U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan 'backfiring,' Congress told
Predator missile strikes aimed at Al Qaeda often go astray, enraging the people and threatening the Islamabad government, top military advisor testifies.
Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2009
David Kilcullen is no soft-headed peacenik.
He's a beefy, 41-year-old former Australian army officer who served in Iraq as a top advisor to U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. He's one of the counter-insurgency warrior/theorists who designed Petraeus' successful "surge" of troops into the streets of Baghdad.
But a few days ago, when a congressman asked Kilcullen what the U.S. government should do in Pakistan, the Australian guerrilla fighter sounded like an antiwar protester.
"We need to call off the drones," Kilcullen said.
In the arid valleys of western Pakistan, the United States is fighting a strange, long-distance war against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their Pakistani allies. Unmanned "drone" airplanes take off from secret runways, seek out suspected terrorists and, with CIA employees at the remote controls, fire missiles to blow them up.
Officially, this is a covert program, and the CIA won't acknowledge that it's going on at all. Unofficially, intelligence officials say the Predator strikes are the most effective weapon they have against Al Qaeda.
President Obama has embraced an escalation in the raids that was approved by his predecessor, George W. Bush, last summer. The CIA has carried out at least 16 Predator strikes in Pakistan in the first four months of this year, compared with 36 strikes in all of 2008. The missile strikes have killed about 161 people since Obama's inauguration, according to news reports from Pakistan; there's no way of knowing how many of those were civilians.
Only one problem: Kilcullen says the missile strikes are backfiring.
Kilcullen's objection to the U.S. strategy isn't moral (he doesn't mind killing "bad guys") or legal (most legal scholars consider "targeted killing" acceptable under the law of war because Al Qaeda and the Taliban are at war with the United States). Kilcullen's objection is practical. He says the strikes are creating more enemies than they eliminate.
"I realize that they do damage to the Al Qaeda leadership," he told the House Armed Services Committee. But that, he said, was not enough to justify the program. "Since 2006, we've killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we've killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they've given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism. ... The current path that we are on is leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population."
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