By Ahsan Khalil
The Conflict Monitoring Center –an Islamabad based independent research organization, which monitors drone attacks and anti state insurgencies in South Asia has released its monthly report on drone attacks in Pakistan. According to the report, American spy agency the CIA has carried out four drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal area killing as many as 22 people during the month of September 2011. The report says that first month of General David Petraeus as head of CIA has seen significant reduction in drone attacks but after emergence of Pak-US row over Kabul attacks, a sudden rise in number of drone attacks is observed. First 22 days of September saw only one drone attack however, when tension started between Pakistan and US over allegations of Admiral Mike Mullen’s statements, CIA struck the times with its deadly drones inside Pakistani territory.
Most of those killed in during the month were unknown suspected militants however; US officials claimed that Al-Qaeda’s operational chief in Pakistan Abu Hafs Al-Shahri was killed on September 11. Deputy to TTP’s Mulla Nazir group commander Haleemullah was also killed in another drone attack.
According to the comparison with previous year’s month of September, this year’s September saw a remarkable reduction in drone attacks and subsequent killings. September 2010 was deadliest ever month since 2004 when 147 people were killed in 23 (highest ever number of) drone attacks. Conflict Monitoring Center also observes that CIA has lessen number of drone attacks in Pakistan since July. June was the deadliest month of current year when 117 people were killed in 12 drone attacks. July and August saw six drone attacks apiece.
Conflict Monitoring Center also observes that protest against drone attacks has also lost its momentum. No significant protest was observed during last two months.
Drone Attacks Reduced as Petraeus Takes Charge of CIA
David Petraeus’s first month in office as head of the Central Intelligence Agency has seen significant reduction in drone attacks inside Pakistani territory. According to the data compiled by the Conflict Monitoring Center an Islamabad based independent research organization which monitors drone attacks and anti-state militant activities in South Asia, CIA has carried out only four drone attacks during the month of September 2011 killing 22 and injuring 9 persons. Most of those killed were unknown suspected militants as per the claims of security officials. However, these claims cannot be independently verified due to limitations on media coverage of these attacks. David Petraeus was sworn in on September 6, 2011 as head of the CIA after serving 37 years in US Army. Prior to this new appointment, he was commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Although the first month of Petraeus as head of the CIA has seen less number of drone attacks as compared to previous months but the agency has intensified its drone campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The US has ramped up its drone-strike capacity in the region, installing unmanned Predator aircraft in bases in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Djibouti, a Gulf of Aden port that has served as a US counter-terrorism base since 2004. According to Washington Post, the CIA also created a new dedicated unit known as YSD, or the Yemen-Somalia Department, where dozens of agents analyze raw intelligence with a view to targeting Al Qaeda leaders. US has killed a prominent Al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki during the previous month who was also an American citizen. Awlaki’s death is considered a blow to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Total Attacks in 2011
During first nine months of the current year, the CIA has carried out 66 drone attacks in Pakistan killing as many as 515 people. Out of these 66 drone attacks 37 (56 percent) were carried out after the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad Operation on May 2, 2011. Out of 515 deaths 324 (62 percent) were killed after Bin Laden’s reported death. During first nine months of the previous year (2010), the CIA had carried out 80 drone attacks in which 625 people were killed. The data shows 18.5 percent reduction in drone attacks and subsequent deaths during first nine month of this year with comparison to previous year. The reduction in number of drone attacks can be attributed to public protest in Pakistan that forced Pakistani government and military to ask US for the reduction of these attacks.
Drone Attacks intensified during Pak-US tension
Although the month of September saw a significant reduction in drone attacks, nonetheless CIA has intensified its drone campaign inside Pakistan after Taliban militants attacked NATO head quarters and US embassy in Kabul. Outgoing US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen accused Pakistan of supporting Haqqani network, which is blamed for the attacks in Kabul. His controversial statement created tension between the two allies. Until September 23, CIA had carried out only one drone attack but after the emergence of tension between the two countries three attacks were carried out during the last seven days of the month. It clearly shows that drone attacks are not merely attached with militant activities. Instead, United States uses this lethal weapon for its punitive approach towards Pakistan. During the year 2011, CIA has carried out a number of attacks, which were punitive in nature. A news report published in July exposed that elimination of militants is not the only purpose of the CIA’s killing campaign. The CIA can take lives of many innocent civilians just to satisfy its ego. An exclusive report by Associated Press revealed that some of the drone attacks were apparently in the nature of the CIA’s revenge acts against the ISI. The infamous drone attack of March 17, which killed 40 innocent tribesmen attending a tribal Jirga, it now transpires, was indeed a revenge act for the detention of CIA operative Raymond Davis for 7 weeks in custody in Lahore for killing two Pakistanis. The chilling words of a US official, quoted in the AP story: “It was in retaliation for Davis. The CIA was angry.”
Apart from above mentioned attack on a tribal Jirga the CIA has carried out a drone attack after every high level meeting between Pakistani and American officials during the year 2011. Among them were attacks that followed an April visit by Director General ISI Ahmad Shuja Pasha to Washington as well as trips to Islamabad by Sen. John Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The latest such strike occurred on August 2, 2011 while the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, was visiting Islamabad. Such revenge attacks by the CIA raise the issue of legality of this campaign, which is already controversial all over the world. It is well known fact that drone attacks work as a cause of recruitment of members of the affected families into militants ranks. Politically motivated attacks by US spy agency are causing more complications for Pakistan to restore peace in the area.
Anonymous US officials have claimed that Al-Qaeda’s operational chief in Pakistan Abu Hafs al Shahri had been killed in a drone attack on the eve of 9/11 (11 September). Four suspected militants were killed in Mir Ali area of North Waziristan when a US predator fired four missiles on a house and a vehicle. Abu Hafs was also former bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden. Another significant death reported during the month of September was that of militant commander Haleem Ullah. According to reports, Haleem Ullah, who served as deputy to Afghan warlord Maulvi Nazir, was killed in the attack in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan on September 30. Apart from these two reported deaths, rests of those killed were unknown suspected militants.
Comparison with previous year
September 2010 was the deadliest ever month with highest ever number of drone attacks since 2004 when the assassination by drone campaign was started. Contrary to that, this September saw a remarkable reduction in number of attacks and subsequent deaths. During September 2010, CIA had carried out 23 drone attacks killing 147 people while during September 2011 only 22 people were killed in four drone attacks.
Reduction in Drone attacks since July
June 2011 was the deadliest month of the year 2011 when 117 people were killed in 12 drone attacks. Since then it is observed that CIA has lessen frequency of the drone attacks. During July and August six drone attacks were carried out in each month. September saw further reduction in the frequency. It is believed that to defuse mounting public protest in Pakistan, CIA and Pakistani government have agreed to reduce the number of drone attacks.
Protest in Pakistan losing momentum
After reduction in number of drone attacks during previous three months, protest in Pakistan has also lost its momentum. No significant public protest was observed during the month of September 2011. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf –a political party led by veteran cricketer Imran Khan- had started sit-ins (Dharna) against drone attacks in May and June but during previous two months, the party has not organized any protest in this regard. In Pakistan’s National Assembly, the issue of drone attacks was raised by parliamentarians a few months back however, after the reduction in number of drone attacks; the issue is no more of prime attention of the parliamentarians.