Drone attacks hit all-time high

Published: September 27, 2010

KARACHI: Drone attacks have reached unprecedented levels this month with the 20th strike on Sunday in North Waziristan’s Datta Khel area.

According to researcher Dr Zeeshanul Hasan Usmani, who monitors drone and suicide attacks in the country, there have been a total of 198 drone attacks since the first hit on June 18, 2004 in South Waziristan Agency. The attack killed five people, including Taliban commander Nek Mohmmad. More than 2,100 people have been killed so far, including 36 high-profile militants, he said.

Since US President Barack Obama came into office, there have been 143 drone attacks, with about 58 strikes in 2009 (after January 20) and 85 in 2010.

Usmani’s data has been gathered through media reports. His way of counting the number of casualties is different from that of Western organisations. Usmani said: “I use the opposite approach from them. When the US calls all deaths in a drone attack as that of ‘militants’, I call them ‘civilians,’ until it is clearly specified which terrorist organisation the dead belonged to. Furthermore, I count everyone below the age of 12 as civilians, and all women and children as civilians too.”

According to Usmani, a total of 2,063 civilians have been killed and 514 people have suffered injuries. “To kill one terrorist you have to kill 57 Pakistanis,” he added.

For the last three years, the largest numbers of drone attacks have taken place in September. In 2008, 10 drone attacks occurred in September, which was the highest in a month for that year. Then in 2009, eight strikes took place in the tribal areas in September, which was the highest for that year. As of yet, 20 drone attacks have taken place in September 2010, which has broken the previous record of 14 strikes in January 2010.

Fata MNA Jawad Hussain said that it is possible that the number of attacks increase in September because “it evokes the memory of 9/11 in the US forces and they take out their revenge on our people in the tribal areas.”

Usmani said that if someone is walking in the tribal areas on a weekend instead of a Monday morning, he will have five times more chances of getting killed in a drone attack. And the chances of getting killed double if the person is out on a Wednesday. “There are nine per cent chances of an attack on Monday compared with 45 per cent on weekends and 20 per cent on Wednesdays,” he said. Also, almost 90 per cent of the attacks occur between 2am and 8am.

According to Usmani’s data “the number of drone attacks and suicide bombings are directly proportional. The data shows that the more drone attacks occur, the more suicide blasts there are in the country.”

All drone strikes this month have been in Waziristan. Out of the 20 strikes, 19 have been in North Waziristan and only one in South Waziristan. The Pakistan Army had launched a military operation against militants in the south, while it reportedly refused to venture into the north because the military was already stretched beyond its limits.

“Militants, including Arabs and top Pakistani Taliban leadership from all over the tribal areas, especially those in South Waziristan have taken shelter in North Waziristan,” said analyst Zahid Hussain. “Also the Haqqani network of militants has a stronghold in North Waziristan. In fact it is clear that the north has the most concentration of militants.”

Hussain said the government and armed forces are hand in glove with the strategy of using CIA operated drones. “There is absolutely no doubt that Pakistan is  complicit,” he said.

He warns that drone attacks are “not an effective long-term strategy.” This is an ideological and political war that cannot be won through the use of drones. Each time it is proclaimed that a top militant has been killed, another militant comes up to take up the leadership. Look how after Baituallah’s death, Hakimullah took over the reins of the Pakistani Taliban and the militants are as deadly as ever.”

An MNA from North Waziristan, Mohammad Kamran Khan, said that although there is no question that the Haqqani network, Arab fighters and other militants have a stronghold in his hometown, “the truth is that for each drone attack, we are creating 100 new militants.”

Khan said the people of his area, most of whom have nothing to do with militancy, are terrified of drones. “I recently visited North Waziristan during Eid. People were angry with me for the large number of civilians killed in these attacks. They were angry with the Pakistan government and our armed forces for not doing anything to put a halt to these attacks. Also, their hatred towards America was at an all-time high.”

Another parliamentarian, Noorul Haq Qadri, said it should be left to the Pakistan forces to deal with the militants. “The lava of anger and hatred is flowing in the tribal areas,” he warned. “Clearly, the drone attack strategy is not winning people over. It is only increasing hatred against the US and now more people are taking up arms.”

ISPR spokesperson Major-General Athar Abbas acknowledged that drone attacks “harm more than they help. They are counterproductive,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Sep 27, 2010 - 3:59PM

    I’m just saying there’s no media-friendly way to do it if you’re going to do it.

    More importantly, no human-friendly way.Recommend

  • Sep 27, 2010 - 4:04PM

    Dear Usmani,

    It is really excellent work by you and your newspaper. Being a journalist, i have never been through such hard work and an attempt of compiling a report on drones. people talk more but do little to respond to the US claims that only militants are killed and i suspect the government might not have any record or data. Recommend

  • shuja
    Sep 27, 2010 - 4:51PM

    Usmani is not the journalist Nawaz…he’s the researcher…the report is written by Salman SiddiquiRecommend

  • Binish Bhagwanee
    Sep 27, 2010 - 6:46PM

    By the way, we have just complete 200 drone strikes with the additional strikes in last 2 days and one on today sep 27Recommend

  • Nikos Retsos
    Sep 27, 2010 - 7:28PM

    The irony of the thousands of civilian deaths by U.S. predator drones in Pakistan, as well as the thousands of Afghan civilians deaths by U.S. air-strikes in Afghanistan, is the result of disarray in the U.S. government policy in Central Asia – as the “Obama Wars” book by Bob Woodward revealed. The U.S. used to call civilian deaths “collateral damage” because the “collateral” term was not related to humans. But the term was ridiculed by many academics and historians -including myself, and it was dropped. Now civilians are labeled “Taliban” or “terrorists,” and the western media headlines the label to help the U.S. cover up. When the proof that they were civilians is established in a few days, the deaths are “out of the headlines.” And as the adage says: “Out of sight [headlines], out of mind!” And the U.S. army never admits it killed civilians – even after the proof is established. It just put out an announcement “We are investigating the incident,” and that is the end of the story! For example, the U.S. never admitted that a U.S. air-strike in Kunduz on September 5, 2008, killed 137 civilians. It always claimed they were Taliban fighters – not civilians, even though the German parliament admitted they were civilians, and passed an allocation of funds to compensate the families of the 137 victims, since the airstrike was ordered by a German commander.

    Surely, killing civilians is not intentional in most cases – except in WWII when bombing German cities was intentional to break the German resistance, as well as revenge for Hitler’s bombing of British cities. But killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan is acceptable as was the bombing of the North Vietnamese capital Hanoi was during the Vietnam war. It is a sign of desperation for the U.S. when it has come to realize that a war has become unwinnable [the bombing of Hanoi started then], and everything that MAY hurt the enemy is done as the “last ditch effort.” But what it does, it only inflames passion against the U.S., and the cycle of war evolves into more counter-attacks, more civilian deaths, and so forth. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has admitted in testimony before the U.S. Congress that “The U.S. cannot kill its way to victory in Afghanistan.” Is the U.S. better off today, after killing 2063 Pakistani civilians to take out of circulation 37 high-valued terrorists? – as this article states. Not in my opinion, and the boiling anti-American hatred in Pakistan speaks for itself.

    Unfortunately, the killing of civilians will continue because those who decide the fate of the Afghan war are involved in a cock-fighting and calling each other unfit for the job while deliberations go on in the White House about “how to end the war,” – as the Bob Woodward’s book disclosed. And with Barack Obama completely ignorant about war history and foreign affairs when he became president, he has become lost in the shuffles of the diverting opinions among his advisers.

    I expect the killing of Pakistani and Afghan civilians to continue until the 2012 U.S. presidential election. And if thousands more civilians die to secure Obama’s re-election, so be it. He doesn’t have to worry that an arrest warrant might be issued by the International Court for killing civilians some day in the future – like the one issued for Sudan’s president Omar Bashir. He is untouchable as a “superpower leader,” as are the leaders of other big powers. And as a proverb says: “When the elephants fight, the grass is trampled!” The U.S. elephant is now fighting in Central Asia, and the Afghan and Pakistani civilians have become “the trampled grass!” Nikos Retsos, retired professor Recommend

  • Anoop
    Sep 27, 2010 - 11:34PM

    If the Pakistani establishment(By that I mean the military) refuses to exercise sovereignty over those areas it doesn’t have any reason to complain. Apparently its a no-man’s land and drones are an ideal weapon against Terrorists.Recommend

  • Sara Naqvi
    Sep 28, 2010 - 11:51AM

    There are some 300,000 people in no-man’s land. I see no difference between this state-sponsored terrorism and spanish inquisition. Recommend

  • Maqsood Kayani
    Sep 29, 2010 - 10:06AM

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