Drone Strikes In Pakistan: Impressive, Yeah, But Look At The Human Intelligence
Brandeis University’s Micah Zenko has an interesting op-ed in The Boston Globe looking at the stepped-up use of missile strikes against Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan. Long story short, they’re alarmingly effective. But more importantly, look at why:
From a purely military perspective, the Predator surge has largely succeeded in tracking and killing high-value terrorist suspects. In the last year or so, Pentagon and CIA operatives have cultivated a better network of informants on the ground, received greater cooperation from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, and, most important, used a nearly seamless combination of new operational techniques and surveillance equipment on the Predator. [emphasis mine]
This, I think, is the real story here. The drones are only as good as the intelligence about where Al Qaeda targets will be.
Years ago, CIA counterterrorism officers would lament how blind they were in Pakistan; this has really, really changed, and all under the radar. Notice that The New York Times piece about yesterday’s truce in the Swat valley contains this line:
Analysts are now suggesting that the drone strikes may be pushing the Taliban, and even some Qaeda elements, out of the tribal belt and into Swat, making the valley more important to the Taliban.
That underscores the importance of, as Zenko writes, a comprehensive strategy for Af-Pak. If the drone strikes are doing damage, it’s because the intelligence network is getting stronger. It’s important to ask why that is. I can’t answer that without reporting, but one fairly safe assumption is that the strength of the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in the area is alienating at least some portion of the locals. These forces are not as rooted in the area as their Afghan counterparts: they have risen to power over the last three or four years by substituting their code of justice for the authentic tribal structure — in other words, the sort of thing that presaged the fall of the British and the Russian expeditions into Af-Pak. That’s the sort of cleavage that a savvy strategy exploits. We’ll see if that emerges from the Obama administration.