New Wave of Drone Strikes Has Al-Qaeda Crying
President Obama sure does blow up a lot of stuff for being a dove, and al-Qaeda is crying about it. On January 23, the group’s chief of media in Pakistan, Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, released a tape on the Internet that complained about the CIA’s relentless campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.
“There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost. We are the ones that are losing people, we are the ones facing shortages of resources. Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky,” Farooq said.
If an American commander said that, everyone would scream that we are losing. Yet, here we have al-Qaeda, a group not known for its humility, publicly panicking. This isn’t the first time this has happened. In July 2009, Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander in Pakistan that some have dubbed "the next Osama," released a book on the Internet that expressed similar exasperation. He warned that the number of Western spies in and around the organization had become “like swarms of locusts,” resulting in the arrests of operatives and enabling the U.S. to pound away with drone strikes.
“How many heroic leaders have been kidnapped at their hands? How many major mujahidin were surprised to be imprisoned or traced? Even the military and financial supply roads of the mujahidin, which are far from the enemy’s surveillance, were found by the spies,” al-Libi wrote.
His paranoid words are sure to stoke further anxiety and distrust among terrorists who look to al-Libi for encouragement and confidence.
“They have among them old hunchbacked men who cannot even walk, strong young men, weak women inside their house, young girls, and even children who did not reach puberty yet. The spy might be a doctor, nurse, engineer, student, preacher, scholar, runner, or a taxi driver. The spy can be anyone,” he writes. He flatly states that these spies have “penetrate[d] the ranks of the Muslims generally, and the mujahidin specifically.”
Prior to al-Libi's lament, a member of the Pakistani Taliban judged credible by New York Times told the newspaper in May 2009 that “[t]he drones are effective.” He admitted that they had successfully knocked out top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders and claimed they had killed 29 friends.
When it comes to Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama has been much more of a hawk than his predecessor. Obama launched more strikes during his first year in office than during the entire eight years of the Bush administration. He dramatically increased the number of drone strikes in Pakistan by 300% -- to an average of three per week. The number of strikes then doubled in 2010 to 115.
Plus, contrary to the claims of anti-war activists and the anti-American propaganda apparatus, these strikes are humane. A U.S. government review in May 2010 concluded that in the previous two years, less than 30 civilians were killed -- and these “civilians” included people like Mullah Omar’s second wife, who was with a group that was targeted. It stated that at least 500 terrorists, including 14 high-level and two dozen high- or mid-level leaders, were killed. Reuters put the number above 850.
The drone strikes have been able to wreak havoc upon the enemy in strongholds where the Pakistani military has been unable or unwilling to launch an offensive. About 90 percent of the strikes happen in North Waziristan, the home of the Haqqani network, European terrorist recruits, and most of those who fled the offensives in Swat Valley and South Waziristan. It has been reported that the drone strikes have forced many terrorists to flee from the tribal area to nearby areas like Kurram and Orakzai.
The New America Foundation says that over 1,000 terrorists have been killed -- and that, according to its database, the overall casualty rate since the beginning of the drone campaign has dropped steadily from 25 percent to a low of six percent in 2010. The Foundation credits this to improvements in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, noting that there have been over 100 joint CIA and ISI operations in the past year and a half.
The success of these strikes begs two questions: why aren’t they being used even more often, and why aren't they being defended? On January 23, over 2,000 Pakistani tribesmen held an anti-American protest after two strikes in North Waziristan killed seven people. There has been nothing said to the Pakistani people about the necessity or the humanity of these strikes. This isn’t a failure of communication; it’s a complete absence thereof.
The Obama administration may be dissuaded from expanding the drone campaign because of a concern over causing anti-Americanism, but as The Long War Journal shows, favorability ratings for the U.S. and opposition to the strikes among Pakistanis have stayed relatively the same between 2007 and August 2009, when the massive increases began. The anti-Americanism of the Pakistanis has not correlated with the intensity of the campaign. At the same time, the favorability of al-Qaeda and the Taliban has sharply decreased because of their brutality.
The drone strikes are an unqualified success. The Obama administration began considering using them more in Yemen following the cargo plane bomb plot. Why stop there? Al-Shabaab in Somalia has been frighteningly successful in recruiting Americans and could, for the first time in al-Qaeda’s history, give the terrorist group its own country. The enemy continues to enjoy safe harbor in parts of Pakistan outside of North Waziristan, such as Balochistan and the Northwest Frontier Province. And the U.S. military has identified 150 terrorist training camps in Pakistan to be targeted in a retaliatory campaign after an attack, not a preventative campaign before an attack. What makes these places less suitable targets than North Waziristan?
Let me put it this way: if something is making al-Qaeda publicly wail, then we should do it more.