News / Asia

Are US Drone Strikes in Pakistan Winding Down?

A Reaper drone armed with Hellfire missiles patrols the skies in southern Afghanistan near the frontier with Pakistan.
A Reaper drone armed with Hellfire missiles patrols the skies in southern Afghanistan near the frontier with Pakistan.
Kokab Farshori
For more than a decade, the United States has been usingunmanned drones to strike at al-Qaida and Taliban militants in western parts of Pakistan that border on Afghanistan. The drone strikes, begun under President George W. Bush, dramatically increased after President Obama took office.
 
But now, more than four years later, the number of drone strikes is way down. 
 
According to the New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes, there have only been 17 drone strikes this year so far.  In the first eight months of last year, there were 36 strikes, while the number of drone strikes in the first eight months of 2011 and 2010 there were 56 and 57 respectively. 
 
Under the Bush administration, there were 46 strikes in Pakistan from 2004 to 2008.  The total number of strikes carried out by the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012 was 297. 
 
Experts in Washington offer a variety of reasons for the shrinking number of drone strikes in recent months.  Stephen Tankel, a counter-terrorism expert and an assistant professor at American University in Washington D.C., says one of the reasons is that there aren’t many high-value targets left to be hit in the Pakistan and Afghanistan region. 
 
Tankel also says the pressure from Pakistan and international human rights organizations may be at play as well. 
 
“I think there is certainly pressure from Pakistan, from human rights organizations, and quite frankly from elements within the U.S. that the drone strikes should be reduced, if not ended entirely,” he said. 
 
During John Kerry’s first visit to Pakistan as the secretary of state in July of this year, officials in Islamabad urged him to stop the drone attacks.  The issue of drone strikes was the top agenda item in every media engagement Kerry had in Pakistan.
 
Kerry defends drone use
 
In a TV interview, he suggested the drone strikes could end as soon “as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it.” 
 
Some experts also say that since a major purpose of these drone strikes is to ensure that the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan are not attacked from across the border in Pakistan, the U.S. will not need to use drones as frequently after the troop drawdown in 2014.
 
But other analysts don’t believe the strikes are going to end any time soon.
 
“There is no longer the strategic requirement to have quite so many strikes,” said Thomas Lynch, a research fellow at Washington’s National Defense University.  “But it is not a renunciation of present or future use of them in the specific circumstances.”
 
Drone strikes have killed some high profile leaders of al-Qaida, the Taliban and Pakistan-based militant groups.  But there is a downside to this strategy too, namely civilian deaths that could help recruit new members among militant groups – new members bent on avenging the deaths of their loved ones, say Washington experts who closely monitor the region. 
 
“There are negative ramifications in terms of civilian casualties, which is a negative consequence in and of itself, and then of course the potential for drone strikes to motivate other militants to become involved on the battlefield,” said Tankel.
 
But he also believes the program has been effective, not just for the United States’ mission to eliminate the danger of attacks on NATO troops inside Afghanistan from across the border, but also for Pakistan. 
 
Baitullah Mahsood, the leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) who was responsible for multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, including being accused of the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed in one such drone attack in August 2009.
 
Pakistan moves to end drone strikes
 
Even so, Pakistan is not at all comfortable with drone strikes and there is resentment against them at almost all levels of its society.  In an election in May of this year, the political parties that took a strong stance against the drone strikes did well with the voters.
 
Pakistanis in the Waziristan regiion protest drone strikes in the border regions of Pakistan May 30, 2013.Pakistanis in the Waziristan regiion protest drone strikes in the border regions of Pakistan May 30, 2013.
x
Pakistanis in the Waziristan regiion protest drone strikes in the border regions of Pakistan May 30, 2013.
Pakistanis in the Waziristan regiion protest drone strikes in the border regions of Pakistan May 30, 2013.
Now the newly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trying to make good on its election promise to end the strikes.  Pakistan calls the drone attacks a violation of its sovereignty.
 
U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon echoed Pakistan’s sentiments during his recent visit to Islamabad when he condemned drone strikes. 
 
“As I have often said, the use of armed drones, like any other weapon, should be subject to long-standing rules of international law, including international humanitarian law,” he said.
 
Drones said to be strategic requirement
 
But Thomas Lynch of the National Defense University said the issue of drone strikes should be considered in the proper context.  
 
“The president has made it clear [regarding] the need and the strategic requirement to utilize the drone strikes against al-Qaida international senior leadership that basically was unfettered and unmenaced in western portions of Pakistan and even in eastern portions of Afghanistan,” he said.
 
“That had to be dealt with and dealt with sternly” he added, “and if the Pakistan forces were not able to take care of that threat, then America would have to.” 
 
Pakistan, meanwhile, has asked Washington to provide it with drone technology so that it can strike militants on its own and avoid the controversy about sovereignty issues that arise when the U.S. fires drones onto Pakistani territory. 
 
But according to many defense analysts, it is highly unlikely that Washington would give Pakistan the drone technology.  Lynch says Washington has to consider regional sensitivities, especially “concerns by Pakistan’s neighbors both to the east in India and to the west in Afghanistan.” 
 
Both countries are said to fear that drone technology could end up destabilizing regional security rather than helping Pakistan with its internal stability. 

Both New Delhi and Kabul have repeatedly accused elements in Pakistan of not only supporting militant groups in in their respective countries, but also of directly orchestrating bloody attacks in India and Afghanistan, allegations that have been strongly denied by officials in Islamabad.
 
So while drone attacks have dramatically decreased in recent months, the issue remains a sticking point between Islamabad and Washington. 

Experts in Washington say that while drone strikes play a major role in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, it would be a mistake to define the entire relationship around drone technology. They say ties between Washington and Islamabad go beyond just one issue and that future decisions on the drone program will likely be taken in the context of the larger U.S.-Pakistan agenda.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid