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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

At least eight terrorists — including a senior member of al Qaeda’s South Asia chapter and a key Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ‘commander’ — were killed and three others were wounded in two separate United States (US) drone strikes in the Khyber Agency and North Waziristan Agency (NWA) of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on October 11, 2014.

In the first attack that took place around noon, a drone fired two missiles at a compound in the Chancharano Kandaw area of the remote Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency, killing four suspected terrorists and injuring another two. Sources indicated that terrorists fleeing Operation Zarb-e-Azb [Sharp and Cutting] in NWA were sheltered in the compound, which was located in the area dominated by tribesmen from the Kukikhel sub-clan of the Afridi tribe. The casualties were shifted across the border into Afghanistan, since the area where the drone struck is close to the Nazyan District of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province.

The same evening, the second drone attack targeted a vehicle carrying suspected terrorists in the Margha area of Shawal tehsil (revenue unit) in NWA, killing four terrorists. According to the local political administration, the drone fired two missiles at the vehicle, which was en route to Afghanistan. An unnamed political administration official claimed that four terrorists, including a key TTP commander, Muhammad Mustafa, were killed in the attack. The other dead were foreigners, though the country they belonged to was not identified.

US drones strikes resumed in June 2014, after a hiatus of nearly five and half months. Before this, the last drone target had been hit on December 25, 2013, and the attacks only resumed on June 12, 2014. The silencing of the US drones coincided with the Pakistan Government’s process of peace-talks with TTP, and the resumption of strikes followed Pakistan’s announcement of long-pending military operations in NWA, where dreaded terrorists of al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Gul Bahadur faction of TTP were sheltered, after talks with TTP collapsed.

The present series of drone attacks, which raised the death toll to 35 within a week, concentrated around areas where Pakistan is presently conducting the military Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched on June 15, 2014, in the aftermath of the attack on Karachi Airport on June 8-9, 2014. At least 33 persons, including all ten attackers, were killed in the Karachi attack. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has, according to Pakistan Army sources, thus far killed more than 1,200 terrorists and 86 soldiers (no independent verification of fatalities of identities of those killed is available, as media access to the areas of conflict if severely limited).

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the US has carried out at least 301 drone attacks, resulting in over 2,688 fatalities since 2005 (all data till October 19, 2014). While drone strikes and resultant fatalities increased every year till the peak of 2010, they started to fall thereafter. Significantly, in comparison to 158 fatalities in 24 drone attacks in 2013, the current year has recorded 15 such attacks with 94 fatalities in just four months [after the resumption of drone strikes], out of which seven attacks were reported in just seven days between October 5 and October 11.

Drone attack in Pakistan: 2005-2014*

Years

Incidents

Killed

Injured

2005

1

1

0

2006

0

0

0

2007

1

20

15

2008

19

156

17

2009

46

536

75

2010

90

831

85+

2011

59

548

52

2012

46

344

37

2013

24

158

29

2014

15

94

25

Total*

301

2688

335+

Source: SATP, *Data till October 19, 2014

According to the New America Foundation (NAF), a total of 3,546 persons have been killed in US drone attacks since 2005; of these, 15 were killed in 2005; 94 in 2006; 63 in 2007; 298 in 2008; 549 in 2009; 849 in 2010; 517 in 2011; 306 in 2012; 153 in 2013; and 110 in 2014 (till October 19).

Major drone attacks (each involving three or more killings) in 2014, included the July 19, 2014, incident, when 11 Taliban terrorists were killed in a strike targeting a TTP compound in Mada Khel suburb of Dattakhel town in NWA of FATA.

Some of the important drone attacks in 2013 included:

October 6, 2013: At least eight terrorists were killed and another four were injured in a US drone strike in Bari Mail area of Shawal Valley in NWA of FATA.

September 24, 2013: 10 Uzbek terrorists were killed when a US drone hit a vehicle in the Lowra Mandai area of Dattakhel tehsil in NWA.

June 12, 2013: A US drone fired eight missiles in the Dandy Darpakhel area of NWA that killed at least 10 terrorists while another four were wounded.

Pakistan has routinely lodged protests over US drone strikes from time to time. On October 10, 2014, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam stated, “We condemn drone strikes for violation of our territorial integrity and collateral damage. Our position, that we have reiterated a number of times, remains unchanged."  

Meanwhile, experts see an 'understanding' between the two 'allies' in the so-called 'war on terror' with Pakistan tacitly approving the strikes, particularly where they target TTP elements. Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based expert on Afghan and tribal affairs, observes, "Drones strikes are being carried out in those areas (Shawwal and Datta Khel) where ground operations for the Pakistan Army are very difficult if not impossible. Although the foreign office has issued a customary statement of protest over the drone strikes, which it always does, Pakistan seems to be comfortable with the situation, as it also does not want the terrorists to regroup."

Similarly, a Dawn editorial noted, on October 13, 2014, “Relative silence can be interpreted as, at the very least, tacit acceptance and, possibly, active cooperation between the countries. From the general location of the strikes... it would appear active cooperation is taking place – for surely neither the US nor Pakistan could want an errant U.S.-fired missile hitting a Pakistani military target”.

However, 11 out of the 15 drone strikes launched against terrorists this year, were in the Dattakhel and Shawal areas of NWA, which are dominated by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, a key Haqqani Network ally. These are elements that the US would presumably want to eliminate, and who Pakistan seeks to protect as a strategic asset. Washington has repeatedly conveyed to Islamabad that Bahadur and his group have been helping al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network against the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. As the drawdown in Afghanistan inches closer, US pressure on Pakistan has mounted manifold. However, the general perception is that Bahadur and other Afghan Taliban fighters have been allowed to escape the edge of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and there are no reports of any clashes between the Pakistani Army and Bahadur’s faction.

The US will appreciate the decimation of any Islamist terrorist formation in Pakistan, including the TTP, but is unlikely to continue to be deceived into believing that Pakistan is now acting against all terrorist groups without discrimination. Pakistan's continued use of terrorist groups as strategic assets, and their particular focus on a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, are obvious US concerns, and drone strikes will remain one of the principle instrumentalities to keep these forces in check, both in Pakistan and across the border, into Afghanistan, as long as even limited US military commitment to the latter country remains.

[Source: SATP]

 

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