A look at US airstrikes in Pakistan

Analysis: A look at US airstrikes in Pakistan through September 2009
By Bill Roggio and Alexander Mayer, Long War Journal, October 1, 2009

In August and September of 2009, the US covert air campaign in Pakistan's lawless, Taliban-controlled tribal agencies scored four high value al Qaeda and Taliban targets. The deaths of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and three senior al Qaeda leaders have helped to fuel the push for increasing the role of strikes in Pakistan. The US is now urging Pakistan to take on the Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Omar, and other targets in Baluchistan, and has considered expanding the air campaign outside Pakistan's tribal areas.

The US is also considering switching from a counterinsurgency-based strategy in Afghanistan, which focuses on securing the Afghan people and building up the government and military, to a counterterrorism-based strategy that focuses on covert raids and airstrikes against al Qaeda in Pakistan. This potential strategy shift is meeting resistance from circles within the US military and the intelligence communities, who while supportive of the present air campaign in Pakistan, warn that the tactic has limited use in dismantling al Qaeda and believe that such a strategy would destabilize Pakistan and lead to a Taliban takeover of much of Afghanistan.

As the debate over the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues, the US air campaign in Pakistan has not abated. The number of strikes this year has already exceeded the total from last year, and there is no sign of letting up.

A look at the publicly available data on the US air campaign in Pakistan shows a marked increase in the frequency in attacks since 2008. These attacks are also becoming increasingly lethal. A little more than one in three of the strikes have killed a High Value Target (HVT). An overwhelming number of strikes – nearly 90 percent – have taken place against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in North and South Waziristan. Notably, a large percentage of the high value targets killed were killed in a tribal region operated by a Taliban leader whom the Pakistani military and government consider an ally.

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