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Suicide attacks down, Predator drone exits, and other overlooked stories in 2010

Here are some stories in 2010 that you may have overlooked, including a global decline in suicide attacks and the phasing out of the Predator drone.

By Staff Writer / December 22, 2010


The past year has been tumultuous: The Afghanistan war ground on, the Iraq war started to wind down (amid great uncertainty about Iraq's future), huge government debts led to austerity and anxiety across Europe.

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But there were also global trends you may have missed, and fascinating stories that didn't hit the headlines. Such as:

1 Suicide attacks are falling

Terror-style attacks remained a danger, particularly in places like Pakistan and Iran. But in the United States, arrests of a number of lone men planning domestic attacks were often accompanied by news that the suspects had been under government surveillance, often with agents carrying out elaborate sting operations.

The Department of Homeland Security reported 121 suicide attacks globally that took 1,270 lives through June. That was on pace to be well below the 2009 total, in which 299 attacks claimed 3,177 lives. That, in turn, was fewer than in 2008.

Suicide attacks in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan claimed 88 percent of casualties in 2009 and led the list in the first six months of 2010. But they were responsible for 71 percent of a smaller total in 2010.

Other countries have seen even more dramatic declines. The end of Sri Lanka's war with the Tamil Tigers saw suicide attacks drop from killing 46 in 2009 to none this year. In Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, which once confronted frequent Islamist suicide attacks, there were none.

High levels of violence and terrorism persist, but widespread fears that such tactics would proliferate after 9/11 haven't been borne out.

Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and coauthor of "Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop it," says suicide attacks fell in 2010 largely because of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Only about 10 percent of people involved in what's usually termed terrorism set their eyes abroad, he argues, and most suicide attackers target local military occupations.

"The reason it's falling is because we're pulling out of Iraq," says Mr. Pape, adding that suicide attacks in Gaza and parts of the West Bank are also down "like 99 percent" because of the Israeli pullout. But he predicts that, as the war in Afghanistan ramps up and the drone war continues in Pakistan, suicide attacks in those areas are likely to rise. "All we're going to do is trade suicide attacks in Iraq for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he notes.

2 Goodbye, Predator. Hello, Reaper.

2010 was definitely the year of the unmanned Predator drone, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the Bush administration liked the weapon, the Obama administration loves it. In 2009, President Obama's first full year as president, the US increased its drone strikes against alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members in Pakistan by 50 percent, to 53. By mid-December this year, there had been 109 drone attacks on Pakistan.


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