Issue 266, Friday 24 June 2011 - 22 Rajab 1432
62 killed in May CIA drone attacks in Pakistan
By Abdullah Khan in Islamabad
At least 62 people were killed and 17 injured by nine CIA drone attacks in Pakistan during May.
The CIA has intensified the frequency of drone attacks to an unprecedented level after the killing of Usama Bin Ladin in a compound near Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
The intensification in drone attacks can be judged by the fact that during the month of April, only two drone attacks were carried out killing 32 people.
The first drone attack after Bin Ladin’s death was carried out on May 6, just four days after the Abbottabad operation by US Navy SEALS. Except one, all the drone attacks were carried out in the North Waziristan Agency, which is considered by the US as a safe haven for Haqqani Network and other militants who are believed to be involved in attacks on NATO forces across the border.
Pakistan is under tremendous pressure to launch a military operation in the agency to clear anti-US militants from the area. Unconfirmed media reports suggest that the Government has decided to launch military operations in the area to establish its writ. Restoring its writ in the area can help Pakistan to convince the US to stop or reduce number of drone attacks.
In these 9 drone strikes the US unmanned aircrafts fired 26 missiles. It is reported in the US media that the drones use AGM-114 Hellfire missiles that costs $68,000 a piece. It means US has spent a minimum of $1.768 m (150 m Pakistani rupees) to eliminate 62 suspected militants.
Most of the targets were vehicles. Seven out of eight drone attacks targeted vehicles which shows that during the month of May CIA was more focused on moving targets in its assassination campaign in Pakistan’s tribal belt.
During the month of May no significant commander of Al-Qa’ida was killed in drone attacks. However, a local commander, Moulana Bashir of Hafiz Gul Bahadur group was killed on May 16. A 19-year-old Al-Qa’ida Commander, Naeem Ukasha, was severely wounded in the same attack. He is son of Al-Qa’ida’s late commander, Abu Ukasha Al-Iraqi, who was also killed in a drone attack in October 2008.
Security officials claimed the rest of those people killed in May were unarmed suspected militants but their claims cannot be verified independently.
BBC and Daily Ummat - Karachi based Urdu newspaper - reported civilian deaths during these attacks. 17 people who were killed on May 6 were civilians. In many other incidents civilian killings were reported by Daily Ummat but the claims could not be corroborated with international media organisations who mainly rely on claims of anonymous security officials.
It is general practice by the security officials not to release the identities of those killed unless they are known commanders. If one accepts claims of security officials without counterchecking them then it is evident that all those killed in the month of May were ordinary militants. This raises question on the effective use of high-cost predator campaign.
The drone campaign is eliminating apparently less significant targets with relatively very high political cost. The US has pledged $7.5 b for Pakistan under Kerry-Lugar Act. One of the main purpose of this aid was to promote positive image of the US in Pakistan.
During last year’s floods, US military and USAID did a great job to help Pakistani public. Such positive actions by the US are severely damaged by drone attacks, which are considered by general public as attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Pakistani Parliament in its recent resolution expressed its deep anger against drone attacks by asking the Government to stop NATO supply route if these attacks continue.
CIA kept its habit of embarrassing Pakistan by conducting drone attacks after high level meetings. When Chairman of US Senate’s Foreign Relation Committee and Special Representative of President Obama, Senator John Kerry, left Pakistan on May 16 after meeting Pak Army Chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, CIA carried out a drone attack few hours after his departure.
This is the third time in recent weeks that the US drone attacks took place just after highest-level meetings. The first such drone attack was carried out on April 13. The strike came two days after a visit by Director General of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha to the US. The second attack was carried out on April 22 two days after Admiral Mike Mullin’s visit to Pakistan. It is not clear that it is a result of deliberate action or just lack of coordination.
Protests against the attacks continue to mount in Pakistan. Thousands of people participated a two days sit-in organised by Leader of liberal political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf , Imran Khan, in southern city of Karachi on May 21 and 22 and another in Multan on May 25.
‘The assassination by drone’ campaign is a common topic during current affairs talk shows and Op-Eds in newspapers.
During the same period in 2010 five drone attacks were reported in which 32 people were killed. It shows an increase in frequency this year. However, the number of attacks during May 2011 is less that number of attacks in January 2011 (11 attacks, 49 killed) and February 2011 (12 attacks, 89 Killed). Nonetheless, the number is two times higher than February 2011 (4 attacks 21 killed) and four times higher than April 2011 (2 attacks 32 killed).Abdullah Khan is Director of Conflict Monitoring Center, Islamabad