A senior Pakistani Army officer said that the covert US air campaign inside Pakistan’s tribal areas is killing dangerous al Qaeda and Taliban fighters and that civilian casualties are low.
Major General Ghayur Mehmood, the commander of Pakistan’s 7 Division, whose area of operations includes the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, said that “hardcore elements” of the Taliban and “foreigners” make up the bulk of those killed in the US airstrikes. Mehmood’s North Waziristan territory has been the epicenter of the airstrike campaign in recent years. Since the beginning of 2010, 90 percent of the strikes (113 of the 130 strikes) have hit targets in North Waziristan, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.
“Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners,” Mehmood told Pakistani reporters in a briefing in Miramshah in North Waziristan yesterday, according to Dawn.
Mehmood also said that “few” civilians have been killed in the strikes.
“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”
According to Mehmood, the CIA carried out 164 airstrikes between 2007 and 2011 using unmanned Predators and Reapers in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He claimed that 964 terrorists, including 793 Pakistanis and 171 “foreigners,” have been killed during that time period.
Mehmood stated that “Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos, and Moroccans” were among the foreigners killed. He did not provide the number of civilians killed during that time period.
According to data on the strikes compiled by The Long War Journal, there have been 223 strikes inside Pakistan since the beginning of 2007, with an estimated 1,694 Taliban and al Qaeda operatives and 88 civilians killed during that time frame. There have been 164 strikes in North Waziristan alone since 2007, which tallies with Mehmood’s figure on the number of strikes, suggesting that he was referring only to airstrikes in North Waziristan. The Long War Journal‘s data is based on Pakistani press reports.
Numerous senior foreign al Qaeda and Taliban commanders have been killed in the strikes. See LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011, and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011.
Al Qaeda’s external operations network is the primary target of the US air campaign, which is focused on top al Qaeda leaders and Taliban leaders and fighters who threaten both the Afghan and Pakistani states.
Mehmood’s comments are unusual, as Pakistani officials rarely mention the US strikes except to denounce them as being unhelpful and to request that the US end the operations. But the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence directorate is known to secretly provide intelligence to direct the attacks, as well as basing for the unmanned Predators and Reapers. This is all done with the support of the Pakistani government, which publicly denies any involvement in the program.
Opponents of the strikes claim that the vast majority of those killed in the US airstrikes are civilians, while Pakistani nationalists and Islamists political parties have used the attacks to stoke anti-American sentiments in Pakistan. The Taliban have used the strikes to try to justify suicide attacks against civilians, the government, and security forces.