- Jeremy Scahill
The Nation -
U.S. drones bomb Pakistan regularly. Now, Washington is about to deliver 20 F-16s and surveillance planes to Islamabad along with a thousand 500 lb bombs.
Last week the Los Angeles Times reported on a 2008 authorization by the Bush administration, continued by the Obama administration, that expanded the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan. Citing current and former counterterrorism officials, the paper reported that the CIA had received "secret permission to attack a wider range of targets" allowing the Agency to rely on "pattern of life" analysis.
"The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known," according to the report. "Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list. The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said."
There is no doubt that the Obama administration has dramatically expanded the use of drones in Pakistan and that the drone attacks are unpopular. It is far from a radical position to assert that the bombings are creating fresh enemies, inspiring militants and empowering the Taliban. On Monday, I reported on the comments of Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer and Georgetown Professor Christine Fair on the issue. Shaffer said he was against the drone attacks because they create a reality where the "Taliban are more motivated than ever to come at us... the Predator program is having the same effect [it had] in Afghanistan two years ago in killing innocents" that it is now having in Pakistan. Shaffer is no anti-war activist -- on the same show he advocated deploying U.S. "boots on the ground" in Pakistan. Fair, a respected former UN advisor in Afghanistan, made the ridiculous claim that "the drones are not killing innocent civilians," adding that the "residents of FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] generally welcome the drone strikes because they know actually who's being killed."
It is indisputable that, across Pakistan, the drone strikes are passionately opposed. According to a poll conducted by Gallup last year, only 9% of Pakistanis support the strikes.
Presumably, Professor Fair was basing her assertion regarding support for drone bombings in FATA on polls such as the one conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy last year in FATA. It found that more than half of respondents (52%) believed the drone strikes were accurate and 60% believed the strikes were damaging "militant organizations." That is a far cry from "welcoming" U.S. drone strikes.
Pakistani journalist Mosharraf Zaidi raises an interesting point about this, writing, "Anyone that suggests that drone attacks are popular is presenting an amputated and distorted fact." Zaidi writes:
The only enthusiasm that exists for drone attacks is within the context of having to choose between different poisons. If given a choice between drone attacks, and Pakistani artillery and aerial bombardment campaigns, many tribal people will choose the drone attacks because no matter how many civilians they kill, it is less than the blunt force of the Pakistani military. So in a room with only two very ugly options, the drone attacks are the less ugly. That is not the same thing as being popular.