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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid