In Pakistan, and surprisingly, in the U.S., there exists politically correct pressure to sustain a belief that drones kill thousands of civilians, women and children. This propaganda ignores demonstrable evidence to the contrary. Civilians tragically die in wars. But, Predator Drone statistics are routinely exaggerated in Pakistani surveys by biased reports, and anecdotal information.
Further, civilian statistics elevate when terrorists intentionally embed themselves into compounds with cache weaponry or even Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), inviting women and children into the valley of the shadow of death, knowing drones cast that shadow. Statistics are skewed regarding civilian casualties, as many “civilian” sympathizers harbor terrorists.
Drones allow terrorists to be targeted without conventional weapons or military invasion. It is the way of future warfare. Even Iran and Pakistan are involved in attempting to develop drones through leaked technology from the U.S.
Indeed, drones are also used in humanitarian efforts. ABC News reports this month that the United States is sending “80 military personnel and one unarmed Predator reconnaissance aircraft to Chad” to find the 275 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremists. The deployment to Chad under the War Powers Act notification letter from President Obama declared that, “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area. The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”
The MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) of the USAF and CIA. Some are used for reconnaissance and forward observation roles, precision Hellfire missile capability. It has been successfully used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia without the need of conventional invasion. Are drones always the answer? Conventional warfare is not off the table in Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia, nor in the U.S. The success of Predator Drones has not stopped such exercises as last month at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for example, where soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, “Wings of Destiny” Air Assault recently carried out a large scale exercise entitled Operation Golden Eagle. This involved over 40 helicopters, more than 20 sling load missions and in excess of 1,100 U.S. soldiers. The soldiers conducted a combined-arms exercise that showcased the Division’s ability to react with speed, surprise and lethality. This is the very real alternative to drones.
But, no conventional military campaign can conquer an enemy that is everywhere. The Geneva Convention protocols, those standards of international law, that the U.S., and presumably, Pakistan, are held to, follow the feckless U.N. and biased “Human Rights Watch” protocols. But, where was the U.N. in Darfur and Rwanda? Or, U.N. assistance challenging Somalian pirates on the high seas?
International protocol is habitually discarded by terrorists. Deobandi TTP, ASWJ, Haqqani Network, al Qada affiliates intentionally target innocent men, women, and children. Despite the frequency of these attacks there is little outrage over them, presumably due to malaise that sets in when something happens so often it is no longer news. But, also biased reporting is responsible:
Recent Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports prefer, “fiercely criticizing the secrecy that shrouds the administration’s drone program,” to inflame passions. Yet, war on terrorists is by definition secret.
Calls “for investigations into the deaths of drone victims with no apparent connection to terrorism,” becomes foolish when it is common knowledge that non-military civilians are not privy to military secrets that lead to high-profile killing of combatants. U.S. and Pakistan strategies are no more transparent than is Israel or Iran, for a reason: Successful missions.
The biased reports from TBIJ (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) prefer to inflame emotions when it opaquely suggests it knows true estimates, and reports: “between 416 and 951 civilians, including 168 to 200 children, have been killed….” The expected outrage becomes absurd when no mention is made of the CIA responses, that cite of these fatalities of alleged “civilians,” more often they were non-combatant pro-Taliban, who enable and harbor terrorists. Terrorists habitually position their own women and children into harm’s way. That the TBIJ knows this is evident when they admit, by softening the rhetoric: “Critics of the drone program generally acknowledge that most of the people killed in Pakistan were likely members of terrorist groups.”
The TBIJ rightfully admits, Pakistani Taliban leader “Hakimullah Mehsud, who “was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians, but his death by drone in November prompted a wave of popular outrage over the incursion on national sovereignty.”
The “popular outrage” is telling. It confirms that the narrative is kept one-sided to demonize the U.S. and Drones. Forgotten will be this statement: “Hakimullah Mehsud, “was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians,” yes, women and children. Where is this mentioned in Human Rights Watch, or Al Jazeera?
Even the normally balanced Huffington Post article is anything but positive, “Obama promised tighter rules and greater transparency for the program.” But, then, a “December strike in Yemen — reportedly conducted by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, not the CIA – killed 12 civilians.” There is no more transparency in that statement, than when the press makes accusations against the administration. With the caution the administration and CIA now takes, it is more likely that the 12 civilians allegedly killed, were either harboring terrorists, or were non-combatant Jihadists, such as, suicide bomber recruits who are routinely counted among “civilian” statistics.
The Deobandi terrorists like TTP/ ASWJ and al Qaeda affiliates mock international law by establishing headquarters and combatants among innocent tribal villages. The “fight against terrorism” is almost a misnomer. One TTP or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) assassin can gun down an entire bus of Shias, as Frontier Corps turn their heads. One Madrassa orphan, or a child given over by poor parents, to Taliban who provide food and education the government has neglected, produces a radical. So, now, even in Karachi, by virtue of their Mullah’s promise of martyrdom in Allah’s (SAW) name, can target a Shia procession from Karachi to Dera Ismail Khan to Quetta and beyond. Such massacres continue, unabated. Some wars nobody wins. This is one of those.
No, drones won’t help that scenario. The Pakistani government could shut down radical Madrassas, but, when Saudi petro-dollars are welcomed by Sharif’s off-shore accounts, and Mullahs alike, Madrassas are destined to thrive in Pakistan.
Of Predator Drones, a US official told the Bureau: ‘US counterterrorism operations are precise, lawful, and effective. The United States takes extraordinary care to make sure that its counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law, and that they are consistent with US values and policy.’
Mansur Mahsud, is director of Islamabad-based organization the Fata Research Center. Mahsud describes, “When drones attack buildings in Pakistan, the target is typically described in media reports as a ‘compound’ – and often as a ‘militant compound’. But these are usually domestic structures, which are often rented or commandeered by militant groups.” This is also confirmation of the presence of Taliban who give no choice to families, or the presence of combatants in their midst.
The CIA affirms, “In the past 18 months there have been no confirmed reports of civilian casualties in any attacks – despite a rise in the proportion of strikes that hit houses.”
Mahsud confirms this is partly due to changes in learned tribal behavior. Now when, “militants come to stay, civilians usually leave. There is little locals can do about the prospect of their buildings being damaged, he adds: ‘You cannot say no to the Taliban in Fata.’”
Increasing the numbers are used to condemn Drones. Research reveals that on average more civilians die when a building is targeted than when a vehicle is hit.
The US official told the Bureau: “The US government only targets terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. Period. Any suggestion otherwise is flat wrong. Furthermore, before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.” Such statements rarely are the theme of the establishment media, or heard on the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera.
Drone strikes are merely one component of many types of deaths occurring in FATA. Local violence is often between rival militant groups, or, between the Pak Army and militant groups; the militant groups kill civilians –women and children – not by Drones, but by Muslim on Muslim, Pakistanis on Pakistanis. Ask yourself how often the press will cover this common occurrence.
Among the sea of gray text in these articles, one needs to look for the unbiased truth. This positive statement provides an example: “But here, again, the care taken over the past year to avoid civilian casualties appears to be bucking these historic trends.” Still, such affirmation is always de-emphasized by the press preference in inflammatory imagery, displaying each and every adult or child that is a casualty.
Why are there no consistent photos in the mainstream news sympathetically illustrating Shite men, women and children that are murdered in the thousands by Salafists genocidal intent on Shia?
And, where is the establishment press coverage of radical Muslim “kill and dump” in Balochistan, and kidnapping of officials who make anti-Taliban statements, or speak out against draconian, medieval Blasphemy Laws still a legacy in the Constitution by Zia, and countless minorities including Hindu, Christians, Ahmadis in Pakistan who are murdered with no subsequent justice? Or, in the Embassy murders, or, London bombings? This mirrors the same narrative of obfuscation in Predator Drone statistics.
“Fighting terrorists” is not a misnomer. It is real and possible. But, asymmetrical warfare is by definition flexible and timely. Factors for U.S. success in Afghanistan and across the Durand Line, include commanders in the field being heard and responded to by the Pentagon; cutting through red tape. Predator drone intelligence and missiles are the new gestalt of asymmetrical warfare. Strategy should be beyond counterinsurgency (COIN).
Throughout history, COIN is a strategy wherein one would be hard pressed to find military successes. In the few successful cases, only the villages, provinces, communities themselves brought an end to hostilities. Foreign or domestic counterinsurgency against guerilla tactics brought only catastrophic bloodshed to no avail. Enter the drone.
To keep civilian casualties in perspective one should be mindful of the ruthlessness of global war history. In the context of conventional warfare WWII bombing of civilians was routine- Nazis over London, U.S. retaliation over Berlin; fire-bombing Tokyo; Truman’s decision that the Atom bomb would save 200,000 US troops, indeed stopped the Japanese military machine, but devastated civilians in Japan; Nixon and Johnson’s bombing of Southeast Asia, and so on, until Bush’s Iraqi “Shock and Awe” – civilian casualties were out of the Pentagon scope of vision. Yes, ultimately troops were deployed in-country for asymmetrical warfare.
Even among errors, there are insights: Drones can, in some cases, not all, be an effective substitute for invasion, sparing the thousands of civilians killed in conventional warfare.
It is a tragic and heartbreaking fact of war that civilians, including women and children, will be accidental casualties. But the increased chances in FATA are due to terrorists’ choice of sacrificing women and children by confiscating village compounds of anti-Taliban tribal “homes,” or, in some cases, being welcomed into pro-Taliban civilians’ homes, which affords the subterfuge of inserting a cache of weapons, indeed living among the civilians. Therein lies the internationally unethical and unlawful reality. That Taliban and al Qaeda tactics include putting their women children at risk is not on the list of the Human Rights Watch findings. One should ask “Why?”
Starting in 2001, and looking back at progress since 2009, the presidential attention became more focused on civilian casualties. The U.S. military conferred with the Pakistan military. The U.S. officials guaranteed more prudence in the use of Predator drones regarding collateral damage and non-combatant casualties. This temporarily resolved sovereignty drone issues with General Kayani.
There would be no need for U.S. Predator Drones into Pakistan, if the Pakistan Army were serious in waging a military operation against terrorism in FATA.
The Pakistan military had, and has, no intention of mounting a serious military campaign into FATA/KP terrorist regions. This would mean targeting its “Strategic Depth” ace card against India and Kashmir, still a very deeply held conviction. So, drones operating out of Shamsi airfield were agreed to by General Kayani, but publicly denied. Kayani privately condoned drones with General David H. Petraeus, Lt Gen John R. Allen, Admiral Mullen and Gen James Mattis. A typically fraudulent scenario with regards to the duplicitous Pakistan military. Only once was this agreement held in abeyance: to punish the U.S. for its Navy SEAL team 6 capture-kill of Osama bin Laden in Abbatabad which embarrassed the Pakistan ISI and military.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government reassessed Waziristan/FATA/KP targeting decisions. By 2010 and beyond, the decision was made to involve higher levels of authority for decisions on targeting in Pakistan, and in special cases, U.S. military attorneys to assist in ethical decisions on firing Predator drones to assure international rules of engagement were lawful, and to lower non-combatant casualties. Civilian casualty dramatically decreased. Collateral damage statistics have been extremely low since then, despite auspicious claims by those that benefit from anti-American sentiment.
Taliban continuously install munitions close to civilian tribal villages in the Machiavellian effort to increase civilian casualties’ in hopes of Pakistani anti-American sentiment, and U.S. citizen outcry of foul play. Taliban and al Qaeda do not value human life. More human life, and more civilian life has been taken Muslim-on-Muslim in tribal lands than U.S. drones.
All unbiased evidence confirms there is minimal collateral damage from Predator Drones. Exaggerated civilian casualty-propaganda is easily manipulated data due to the difficulty in retrieving real numbers. It is the nature of the tribal lands that the fear factor from omnipresent Taliban impedes a consensus. Purposeful use of anecdotal statistics gathered by such biased groups as “Human Rights Watch” hold a negative agenda.
Since 2011, interviews of tribal elders and anti-Taliban residents that live in fear of Taliban, confirm a preference for drones.
Decisions to fire a Hellfire missile into Taliban machine gun bunkers or upon an individual high-value target is cleared only in the absence of civilians. Why? Because the Predator surveillance and intelligence has so improved that the military can afford to wait out a high-value target for another day, rather than take a risky shot.
The program must be expanded to protect innocent citizens. Whether the terrorists are in FATA or Punjab or other parts of Pakistan, they should be killed. New stealth drone technologies will make this very possible and painless. The new drones maybe as small as honey bees and would follow that Deobandi terror smell using modern technology, ensuring zero collateral damage.
The only individuals and/or group that need fear U.S. Predator drones, are terrorists.