Drone Warfare in the Obama Administration

The last days of the Bush administration saw a rash of drone attacks on terrorist targets in northwestern Pakistan. The Department of Defense calls them "hunter-killer" missions and assigns credit for the pilotless missile attacks to the CIA. Between September 2008 and January 1, 2008, the CIA conducted at least 38 drone missile strikes in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, inciting criticism regarding collateral damage and confusion regarding foreign policy. But the Bush administration never let up, largely because the drone strikes were so effective in taking out the world's most wanted terrorists who had otherwise evaded capture.

In November 2008, a drone strike in Waziristan is said to have eliminated Rashid Rauf, mastermind of the 2006 London planes plot. A drone strike on New Year's Day killed two of the FBI's most wanted terrorists, Fahid Mohammed Ali Msalam and Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan. Both men were indicted for their role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in abstentia. It took ten and a half years for U.S. intelligence to locate the killers, but in the end it was a drone that found them.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani went on record earlier this month saying that once President Obama took office, the drone attacks would stop. But three days after the new American president took office, the Pakistani prime minister had to eat his words. On the night of January 23, President Obama ordered five separate missile attacks from drones, in northwest Pakistan. Officials in Pakistan say at least 22 people were killed. But despite Pakistan's verbal disapproval of Obama's use of drones, they are not doing anything to stop them. The head of Pakistan's Air Force has said on the record that Pakistan has the capacity to shoot down American drones and spy planes, but so far has not.