Sunday, October 7, 2012

" is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan?"

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are down 15% according to the BBC and the Guardian.  

 The following are highlights of an article written by Atlantic writer, Joshua Faust.

A new report, "Living Under Drones," jointly authored by Stanford University and New York University -- and reviewed yesterday by Conor Friedersdorf here at The Atlantic -- is harshly critical of the drone campaign in Pakistan. 

But the report then makes some questionable claims based on incomplete data, and seems to argue that the drone campaign should be paused or radically altered. Those arguments are not well supported.

 the sample size of the study is 130 people. In a country of 175 million, that is just not representative. 130 respondents isn't representative even of the 800,000 or so people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the region of Pakistan where most drone strikes occur. Moreover, according to the report's methodology section, there is no indication of how many respondents were actual victims of drone strikes, since among those 130 they also interviewed "current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists."

The authors did not conduct interviews in the FATA, but Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Peshawar. The direct victims they interviewed were contacted initially by the non-profit advocacy group Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which is not a neutral observer (their explicit mission is to end the use of drones in Pakistan). The report relies on a database compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which relies on media accounts for most of its data. The authors discount the utility of relying on media accounts, since media in Pakistan rely on the Pakistani government for information (reporters are not allowed independent access to the FATA). Even accepting their description of the BIJ data as the most "reliable," these data are highly suspect.

Left unstated in the report, though, is a bigger question: is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan?

It is not a simple one to answer. Looking at how residents in the FATA have behaved in other violent campaigns is instructive. In early 2009, the Pakistani Army announced its campaign to "clear" the Swat Valley, north of Islamabad, of terrorist groups that had been systematically murdering elders and tribal policemen and destroying hundreds of schools and other government buildings. As the campaign proceeded, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 300,000 people fled the fighting. By the end of the campaign, more than 1 million people got displaced by the army-Taliban fighting in Swat, which left the region completely devastated.
There have been no reported mass movements of people fleeing the drones in the last four years. The mere threat of a Pakistani army offensive into Waziristan, however, prompts thousands to flee in terror. There are several possible explanations: for example, people in heavily affected drone areas might be terrified to leave their houses.

But there is a simpler explanation: Perhaps drones are not as scary as opponents claim. A Februaryinvestigation by the Associated Press -- which, unlike the Living Under Drones study, interviewed Pakistanis inside the FATA -- reported that civilian casualties from drones are far lower than Pakistan civil society figures, journalists, and party officials assert publicly. This calls into question the wisdom of relying on such interested parties to build a picture of the utility and morality of targeted killings in Pakistan. Furthermore, the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme (CAMP), a Pakistan-based research group, consistently finds in its surveys within the FATA that the most pressing security fear among residents is bomb blasts by terror groups, followed closely by the Pakistani military. When asked open-ended questions about their greatest fears, very few ever mention drones.

In the short run, there aren't better choices than drones. The targets of drone strikes in Pakistan sponsor insurgents in the region that kill U.S. soldiers and destabilize the Pakistani state (that is why Pakistani officials demand greater control over targeting). They cannot simply be left alone to continue such violent attacks. And given the Pakistani government's reluctance either to grant the FATA the political inclusion necessary for normal governance or to establish an effective police force (right now it has neither), there is no writ of the state to impose order and establish the rule of law.
Drones represent the choice with the smallest set of drawbacks and adverse consequences. Reports like Living Under Drones highlight the need for both more transparency from the US and Pakistani governments, and for drawing attention to the social backlash against their use in Pakistan. But they do not definitively build a case against drones in general. Without a better alternative, drones are here to stay.

Democracy Now

AHMED RASHID: Well, you know, initially—initially, at least—for the first four or five days after this happened, the leadership, including the army chief, the prime minister, the president, they all congratulated President Obama. But the press lashed out very strongly against the army. What was the army doing? Did the army know about the presence of Osama? If so, was it guilty of keeping him there? And if it didn’t know, is it so incompetent that they couldn’t even guess where he was, and it took the Americans to guess where he was?
So, then the army, in kind of self-defense and in a way of retaliation, basically said, "This is not the issue. The real issue is that the Americans impinged on Pakistan’s sovereignty by invading Pakistan’s territory and launching this attack in Abbottabad." So the whole argument was shifted, you know, by the military, essentially, and that this was all about America’s breaking our sovereignty. And the key argument, which was accountability of the army and the ISI, were completely left behind.
And what happened, the army still had enormous influence in the media, amongst the politicians. It managed to turn this whole argument around. And as a consequence, this, you know, public opinion, to the media, etc., changed and then started questioning the Americans as to what on earth were the Americans doing trying to attack Pakistan? What happens if they repeat this and kill other people through such raids, etc.? And to date, quite frankly, there has still been no accountability, and no questions have been answered about what Osama was doing there, you know? Did anyone know that he was there? Was anyone helping—

rea 06.05.12 at 6:39 pm
There are organized groups of people who regard themeselves at war with the United States and who have attacked the United States and its allies in the past, who are armed, and who are located in a place where the judicial proces cannot reach them. Such people can legitimately be subjected to military attack. Noncombatants cannot be targeted, but sometimes noncombatant are going to be killed in legitimate attacks on military targets. The laws of war require reasonable steps to be taken to minimize noncombatant casualties, but recognize that some noncombatant casualties are inevitable. There is no evidence that the US is breaking these rules.
For example, Greenwald complains about the death of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son in a drone strike. That’s tragic, but the article Greenwald links point out that the young man was with a group of al Qaeda officials when killed, and there is no evidence that the young man, rather than the al Qaeda officials, was targeted.
Or, see the following account, to which Greenwald links, and which he citte s an isntance of the US deliberately targeting rescuers:
Taliban militants had gathered in the village of Khaisor. After praying at the local mosque, they were preparing to cross the nearby border into Afghanistan to launch an attack on US forces. But the US struck first.
A CIA drone fired its missiles into the Taliban group, killing at least a dozen people. Villagers joined surviving Taliban as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured.
But as rescuers clambered through the demolished house the drones struck again. Two missiles slammed into the rubble, killing many more. At least 29 people died in total.
‘We lost very trained and sincere friends‘, a local Taliban commander told The News, a Pakistani newspaper. ‘Some of them were very senior Taliban commanders and had taken part in successful actions in Afghanistan. Bodies of most of them were beyond recognition.’
For the Americans the attack was a success. A surprise tactic had resulted in the deaths of many Taliban. But locals say that six ordinary villagers also died that day . . .
It’s very hard to see how this account shows that rescuers were deliberately targeted, or that the whole affair was anything other than an attack on a leigtimate military target.
The Wikipedia article on Operation Overlord estimates that 13,632–19,890 French civilians were killed or injured by Allied operations in the battle. Was that an Allied war crime?
The man [obl] had issued press releases taking credit, but that’s not good enough, evidently.

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