US considers broadening drone airstrikes in Pakistan
Obama urged to expand attacks beyond tribal areas to territory controlled by the Pakistani government.
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US officials say that the Taliban and other insurgent groups have moved south around the city of Quetta where they are launching attacks into southern Afghanistan. (Click here to see a map of the region.)
In recent weeks the White House has received two high-level reports recommending broadening the US covert war in Pakistan beyond the tribal areas. President Barack Obama has long been committed to targeting these groups, but the airstrikes have proved a source of tension with Pakistan and there are concerns that expanding the attacks may strain relations further, reports the Times.
Many of Mr. Obama's advisers are also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas. They also are recommending preserving the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using C.I.A. and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September. Mr. Bush's orders also named as targets a wide variety of insurgents seeking to topple Pakistan's government. Mr. Obama has said little in public about how broadly he wants to pursue those groups....
"It is fair to say that there is wide agreement to sustain and continue these covert programs," said one senior administration official. "One of the foundations on which the recommendations to the president will be based is that we've got to sustain the disruption of the safe havens."
As of August 2008, more than 340 people have been killed in at least 35 US airstrikes in the tribal area of Pakistan, six of which have occurred since Mr. Obama took office. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the Pakistani government has dismissed the Times's report that such attacks could be expanded, calling it "speculative."
Pakistan has already voiced public concern over the attacks taking place in the tribal areas, which are not under direct control of the central government. The new target area proposed in the reports falls under the authority of the Pakistani government, making for a more delicate situation, reports AFP.
Islamabad protests that drone strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and warns of a domestic backlash in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.
"On drone attacks, Pakistan's general policy is that we think they are counter productive," [foreign ministry spokesman Abdul] Basit] told AFP.
In a statement quoted by Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, Mr. Basit added that the attacks "involve collateral damage and they are not helpful in our efforts to win hearts and minds."
The policy has also been challenged by leading Western security analysts who question if the net result is worth the short-term gains. David Kilcullen has provided advice for Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dr. Kilcullen echoed Basit's sentiments, also calling the attacks "totally counterproductive," in an interview with Danger Room, a Wired magazine security blog.
US officials say the drones have taken out dozens of militants who were undermining American efforts in the region. Perhaps so, Kilcullen acknowledges. But using drones to attack those militants "[increases] the number and radicalism of Pakistanis who support extremism, and thus [undermines] the key strategic program of building a willing and capable partner in Pakistan," he writes in Monday's Small Wars Journal blog. Kilcullen gave much the same message, in testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kilcullen doesn't think all UAV attacks are bad. "[As long as] al Qa'ida remains active and can threaten the international community from bases within Pakistan, the need to strike terrorist targets on Pakistani territory will remain. But our policy should be to treat this as an absolute, and rarely invoked, last resort," he notes.
As the Obama administration considers expanding covert operations in Pakistan, evidence continues to emerge linking the troubled nation to major terror attacks around the world. In Britain, it appears that terror cells received substantial support from militant groups in Pakistan, reports the CTC Sentinel, a periodical produced by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
It remains unclear if terror cells in Britain are reaching out to militants in Pakistan for help or if elements of the central Asian organizations recruit and incite their European counterparts. Without training and support from Pakistani militant organizations, however, many of these attacks would not have been possible.
As more evidence emerges from police and judicial investigations, it is becoming clear that many of the United Kingdom's largest terrorist plots developed as a direct result of the plotters' close involvement with senior members of al-Qa`ida in Pakistan. Indeed, it seems fair to say that without al-Qa`ida's direct involvement, many of these plots would never have become remotely viable. Other bomb plots carried out without al-Qa`ida's guidance have been far more amateurish and ineffective.
Concern continues to mount in India as the Pakistani Taliban appears to be growing stronger. An opinion piece in The Times of India argues that already large swaths of India's neighbor have fallen to the Taliban, posing a "serious threat" to India and other nations.
What makes a Taliban takeover of Pakistan particularly scary is Islamabad's nuclear arsenal. Washington's reassurance that Pakistan's nukes are adequately safeguarded with the US playing a supervisory role sounds increasingly hollow in the face of the Obama administration's dithering disguised as strategy that seeks to fight the 'bad Taliban' with the antibody of a specious 'good Taliban'. A nuclear-armed Taliban, whether 'good' or 'bad', whose sworn agenda is ceaseless war against all infidel nations which includes India, along with the US and Israel is South Asia's worst nightmare becoming a reality.
Meanwhile, as Pakistan struggles to overcome its own political gridlock there may be a "long road" to national reconciliation. The Hindu quotes State Department Spokesman Robert A. Wood saying that Pakistan is "a complex country. It's got a major problem that it's dealing with, and that's called terrorism."