Connect to share and comment
The global market for drones is booming. But what does the coming arms race mean for US national security interests — and the future of warfare? GlobalPost correspondents report from critical locations around the world, from Israel to Iran to Yemen to Brazil — where unmanned aerial vehicles are radically transforming combat and surveillance.
American approach to deadly attacks proves overly blunt, says journalist and Waziristan native Pir Shah.
was thwarted by authorities, but the attempt was covered in the international media and by many accounts succeeded in the organizers’ goals of drawing attention to their view that the US policy of drone strikes are a violation of international law.
The March 17 attack came at a particularly sensitive time in Pakistan-US relations, on the heels of the release of a CIA contractor named Raymond Davis, who was involved in the killing of two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore and was later released when the families of those he killed had accepted ‘blood money.’
The Pakistani military, under public pressure over the release, came up with an unusual harshly worded condemnation of the attack. The chief of the Pakistan Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani termed the attack as the violation of human rights and “unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances.”
It was announced that those targeted in the attack would be compensated, but locals, including Noor Khan, knew that this is was a public gimmick and thus refused to take the compensation offered by the government.
“For us the people killed were more important than the money offered as compensation," said Noor Khan. Similarly, his brother Anwar Khan said, “We don’t sell our dead.”
In background briefings at the time of the March 17, 2011 attack, American officials strongly refuted the claims of civilian killings and were of the view that those killed were fighters who were planning an attack against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. And at that time a Pakistani intelligence official told me that 13 of the dead were Pakistani Taliban fighters, including at least one commander. Since then there has been persistent scrutiny and a rising crescendo of criticism. US officials have since acknowledged that civilians were killed and that mistakes were made. The Associated Press carried out a thorough investigation of the attacks and found that four of the victims were Taliban leaders. In the end, the attack has come to embody the weaknesses of the “signature strikes.”
But not all of the drone strikes resemble the story of the March 17 strike.
Another drone attack which took place almost exactly a year later — on March 13, 2012 in the Sra Khowra area of South Waziristan close to the Afghanistan border —has had a very different impact and it is worth comparing the two.
The strike killed Amir Hamza and Shams Ullah, both high-ranking Taliban commanders who were commanders with the Haqqani-affiliated Molvi Nazir Group. The Taliban acknowledged and vowed to avenge their deaths in a public statement distributed in pamphlets around the region.
"Infidels are subjecting the Muslim world to atrocities — mosques and madrassas are being targeted; even children of four to six months of age are not spared," they claimed. The statement painted a picture that simply did not occur, and reveals some of the effort on the part of the Taliban to exaggerate the details of these strikes to engender more anger and outrage. In this strike, neither a mosque had been targeted nor were women and children killed. In fact, by numerous accounts of eyewitnesses and families as well as security officials who GlobalPost has interviewed, no civilians were killed. This was a far more precise strike than the March 2011 attack.
According to one informed, local observer in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, many drone strikes have been very effective in targeting the leadership of Taliban in the area. The pamphlet also included the name of another top commander, Haleemullah, involved in numerous attacks against Western and Afghan forces across the border.
Muhammad Alam was alerted to the news of the March 11, 2012 drone strike in his hometown. Alam, a shopkeeper, had just opened his shop and was waiting for his first customer but instead found his brother with the aforementioned pamphlet from the Taliban announcing the death of three of their top commanders.
“All three were very important and had large groups who used to go across the border and attack the American forces”, said Alam, who had heard about their deaths before but saw the Taliban pamphlet as confirmation that they were indeed Taliban leaders.
“The drones have really weakened the Taliban and will take some time for them to replace experienced commanders like those killed,” Alam