Predator strikes now leaner, meaner in Pakistan


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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • kp says:

    For more on the Scorpion Small Smart Weapon see this write up. Its a highly modular system


    One interesting feature which makes it all weather capable is the MMW (millimeter wave) radar system that can match targets. Along with a conventional semi-active homing system (laser designation) and GPS guidance system. The latter can be updated in flight if the target moves. This system also can talk to the weapon before launch (simplifying it;s integration to the launch vehicle). Along with wings to extend the missiles range (and possible loiter time over the target).

    It’s patented too — United States Patent 7690304. Curiously this is not in the Google Patent system but it is in others. A reading of it and the referenced patents give some ideas of what they’re doing e.g. the weapon can be told of GPS coords of boxes to avoid (I suspect that could even be used if the other system fail and its impact point ends up in a box it could destroy itself in flight after notifying the launch vehicle so even failed missiles don’t hit outside the target area).


    This patent even refers to other patents (like patent 7530315) that show a non-explosive fragmentary warhead that can be used with fast zero CEP missiles on soft targets. A bit like shooting a big shotgun close to the target. Or use a hardened penetrator. A bit like a concrete GBU-12 (all KE and no bang). Both of these patents are quite insightful!

    The other interesting comment in the WP report is about micro-UAVs. Are these being deployed from the UAVs in flight? I wonder if these can land and deploy sensors close to an interesting area (to monitor road traffic). Even better if they’re VTOL and could move after perhaps dropping a sensor or a marker. All these ideas have appeared before but it may be that the CIA has them deployed.

  • kp says:

    I posted a little to quickly: here’s the brochure for the SSW so you can see what it looks like.


    Its a glide bomb: no rocket. More details on the seekers too: semi-active laser, GPS, imaging IR and shortwave IR (i.e millimeter wave imagers).

    You can put three SSW on one Hellfire rail (or two in a tube). So a “old” Predator could potentially carry up to 6 SSW. That’s quite a punch and gives them a chance to go after squirters.

    Wired had this last December


    Global Security has just put a page on SSW too


    They use one of the BattleAxe warheads (including the Reactive Material warhead).





  • Minnor says:

    Right direction. Smaller but multiple missiles till target is destroyed. Now predator strikes are limited to N.Waziristan. I’m not sure about non-mehsud areas of S.Waziristan. N.Waziristan should be sieged hard on Afghan side to aid surgical air strikes.

  • Civy says:

    Without denying your larger point about Predator strikes not being a substitute for boots on the ground to deny the enemy terrain, the figures you cite are roughly on par with the estimated enemy KIA in Operation Anaconda. Very impressive “chipping away”.
    Destroying, degrading and disrupting their C3, especially at critical points in time, like when the Pak military is mounting a major new push against the Taliban, is the best use of Predator’s precision strikes.

  • Render says:

    This entire war, even when properly backdated all the way to 1998 (or even 1979), has been strangely, even disturbingly low on casualties, both civilian and military, given its length, sheer world spanning size, the numbers of uniformed and un-uniformed combatants involved, and the vastly increased accuracy/lethality/ranges of modern weapons.
    This is even more startling when it’s taken into account that one side has been intentionally and constantly targeting large groups of civilians all along, and that the other side worked really hard at pretending there was no war for three years (or three decades)(and in many cases still does).
    Not our grand fathers world war at all (yet).

  • Dan A says:

    Anybody else think that the talk of the micro UAVs may have just been to scare the jihadis? I mean the idea that those things may be hanging out outside my window is pretty freaky, but I have doubts about the credibility of those claims.

  • T Ruth says:

    First, i think the WashPo article is a solid redemption of your count versus the New America Foundation (who are these guys anyway? their name seems to pop up a lot lately. wiki doesn’t provide a lot of info and since i don’t live in the US, i don’t have a sense of their agenda. would be happy to hear a line or two from anyone with insight.)
    Second, thanks for saying it as it is vis a vis the Pak establishment collusion and the depth and reach of the terror network there. I’m not so certain though, politics aside, about how difficult it would be for the US to tackle the situation within Pak’s borders. The last time Pakistan fought a ful-scale war, it really got a massive drubbing with a third of its army surrendering to India in the 13-day Bangladesh War.
    I’m not suggesting that the US must get in there but i do believe that there is a an image there of bravado, ferociousness, professionalism and cohesiveness that may be built on very shaky foundations. Admittedly times have changed since 1971 and the numbers are larger, tecnology different and so on. Yet, i remain unconvinced of their prowess. Back in 2001 Musharraf himself was not so self-assured.
    The Pak army has enjoyed a good life of unbridled power. The generals and others have had a relatively cosy life with all the trappings of luxury from big free bungalows to servants to an abundant flow of blue-label whisky. Almost certainly there are syndicates within that share in the booty provided by the US through n number of channels of aid and ally funds etc etc. Almost certainly they are ‘stakeholders’ in the incredible variety of business activities and ventures of the army. One shouldn’t underestimate the corrosive force of corruption or of the lack of focus. Contrast all this with the regimen of discipline of the US Army–thats what makes it tough as nuts and professional. Point is, it would be totally false to judge them by US standards or be impressed by mere numbers.
    As you go down the line, there are other issues of processes, training, overemployment, motivation (just another job) and so on.
    Turning back to the drone story, i wonder if with the greater precision, one can expect the attacks to diversify into Baluchistan, Punjab etc.
    Meantime, i think i’m as bored by it all as Render is…
    Keep up the pressure of your reporting!

  • Render says:

    I’m not bored with it T, I was bored 2004-5, when I realized that forward momentum had been voluntarily sacrificed in both major theaters.
    I settled into a grim and bitter stubbornness in 2006, when I realized that domestic (US) politics were not going to allow any but the barest minimum of attempts to regain that lost forward momentum. While the enemy safely out of reach was allowed to re-build and re-arm.
    I’m reduced to just grim and bitter nowadays by what passes for our wartime political leadership and more then a few of our military leaders as well. Our previous Commander-in-Chief warned us repeatedly that it was going to be a long war while our current Commander-in-Chief has seen to it that it’s going to be a much longer war 
    I was hoping we’d have at least one W. T. Sherman or perhaps a George Patton, now I’m praying for a Chesty Puller or a Stonewall Jackson.

  • Civy says:

    The best indication that the Pak Army is not confident in their abilities is in Musharraf’s diverting so much of the US aid to further development of WMDs. If you have confidence in your abilities you aren’t going to bleed yourself white dumping billions into nuclear weapons when there are so many political risks, visa-vie the US and West, attendant with that strategy.
    Good points all

  • T Ruth says:

    Civy, very true.
    Good article here Moorthy Muthuswamy, a frequent commenter here, on this subject

  • James says:

    You can not win wars in the air. You have to win them on the ground.
    What might be required to take out the top tier of Al Queda in Pakistan (in addition to Yemen) might be what I will call for now an attack of triangulation.
    Such an attack would involve at least 2 if not 3 angles; in the air (via drones or otherwise); on the ground (using a quick “hit & run” ambush force of special ops); and maybe also underground (our own version of an IED attack).
    Such an attack would of course have to be well planned, sychronized and simultaneously executed.
    How do the Taliban/Al Queda get from point A to point B? Obviously, at least from what I gather, by vehicular traffic involving predominantly SUV’s. The same applies to Awlaqi and his ilk in Yemen.
    With all the onboard computers used in (at least most) newer SUV’s sold today, it’s a wonder to me why they haven’t taken advantage of surreptiously placed GPS tracking devices (something similar at least in concept to ONSTAR tracking systems).
    Again, just wiki the case of serial arsonist John Leanord Orr to get the idea of what I’m suggesting here.


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