Drone Attacks Rise Dramatically

Drone Attacks Rise Dramatically

The Obama administration has dramatically escalated the drone bombing campaign targeting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups in Pakistan, carrying out 53 strikes last year, compared to 36 in 2008; a 47 percent increase. In retaliation, Taliban networks operating in western Pakistan, have launched a smart-bomb counteroffensive of their own using suicide bombers.

Last month’s attack that killed seven CIA operatives and guards at FOB Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, was only the latest and most prominent of a series of suicide bombings, primarily in Pakistan, that have killed hundreds of Pakistani security forces, tribal militia and civilians.

The CIA’s response to the attack on its own has been to send in even more drones. Already this year, there have been five drone bombing runs targeting extremists in North Waziristan; six strikes since the suicide attack at COP Chapman. Never has the U.S. conducted six strikes in so short a time, notes friend of the Buzz, Bill Roggio, over at the invaluable Long War Journal, as the pace of the drone bombing has reaches a new intensity. He reports that five aerial drones are operating in North Waziristan.


Roggio has put together a data rich analysis of the U.S. aerial bombing offensive targeting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups in Pakistan, complete with a list of all high-value targets killed by drone strikes since 2004. Roggio notes that 15 senior Al Qaeda folks and one Taliban leader have been killed since the drone bombing campaign picked up in August 2008.

U.S. bombs and Hellfire missiles have also taken out 16 “mid-level” al Qaeda and Taliban leaders (For an analysis of what differentiates “senior” from “mid-level, read Roggio’s piece). Prime targets for the CIA/Blackwater/military operated drones have been al Qaeda’s “external operations network,” the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, perhaps the most lethal of the various insurgent groups fighting American troops in Afghanistan.

In a video released through Al Jazeera last week, the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed the CIA operatives appears with Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Roggio notes that a close operational connection exists between the Haqqani network and the Mehsud branch of the Pakistani Taliban.

The ruthless Haqqani network has become the favorite target of the drone fleet: 10 of the last 15 strikes in 2009 targeted Haqqani operatives. Yet, the difficulties the U.S. faces in gathering targetable intelligence on the Haqqani leadership is shown by the relatively low success rate: just 7 high-value targets killed, despite a high number of bombs dropped (dozens of Haqqani foot soldiers have been killed in air strikes, including 26 in late November).

The Haqqani network is based in eastern Afghanistan and the Taliban controlled area of North Waziristan in Pakistan and is noted for its expertise in IED attacks. Roggio provides some good detail on the Haqqani network that’s well worth a read, cataloging its emergence as the most dangerous of the numerous extremist groups operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

As for the bombing campaign’s overall effectiveness, Roggio notes that both the U.S. and the Pakistani military have been forced to significantly increase troop deployments and offensive operations on both sides of the border. Reading his analysis, its difficult to conclude that drone strikes alone, without a robust deployment of ground troops to Taliban controlled areas, can do much more than continue to inflict a steady, though not crippling, attrition of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The strikes are only as good as the intelligence fed to the drone’s operators.

Counterinsurgency advisers David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, both of the Center for a New American Security in Washington DC, have made a reasoned critique of the drone bombing campaign and called for ending strikes inside Pakistan. The strikes inevitably kill large numbers of innocent civilians, they argue (Roggio contends that Pakistani civilian casualties are overstated), and produce limited successful outputs for the thousands of hours of required intelligence and surveillance inputs.

As long as the drones continue to kill bad guys and as long as the Obama administration feels itself politically vulnerable to accusations of being soft on terrorism, the strikes will continue.

Like most aerial bombing campaigns, this one has settled into a war of attrition between the world’s most technologically advanced military conducting stand-off precision strikes and an asymmetric opponent that wraps their most fanatic fighters in high explosives and ball bearings and sends them against primarily soft targets. Like most wars of attrition, this one is bound to be a very long one, as the U.S. has an unlimited number of precision bombs in its arsenal, but so too does the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.

Join the Conversation

How is it that we have no apparent strategy, and a completely lack of understanding of the Afghan/Tribal culture and piss poor intelligence….but we’re SO sure we’re hitting “high value targets”?? Color me skeptical, but something stinks.

Rumor mill (and I admit it’s rumor) says there’s a strong possibility the tribes are manipulating us to settle tribal matters. (Similar to how found the Iraqi’s were using the Army to settle political vendettas) If there’s any truth to it were destabilizing the region while fueling the insurgency.

How do you or Bill R. fit the recent suicide attack on the CIA into this intel picture? Juan Cole made the point a couple days ago, that the Taliban/ AQ might be feeding us a lot of bad intel in addition to that one double agent.

Pakistan won’t touch Haqqani so the Administration is left with UAV strikes to show they are taking the threat seriously. Foot soldiers are replaceable, but how many civilians are being killed with dime a dozen militants?

While everyone is enamored with using UAVs as the new artillery (instead of B-52s) — and it seems we’re back to the old body count from Vietnam — we’ve only had one objective for the past 8 years and that was to find and kill one man! (A job it turns out was outsourced because our “assassination agency” lost its in-house capacity!) The rest of it is our lack of appreciation for the unending historical conflict between the 200 or so geo-political fictions we call nation-states and the 4,000 real tribes (some of which are also religiously oriented) which have dominated cultural organizational norms since man first formed communities (and which we never take the time to understand since they are not legitimate “countries”). And we wonder why we’re still perceived as the Ugly American?

Question: What do Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait all have in common?

Answer: They are all geo-political fictions of the British Empire.

History: Britain lost all three.

pennst98 is right. They’re a lot smarter than us. Getting us to settle their scores.

The Treaty of Sevres and the Tripartite Agreement started the most current version of the borders. Britain seems to have done pretty well in Jordan (in comparison to Iraq). The “blame” should go to Italy, Britain, and France.

wow, being manipulated by the Brits? i think OIL COMPANIES got way more drag..but ur theory is a good 1..

As a former WWII vet who saw action in two invasions of Okinawa . Some of the bloggers abhore the use of Drones to get one or two manjor enemy combatants while also (and they empphasize some civilians also). Do these poeple know the meaning of war? I am not a killer or do I condone it. In war you must kill some civilians. In WWII we wiped out whole cities. You must demoralize the population as cruel as it must sound. Don’t they use civilians to murder our troops and hundreds of their own civilians. Sorry to say I must go to the first instruction I received in Boot Camp and UDT training — KILL OR BE KILLED. If the media would really check the causalties they would find the ratiio of AlQuada and radical islam civilians killed vs the number of our troops killed or i njured plus the hundreds of civilians would show an embarassing number of civilians killed by their own will greatly outnumber the number of civilians and even fighters during their car bombing attacks. The media just loves to print (only yesteerday) that a drone killed at least one high ranking militant but later in the articles “also 6 or 7 civilians.

I had to cut my previous remarks short but would like to emphasize that the media loves to highlight that a drone killed a high commander but later in the article emphaze also that we killed 6 or 8 civilians. The enemy normally place themselves near or among schools, hospitals, and markets with no regard for any losses the civilians might sustain. How many civilians do they kill with car bombs into markets and moving loaded vehicles? The media is close to being “the enemy within”.

Historically speaking, it was the conversion of British battleships from coal to oil that piqued their interest in Iraq (having none themselves). And that of the French. Winning WWI and the spoils system did the trick. The early oil companies often collaborated with their respective national governments to capture those monopoly interests on behalf of their national interests, with the oil companies being government proxy organizations.

Iraq and Kuwait were not so much “Lost” as “Insignificant to post WWI strategic needs” given the cost of rebuilding the economy with so many workers dead in the trenches and fields of France. Especially after WWII happened and killed of another chunk of the working generation of the time.

Afganistan was never more than a buffer state between the Indian states and the expansionist Tzarist Russian empire. Once Marxist revolutionaries had killed off the Tzar and his family and gotten embroiled in internal politics, Britain just pulled out of Afganistan as un-necessary to the defence of Indian any more, and not worth the deaths of servicemen in trying to hold something that wasn’t of any strategic or tactical use.

The only real LOSS of Britains middle east empire where they were kicked out as opposed to deciding it wasn’t worth staying and pulling out voluntarily, was the British Palestine, now Israel, where the Jewish terrorists leading the Jewish return to biblical israel, blew up enough troops to make it infeasible to defend without escalating to full scale war.

JohnniD: Most of the commentors are talking about why we are doing this. We are there. There is no looking back. When you are in war you canot think about why. You must do what you have to do. If we jusst walked out of that area woulc the world be any better? kWKe have to finish the job or walk aout with our head betwen our legs.l

This is a follow on of JohnniD. War is hell. Many people now are looking or excuses because they are anti war. I hate war and I was in one. Did we chop heads off, stone women to death, cut of hands. We propably should never have gove their because these people are fanatics and comit the most savage things on themselves. It probably was a mistake but going back into history is a farce. The oil companies did go in but what did the leaders of these countries do? They buuild palaces, tributes to themselves , but the common man starves. In AbuDhab(probably ot the name wrong) they build the highest building in the world but yet the common man in that country suffers. Don’t blame the oil companies, blame the local administration who capitalize on the oil income. Before we got there and showed them how they ate dirt.

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