Home > Article > UN, CIA Drone Operators Oppose Strikes in Pakistan

UN, CIA Drone Operators Oppose Strikes in Pakistan


UN, CIA Drone Operators Oppose Strikes in Pakistan

  • CIA officers involved in the agency’s drone strikes programme in Pakistan and elsewhere expressing their opposition to the programme within the agency
  • “Some of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it is doing more harm than good,”
  • CIA officers “are very upset” with the drone strike policy, Addicott said.
  • “They’ll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise.”
  • “The people at the top are not believers,” said Addicott, referring to the CIA.
  • “They know that the objective is not going to be achieved.”
  • Dissent from those who are involved in the programme itself has little effect when it is up against what is perceived as political pressure to show progress against al Qaeda – no matter how illusory.

WASHINGTON, Jun 3, 2010 (IPS) – Some CIA officers involved in the agency’s drone strikes programme in Pakistan and elsewhere are privately expressing their opposition to the programme within the agency, because it is helping al Qaeda and its allies recruit, according to a retired military officer in contact with them.

“Some of the CIA operators are concerned that, because of its blowback effect, it is doing more harm than good,” said Jeffrey Addicott, former legal adviser to U.S. Special Forces and director of the Centre for Terrorism Law at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, in an interview with IPS.

Addicott said the CIA operatives he knows have told him the drone strikes are being used effectively by al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to recruit more militants.

CIA officers “are very upset” with the drone strike policy, Addicott said. “They’ll do what the boss says, but they view it as a harmful exercise.”

“They say we’re largely killing rank and file Pakistani Taliban, and they are the ones who are agitated by the campaign,” he added.

Because the drone strikes kill innocent civilians and bystanders along with leaders from far away, they “infuriate the Muslim male”, said Addicott, thus making them more willing to join the movement. The men in Pakistan’s tribal region “view Americans as cowards and weasels”, he added.

Addicott retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel in 2000 after serving for six years as senior legal adviser to the Special Operations Forces but is still a consultant for the U.S. military on issues of terrorism and law.

Addicot said the CIA officers expressing concern about the blowback effects of the drone policy are “mid-grade and below”.

  • No …accountability exists on the other side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the drone strike program is run by the CIA. The strikes – successful or not – are never publicly acknowledged by the US government. Mistakes are never admitted, death tolls never confirmed.
  • The Pakistan drone strikes almost certainly kill civilians, but exactly how many is the subject of much debate. Pakistani analysts claim the strikes overwhelmingly miss their targets:
  • A study published in April 2009 claimed that 687 civilians had been killed, along with just 14 al-Qaeda members, a 50-to-1 ratio. A similar report, published in January 2010 in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, cited more than 700 civilian casualties.

They learned about the impact of drone strikes on recruiting by extremist leaders in Pakistan from intelligence gathered by CIA and the National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic communications, according to Addicott.

They have informed high-level CIA officials about their concerns that the programme is backfiring, Addicott told IPS.

“The people at the top are not believers,” said Addicott, referring to the CIA. “They know that the objective is not going to be achieved.”

The complaints by CIA operatives about the drone strikes’ blowback effect reported by Addicott are identical to warnings by military and intelligence officials reported in April 2009 by Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers. Landay quoted an intelligence official with deep involvement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as saying al Qaeda and the Taliban had used the strikes in propaganda to “portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death”.

The official called the operations “a major catalyst” for the jihadi movement in Pakistan.

A military official involved in counterterrorism operations told Landay the drone strikes were a “recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban”.

  • 80 per cent of respondents do not support the drone strikes, according to Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani journalist. In an op-ed earlier this month for The News, a Pakistani newspaper,
  • Zaidi described villagers in Pakistan’s tribal agencies who were “traumatised” by the constant threat of drone strikes (on the one hand) and Taliban attacks (on the other).
  • an Al Jazeera-Gallup poll conducted in 2009 found just 9 per cent of Pakistanis favor the attacks.
  • That unpopularity stems, in large part, from a belief that drones kill sizable numbers of civilians. Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security – and a critic of the drone strike programme – argued on Saturday that such a perception is ultimately more important than research studies about civilian casualties.
  • “I care, in other words, less about reality as defined by verifiable facts and figures and more about reality as it is interpreted in Pakistan and within Pakistani diaspora communities,” he wrote.
  • As Zaidi has pointed out, not a single study shows drone strikes to be perfectly accurate; thus the Pakistani public retains the (legitimate) belief that the strikes kill civilians.

The CIA operatives’ opposition to the drone strikes programme extends to Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan, all of which now have confirmed deaths from drone strikes, according to Addicott.

The official goal of the geographical expansion of drone strikes is to destroy or disrupt al Qaeda. But al Qaeda is less a major organisation than “a mentality” in most Middle Eastern countries, Addicott said, and the CIA officers fear that the strikes will only reinforce that way of thinking.

Addicott said the drone programme has been driven by President Barack Obama, rather than by the CIA. “Obama’s trying to show people that we’re winning,” he added.

The programme was originally authorised by President George W. Bush against a relatively short list of high-level al Qaeda officials, and with highly restrictive conditions on approval of each strike. The strike could not be approved unless the target was identified with high confidence, and a complete assessment of “collateral damage” had to ensure against significant civilian casualties.

In early 2008, however, Bush approved the removal of previous restraints. As recounted by David Sanger in his 2009 book, “The Inheritance”, Bush authorised strikes against targets merely based on visual evidence of a “typical” al Qaeda motorcade or a group entering a house that had been linked to al Qaeda or its Pakistani Taliban allies.

As a top national security aide to Bush acknowledged to Sanger, the shift was “risky” because, “you can hit the wrong house or mistakenly misidentify the motorcade”.

It also meant that anyone who could be linked in some way to al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” could now be targeted for drone attacks.

The Obama administration has continued to justify the programme as aimed at high-value targets, suggesting that it can degrade al Qaeda as an organisation by a “decapitation” strategy, according to Addicott. However administration officials now privately admit that the objective of the programme is to “demoralise the rank and file”, he said.

That won’t work, according to Addicott, because, “These are tribal people. They don’t view life and death the way we expect them to.”

In effect, the drone strikes programme has become an “attrition” strategy for Pakistan, Addicott said.

Such a strategy in Pakistan’s tribal region appears to be futile. Madrassas in the region have churned out tens of thousands of young men with militant views, and their activities are spread across hundreds of sites in the region. A U.S. military intelligence official told Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal in 2009 that there were 157 training camps and “more than 400 support locations” in the tribal northwest.

  • Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, said in a report released yesterday that the U.S., “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world, should halt the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, (NYT, LAT, Wash Post, CNN, AFP, AJE).
  • Alston also expressed concern about the use of unmanned aircraft and drones in attack missions, which allows targeted killings with little to no risk for the attacking party.
  • “But they are increasingly being used far from any battle zone,” Alston said. “The United States, in particular, has put forward a novel theory that there is a ‘law of 9/11′ that enables it to legally use force in the territory of other states as part of its inherent right to self-defence on the basis that it is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ‘associated forces,’ although the latter group is fluid and undefined.
  • “This expansive and open-ended interpretation of the right to self-defence goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the UN Charter. If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos,”
  • the report also blasts the CIA for misusing these technologies and causing unnecessary harm to innocents.
  • “The clearest challenge to this principle today comes from the program operated by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], in which targeted killings are carried out from unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. It is clear that many hundreds of people have been killed as a result, and that this number includes some innocent civilians,” Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/06/03/un-targeted-killings.html#ixzz0pqFWjn1X

Within the administration, it appears that the logic behind the programme is that it has to be seen to be doing something about al Qaeda. “The argument I get from people associated with the programme,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow in Conflict Prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations, “is the same as the one [CIA Director Leon] Panetta gave last year.”

“Very frankly,” Panetta declared May 18, 2009, “it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.”

Zenko, who has studied the bureaucratic in-fighting surrounding such limited uses of military force, told IPS drone strikes have appealed to the Obama administration because they offer “clear results that are obtained quickly and are easily measured”.

All the other tools that might be used to try to reduce al Qaeda influence in Pakistan and elsewhere take a long time, require cooperation among multiple actors and have no powerful political constituency behind them, Zenko observed.

Dissent from those who are involved in the programme itself has little effect when it is up against what is perceived as political pressure to show progress against al Qaeda – no matter how illusory.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006. CIA Drone Operators Oppose Strikes as Helping al Qaeda By Gareth Porter*

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