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, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.