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Rediff.com  » News » No apologies: US sends more drones to hit targets in Pak

No apologies: US sends more drones to hit targets in Pak

June 03, 2012 21:30 IST

Islamabad has always protested against the drone strikes by the US administration but America has not paid any heed to its demands, says Tahir Ali

At a time when Washington and Islamabad are trying to negotiate a workable relationship once again, the United States drone strikes have received a momentum in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

On Sunday, a US drone targeted a house reportedly used by militants in South Waziristan Agency that resulted in the killing of nine militants including Mullah Malang, a leading commander of the Mullah Nazir group.

The last few days have witnessed a surge in the attacks. Seven US drone strikes have taken place since the Obama administration failed to reach a deal to reopen the supply routes for NATO in Pakistan during the Chicago summit in May.

Pakistan had blocked the supply routes after an air raid killed 24 Pakistani troopers at the Salala check-post in November last year. In May, the parliament passed a resolution recommending Pakistan cut off NATO supplies unless the US stopped drone strikes. The resolution also sought a formal apology from the US government over the Salala incident.

The US administration has refused to stop the drone strikes or tender an apology over the incident.

Islamabad has always protested against the drone strikes by the US administration but America did not pay any heed to its demands. A recent study of New America Foundation think-tank in Washington reveals "The 302 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 19 in 2012, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,819 and 2,808 individuals, of whom around 1,526 to 2,337 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 17 percent. In 2011, it was more like eleven percent."

The study further reveals that drone strikes in Pakistan have so far killed 43 militant leaders.

The recent drone strikes in South Waziristan have resulted in the killing of 14 militants including two commanders representing the Mullah Nazir group.

Since 2004, US drones have carried out 305 attacks in different parts of the tribal belt of Pakistan. The number of attacks has increased considerably since 2009, after Barack Obama took over as the US President. This year itself, 21 drone strikes have been reported in North and South Waziristan agencies.

Recently, a report in the US media said that President Obama has taken personal responsibility for drone attacks.

"He approves every name on the target list, reviewing their biographies and the evidence against them, and then authorises lethal action without hand-wringing; Mr Obama had approved not only 'personality' strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but 'signature' strikes that target training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants," says the report.

But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the Central Intelligence Agency for identifying a terrorists' 'signature' were too lax.

Admiral (retired) Dennis C Blair, former director of National Intelligence, claimed that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes.

"The steady refrain in the White House was, 'This is the only game in town' -- it reminded me of body counts in Vietnam," said Blair, who had started his military service during the Vietnam War.

Officials within the US administration have questioned these attacks. Outgoing ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter apparently found the drone strike-driven American policy unacceptable.

He "didn't realise his main job was to kill people", one of his colleagues told The New York Times.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich and ten members of the US House of Representatives have asked the President Obama to provide the targeting criteria for drone strikes and the legal justification for them.

 "These attacks undermine the morals, values and the strategic goals of the United States. The fact that they are conducted with complete impunity and with no accountability threatens to set a dangerous precedent that could unravel the very laws and international standards the US helped to create," Congressman Dennis Kucinich said.

According to media reports, the United Kingdom is also under pressure to reveal whether British intelligence agencies are helping the CIA carry out lethal drone strikes in Pakistan. Britain could be forced to reveal whether it provided intelligence to the US administration for drone attacks on terror suspects.

Unlike Britain, the Canadian government openly supports the drone strikes in Pakistan.

National Defence Minister Peter Gordon MacKay has defended the military drone attacks, saying technological advances have reduced civilian causalities.

"Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities we saw in Libya and Afghanistan prove the effectiveness of unmanned systems," he said during a security summit while responding to a question about US drone attacks in Pakistan.

Pakistani journalist Ihsan Ullah Tipu Mehsud, who is an expert in Taliban and tribal affairs, believes that due to its accuracy in hitting targets, the US would never agree to stop drone strikes inside Pakistan.

"Drones are the newest addition to into modern day mechanised warfare where one can take out the enemy without incurring any human loss. Though it is illegal and unjustified, it is ruthlessly accurate and precise, giving the enemy little chance to evade it," Tipu told rediff.com.

Tahir Ali In Islamabad