“The mounting casualties show that the net is tightening on the militants and their al-Qaeda colleagues now concentrated in North Waziristan and on the border with Afghanistan,” wrote Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad last year. He added that the Hellfire missiles were getting “ever closer” to important terrorist operatives.
Al-Qaeda has also reappeared in isolated areas of Afghanistan where it has set up several training camps along the north-eastern border with Pakistan. Rather than a victory, this development can be interpreted as a sign of the drone campaign’s success. Relentlessly hunted in Pakistan by the Hellfire missile and the target of invisible informers selling information on their whereabouts to intelligence agents, al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives might very well be seeking safety across the border rather than remain in a dangerous environment.
But life for Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan is really no safer. The US military is waiting for them. A US air strike last September killed “dozens of Arabs” in an al-Qaeda camp that Special Forces troops had spied out. Among the dead were two top al-Qaeda operatives. Last December, American forces in Afghanistan captured another top al-Qaeda figure. A Taliban commander was also killed when he returned home from Pakistan.
To his credit, President Obama has gauged the effectiveness of the drone attacks and has increased their use since coming into office. The drone has been called the Western militaries’ symmetrical answer to al Qaeda’s asymmetrical warfare. Osama bin Laden and those of his ilk could never have conceived of such a relentless and deadly high tech weapon as the drone in 2001 and had no response to it for years except suicide attacks. The drone is also the weapon that has been settling scores for some time with terrorists with American blood on their hands.
The Pakistani government’s turning against the drone campaign is, in some ways ways, also extremely hypocritical. Its officials often fail to mention that the drones’ Taliban and al-Qaeda targets have kidnapped and murdered more people in Pakistan than Hellfire missiles have killed. Moreover, Pakistan’s leaders themselves have used American drones to kill Pakistani Taliban (TTP) operatives that have “targeted the Pakistani government and security forces.” Pakistani politicians were clearly not overly concerned about their popular standing or about civilian casualties when the drone was serving their interests.
Among those who met their demise from a Hellfire missile were the TTP’s founder and suspected organizer of Bhutto’s assassination, Beitullah Mehsud. Officially, Pakistani politicians deny being part of the drone campaign and criticize it publicly, while the ISI assists it.
In response to the Pakistani cancellation demand, the US military has not committed to adjusting the drone program. The CIA operates covertly, so under U.S. law the drone campaign doesn’t need Pakistsani approval.
The drone has been the US’s most effective weapon against al-Qaeda, battering it constantly and keeping it off balance. The US military must simply continue the drone attacks and ignore Pakistani “sovereignty.” 9/11 revealed, in the most tragic of ways, that the stakes are too high to allow al-Qaeda any respite in Pakistan’s border regions.
With its demand against the drones, the Pakistani government is engaging in appeasement and appeasement will only encourage more aggression both against Pakistan and the rest of the world. The Islamic extremists will only exploit this ominous show of weakness to worsen the persistent, violent unrest in Pakistan which could lead to a further neutralizing, or even overthrow, of Pakistan’s government by predatory Islamist terrorist entities and the descent of a nuclear-armed Pakistani state into chaos. This would have incalculable strategic consequences in the West’s war against jihad.
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