cases civilians have been killed. (USA Today, April 30)

  3. US bombs Pakistan —again
    At least 16 people were killed and four others injured in two US drone strikes near Mir Ali in Pakistan’s northwest tribal area of North Waziristan on June 4. (Xinhua, June 4) The strikes came as the New York Times revealed that President Obama personally maintains a “kill list” deciding who to target in the strikes. The reports says that two teenagers, “including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years,” were at least considered for targeting.

  4. Abu Yahya al-Libi dead again
    The White House is boasting that Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed in the last drone strike in Pakistan. “Removing leaders like al-Libi” from the top of al-Qaeda is part of the effort of the Obama administration to defeat and dismantle al-Qaeda,” said press secretary Jay Carney. (Dawn, June 6) Now that they are manifestly running out of targets, we’ll see if the drone strikes slow down. Meanwhile we note that al-Libi has been reported dead before