Could Drone Strikes Be Cleaving Pakistanis From al-Qaeda?
Last month, Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, gave an interview to The Washington Post bragging about the impact the CIA’s drone strikes have had on al-Qaeda and Taliban operations in Pakistan. Not having sufficient information to independently evaluate it, I sort of marked Panetta’s comments As Read. But today’s New York Times has some anecdotal information from North Waziristan — a very rare and valuable commodity — supporting Panetta.
The informants provided by the Times relate that the drone strikes are intense enough to defy previous patterns employed by residents to evade them. (Apparently, that’s retaliation for al-Qaeda double agent Abu Dujaanah al-Khorasani’s successful attack on a CIA headquarters in Khost province in December.) They just appear relentless, targeting a lower level of militant than before. More surprising is this bit of information suggesting at least some locals blame al-Qaeda’s Arab recruits for the presence of the drones and not actually the U.S. itself:
Two of the government supporters said they knew of civilians, including friends, who had been killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, they said, they are prepared to sacrifice the civilians if it means North Waziristan will be rid of the militants, in particular the Arabs.
“On balance, the drones may have killed 100, 200, 500 civilians,” said one of the men. “If you look at the other guys, the Arabs and the kidnappings and the targeted killings, I would go for the drones.”
It’s important not to generalize from this case. But if it turns out this sentiment is fairly widespread — and the Times piece asserts that it is more than it demonstrates that it is — then al-Qaeda is in danger of losing its most important redoubt on the planet. That’s been predicted many, many times in the past, so, again, it’s important to withhold any judgment until more information is available.