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)
Insert Orwell reference here.