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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs