A game of Whack-a-Mole, but is it?

September 30, 2010

The US has stepped up its drone strikes in Pakistan – bringing the total number of strikes in September to 21, a steep escalation from the highest number of strikes so far this year, in January which was 12. The number of drone strikes in 2010 has now reached an alarming number of 76 as compared to 56 in all of 2009.

It was in these attacks that the al Qaeda operational chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sheikh Fateh, was reportedly killed – later also confirmed by a Pakistani official.

The recent cross border attacks by US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)  has lead to strong protests by the Pakistan government and civilians. Whether the helicopters crossed into Pakistani territory is being investigated, while the Long War Journal states that that the forces did in fact cross over into Pakistan’s Kurram agency along the border. In a report published by the Associated Press in 2007, the rules of war allows entry into Pakistan if “Hot pursuit” of al-Qaeda, Taliban and terrorist command-and-control targets “from AFG into Pakistan (must be continuous and uninterrupted).” Whether this is still valid or has been changed, remains to be seen.

On September 28, intelligence agencies foiled coordinated terror attacks across Europe, which were planned and plotted in Pakistan.  According to an official who spoke to CNN, “the mix of threats remains the same. It comes from groups like the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban. The threats they pose are ‘all deadly.’”

A report on NPR says that the military officials often describe the war in Afghanistan as “a game of Whack-a-Mole,” meaning that even though the US military cracks down on militants in Afghanistan – these militants flee to neighbouring Pakistan where they re-group and plan more attacks. The New America Foundation provides readers with a comprehensive database with graphs, reports and analysis. When looked at in one go, these facts and figures paint a chilling picture of the drone strikes. According to Newsline:

“For the period 2004-2007, according to the website, the high estimate for non-militant deaths from drone strikes is nine out of 109 people killed, around 8%. For 2009, the high-side estimate for non-militant deaths is 304 out of 709, a maddening 43%. The low estimate is 120 out of 413 killed in drone attacks, or 29%. So far in 2010 there have been reports of as many as 59 non-militants killed (59 out of 654, or 9%; while the low estimate shows 26 non-militants killed out of 387 drone-strike deaths, 7%) as of September 27, 2010).”

As pointed out in the blog – although the numbers might point out ‘accuracy’ on part of the predator drones, there have still been civilian casualties, casualties that might fuel further anger and resentment among the future generation. Just in August 2010, a drone attack in Miramshah claimed the lives 12 people including four women. The Obama administration has up the ante in Afghanistan in order to prove its presence in the region to US taxpayers and lawmakers, but it remains to be seen how effective this strategy will be.

Amna Khalique is the Features Editor of Dawn.com


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