The Washington Post has a good read on the covert US air campaign in Pakistan. According to the Post’s CIA sources, the strikes have been much more effective in killing enemy fighters and commanders, and have killed far fewer civilians, since smaller warheads and increased surveillance have been employed.
According to an internal CIA accounting described to The Washington Post, just over 20 civilians are known to have died in missile strikes since January 2009, in a 15-month period that witnessed more than 70 drone attacks that killed 400 suspected terrorists and insurgents. Agency officials said the CIA’s figures are based on close surveillance of targeted sites both before and after the missiles hit.
Unofficial tallies based on local news reports are much higher. The New America Foundation puts the civilian death toll at 181 and reports a far higher number of alleged terrorists and insurgents killed — more than 690.
Note that our tally here at The Long War Journal, which is based on Pakistani news reports, is close to the CIA estimates [and no, General Beg, this isn’t because LWJ is a “CIA website”.] According to our numbers, only 42 civilians have been killed since January 2009, while 677 Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorists have been killed during the same time period. If the numbers are even close to accurate (and we believe they are), the civilian-to-enemy kill ratio in the US air campaign in Pakistan is unprecedented in the history of air warfare.
Let me be clear that the air campaign in Pakistani in its current form (limited, focused strikes at targets of opportunity), no matter how long it is sustained, is not a strategy for success. The use of the Predators and Reapers in Pakistan is merely a tactic that can degrade AQAM’s leadership cadre and disrupt their operations. Those who see the Predator strikes as a strategy for success are greatly underestimating the extent of the jihadi problem in Pakistan, and the Pakistani establishment’s collusion.
Without someone’s boots on the ground to deny the Taliban and al Qaeda the terrain, the Taliban and al Qaeda will remain entrenched in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the greater northwest. And in the Punjab, Baluchistan, and Sindh. Those boots, incidentally, have to be the Pakistanis’, for a variety of political and logistical reasons (the US cannot politically sustain an invasion and occupation of Pakistan, nor does it have the military resources to do so). With the Pakistani elite’s backing and sheltering of the worst terror groups (Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, and the alphabet soup of Pakistani jihadi outfits), a serious crackdown won’t happen any time soon. The terror problem will remain in Pakistan for years to come, regardless of the Predator and Reaper strikes.
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