Drones Batter Al Qaeda and Its Allies Within Pakistan

NYT: By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH

… The strikes have sharpened tensions between the local tribesmen and the militants, who have dumped bodies with signs accusing the victims of being American spies in Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, they said.

The impact of the drone strikes on the militants’ operations — on freedom of movement, ability to communicate and the ease of importing new recruits to replace those who have been killed — has been difficult to divine because North Waziristan, at the nether reaches of the tribal area, is virtually sealed from the outside world.

None of those interviewed would allow their names to be used for fear for their safety, and all were interviewed separately in a city outside the tribal areas. The supporters of the government worked in positions where they had access to information about the effects of the drone campaign.

Along with that of the militant, the accounts provided a rare window on how the drones have transformed life for all in the region.

By all reports, the bombardment of North Waziristan, and to a lesser extent South Waziristan, has become fast and furious since a combined Taliban and Qaeda suicide attack on a C.I.A. base in Khost, in southern Afghanistan, in late December.

In the first six weeks of this year, more than a dozen strikes killed up to 90 people suspected of being militants, according to Pakistani and American accounts. There are now multiple strikes on some days, and in some weeks the strikes occur every other day, the people from North Waziristan said.

The strikes have become so ferocious, “It seems they really want to kill everyone, not just the leaders,” said the militant, who is a mid-ranking fighter associated with the insurgent network headed by Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. By “everyone” he meant rank-and-file fighters, though civilians are being killed, too.

Tactics used just a year ago to avoid the drones could not be relied on, he said. It is, for instance, no longer feasible to sleep under the trees as a way of avoiding the drones. “We can’t lead a jungle existence for 24 hours every day,” he said.

Militants now sneak into villages two at a time to sleep, he said. Some homeowners were refusing to rent space to Arabs, who are associated with Al Qaeda, for fear of their families’ being killed by the drones, he said.

The militants have abandoned all-terrain vehicles in favor of humdrum public transportation, one of the government supporters said.

The Arabs, who have always preferred to keep at a distance from the locals, have now gone further underground, resorting to hide-outs in tunnels dug into the mountainside in the Datta Khel area adjacent to Miram Shah, he said.

“Definitely Haqqani is under a lot of pressure,” the militant said. “He has lost commanders, a brother and other family members.”

While unpopular among the Pakistani public, the drone strikes have become a weapon of choice for the Obama administration after the Pakistani Army rebuffed pleas to mount a ground offensive in North Waziristan to take on the militants who use the area to strike at American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military says it is already overstretched fighting militants on other fronts. But the militants in North Waziristan — the Haqqani network backed by Al Qaeda — are also longtime allies of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. The group may yet prove useful for Pakistan to exert influence in postwar Afghanistan.

The army maintains a division of soldiers in North Waziristan, but, the militant said, the Pakistani soldiers do little to hinder militant operations, which, though under greater pressure from the drones, have by no means stopped…



Karzai’s Words Leave Few Choices for the West

NYT: By ALISSA J. RUBIN

KABUL, Afghanistan — As President Hamid Karzai made more antagonistic statements over the weekend toward the NATO countries fighting on behalf of his government, the West was taking stock of just how little maneuvering room it has.

There are no good options on the horizon, many analysts say, for reining in Mr. Karzai or for penalizing him, without potentially damaging Western interests. The reluctant conclusion of diplomats and Afghan analysts is that for now, they are stuck with him.

Many fear the relationship is only likely to become worse, as Mr. Karzai draws closer to allies like Iran and China, whose interests are often at odds with those of the West, and sounds sympathetic enough to the Taliban that he could spur their efforts, helping their recruitment and further destabilizing the country.

“The political situation is continuing to deteriorate; Karzai is flailing around,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul with long experience in the region. “At the moment we are propping up an unstable political structure, and I haven’t seen any remotely plausible plan for building consensus.”

The tensions between the West and Mr. Karzai flared up publicly last Thursday, when Mr. Karzai accused the West and the United Nations of perpetrating fraud in the August presidential election and described the Western military coalition as coming close to being seen as invaders who would give the insurgency legitimacy as “a national resistance.”

Despite a conciliatory phone call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday, his comments over the weekend only expanded the discord.

On Saturday, Mr. Karzai met with about 60 members of Parliament, mostly his supporters, and berated them for having rejected his proposed new election law. Among other things, the proposal would have given him the power to appoint all the members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, who are currently appointed by the United Nations, the Afghan Supreme Court and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The Electoral Complaints Commission, which reviews allegations of voting fraud and irregularities, documented the fraud that deprived Mr. Karzai of an outright victory in the presidential election.

At the meeting, Mr. Karzai stepped up his anti-Western statements, according to a Parliament member who attended but spoke on condition of anonymity.

“If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban,” Mr. Karzai said, according to the Parliament member.

A spokesman for Mr. Karzai, Waheed Omar, could not be reached for comment on Sunday…



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Despite Legal Hurdle, U.S. Looks to Export Drone Technology to Allies

Wharton Aerospace & Defense Report

Despite a legal pact designed to slow the proliferation of unmanned systems, the Pentagon hopes to export U.S. drone technology to allies, Reuters reported.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified before a Senate hearing that it was in the United States’ interest to share drone technology with allies despite the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a pact signed by at least 34 countries. “There are other countries that are very interested in this capability and frankly it is, in my view, in our interest to see what we can do to accommodate them,” Gates said.

The U.S. military’s demand for unmanned aircraft has risen 600% since 2004 and will continue to double over the next five years, Reuters reported, citing U.S. aerospace industry estimates. The drones have been a deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, giving American forces the ability to track and kill insurgents, and providing a birds-eye view of the battleground that can be transmitted in real time to soldiers in the field. The CIA has also used unmanned aerial vehicles armed with missiles to kill Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.

Among the countries that have shown interest in acquiring Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, a drone that can provide surveillance capabilities, are South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Canada and the United Kingdom, a company spokesman told Reuters in late 2009.

“With respect to export … I think there are some specific cases where we have allies with whom we have a formal treaty alliance who have expressed interest in these capabilities,” Gates said. “And we have told them that we are limited in what we can do by MTCR, but I think it’s something we need to pursue with them.” He added that he understood the concerns about the proliferation of unmanned technologies to rivals, but so far the U.S. has sold programs only to Italy and the UK, Reuters reported.

Gates noted that Iran is developing unmanned aerial vehicles, which could cause difficulties for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, however, that drones are “relatively low flyers” and could be neutralized easily by the Air Force if necessary, Reuters reported. “I think our ability to protect our troops from these things, particularly in a theater of combat like this, is actually quite good.”


Related Previous Posts:

Aeroplanes: Past, Present, And Future

Operation Petticoat, UAV Airmen Pilots, And Morphing Wings

DARPA: Thinking Outside the Box And Mining The Far Side!

America’s Two Air Forces

Related Links:

The Long War Journal: Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010

USA Today: Aircraft maker pushing exports of spy drones

Asia Times: Hidden costs of US’s drone reliance

TomDispatch: Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Forty-Year Drone War

Salt Spring News: Meet Lt. Col. Chris Gough: Killing by drone and proud of it

Front Page Magazine: The Power of “The Predator”


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