Drones have been in use with United States for over two decades but since 9/11, US drone fleet has grown from a few dozen to 7,000. The US air force now trains more pilots to operate drones than to fly bombers or fighter jets. Spy drones have flown extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the US has fought ground wars. But in Pakistan, the US made the first killer drone strike on June 18, 2004, since then there was a gradual rise in the number of drone attacks but the White House rapidly enhanced the number of drone strikes since the advent of President Obama.

By S. M. Hali

With changing fortunes and rapidly dwindling friends and allies, the White House has revisited its war on terror (wot) strategy.  John Brennan, long time CIA officer and President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, last week unveiled the new strategy in a speech at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. The revised strategy, which has also been posted on the White House website, curtails the deployment of large armies abroad to counter terror but envisages the delivery of surgical pressure to the groups that threaten USA. Brennan elucidated that as the US withdraws its troops physically from the theatre of war, it will pursue a war in the shadows, one relying heavily on missile strikes from unmanned aerial drones, raids by elite special operations troops, and quiet training of local forces to pursue terrorists. The US has spent $ 3.7 trillion on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, costing 225,000 lives and creating 7.8 million refugees.

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Drones have been in use with United States for over two decades but since 9/11, US drone fleet has grown from a few dozen to 7,000. The US air force now trains more pilots to operate drones than to fly bombers or fighter jets. Spy drones have flown extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the US has fought ground wars. But in Pakistan, the US made the first killer drone strike on June 18, 2004, since then there was a gradual rise in the number of drone attacks but the White House rapidly enhanced the number of drone strikes since the advent of President Obama. To-date there have been 253 attacks on Pakistani territory, in which an estimated 2, 464 people have been killed. According to Brookings’ Institute, drone strikes kill ten or more civilians for every militant decimated.  Pakistan has repeatedly protested these attacks as they are an infringement of its sovereignty and cause civilian deaths including women and children. In 2008 the US was informed that the strikes were unhelpful but on 4 October 2008 The Washington Post reported that there was a secret deal between the US and Pakistan allowing these drone attacks. Former President General Musharraf stated that tacit approval was given for surveillance drone operations but never for killer drone strikes. In February 2009, US Senator Dianne Feinstein dropped the bombshell that the Drone strikes were being flown out of a Pakistani base. The British newspaper The Times  stated on 18 February 2009 that the CIA was using Shamsi Airfield located 310 km southwest of Quetta, simultaneously releasing Google Earth snapshots of the airfield showing three Predator drones.

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Pakistan’s protests condemning the drone attacks continued, with a few US lawmakers also condemning the use of drone attacks against a country, with which the US is not at war. The May 02 raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the Raymond Davis affair has further frayed Pak-US relations. In fact for the 96 days that the CIA operative was in Pakistani custody, no drone attack on Pakistani territory was conducted, but the moment he was released, drone attacks resumed with a vengeance. Pakistan’s air chief was questioned by the Parliament regarding the CIA’s drone operations from Shamsi and whether the drone attacks could be targeted? His response was that Shamsi airbase was with UAE and Pakistan had no control over it while the drones could be brought down if the Government gave the authorization to do so. The situation took a sharp twist with Pakistan’s Defence Minister declaring to a group of reporters that the US had been ordered to vacate Shamsi air base, with the US officials retorting that they had neither vacated Shamsi nor had the desire to do so. While this war of words continued, Pakistan’s Information Minister defused the situation dismissing the Defence Minister’s comments.

However, hand in hand with the drone war, the CIA has been expanding its role in Pakistan through covert operations operating invisibly. Pakistan has woken up rather late in the day to the clandestine activities of CIA and ordered its operatives to depart, but like the proverbial camel, the CIA has occupied the tent and refuses to budge out. The new US Strategy reveals the method in the madness and Pakistan will have to play a delicate balancing game to put the genie of CIA back in the bottle through diplomatic skills with the rationale that legally the U.S. government needs the consent of the host government to wage a drone or covert war.

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