Obama Continues the Drone Airstrikes in Pakistan

The MQ-9 is a US drone fighter, or UAV, which stands for “unmanned aerial vehicle.” It is the US weapon of choice to fight Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan’s tribal lands. Click on the photo twice to enlarge.

Last Friday, July 17, a US drone fighter fired a missile on a house in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Taliban fighters were the targets. On July 8, two separate airstrikes occurred hours apart of one another. The first airstrike destroyed a Taliban hideout, and the second airstrike took out a vehicle convoy with five missiles. The technical name for a US drone fighter is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Two of the most popular drone fighters that have drawn some press attention are the Predator and more recently the Reaper.*

While these airstrikes were pretty amazing in their tactical success, it may come as some surprise that there have been a total of five US drone airstrikes in Pakistan in July alone and the month is not yet over. There was one airstrike on July 3, one on July 7, two on July 8, and one on July 17. The most spectacular drone airstrikes in Pakistan since President Obama took office occurred on June 23. On that day a Taliban training camp was hit with multiple missiles, then later in the day more missiles struck the funeral service for those killed earlier at the camp. About 80 died in the two airstrikes and another 150 were injured.

A single airstrike may be defined as an attack at one location at one particular time, and it may include multiple missile launchings. The data show that on some days more than one airstrike occurred. What does the history of the US drone airstrikes look like in Pakistan? For all of its flaws, Wikipedia does have a useful article that is updated after each drone airstrike.** The article keeps a running tab on each airstrike, its date, its place, and the casualties. The article lists the first US drone airstrike in Pakistan as occurring on June 18, 2004 and it was the only such airstrike in Pakistan for the entire year. Two airstrikes occurred in 2005, one in 2006, and three in 2007. Six airstrikes occurred in the first eight months of 2008, then abruptly that September drone airstrikes in Pakistan spiked. There were six alone in September, seven in October, three in November, and four in December, bringing the 2008 total to 26 drone airstrikes.

What accounts for the spike in US drone airstrikes in Pakistan at the end of 2008? It should be noted that this period coincided with the final months of the Bush presidency so the spike in drone attacks could have been a last ditch effort by the Bush administration to kill either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar (Afghanistan’s Taliban president who was removed by the US in late 2001). A more cynical view might be that President Bush wanted to make the War on Terror a central issue in the 2008 presidential campaign so he increased drone attacks in order to keep the issue in the news. A third view might be that President Bush ordered the increased airstrikes to stem the overall Taliban resurgence, which was considerable throughout 2008.

Whatever the case, the drone airstrikes have continued full throttle under President Obama. So far under Obama there have been 29 drone airstrikes in Pakistan: two in January, two in February, eight in March, five in April, three in May, four in June, and five in July. This brings the current 2009 drone airstrike total to 30 as one occurred on Jan 1 under President Bush. President Obama authorized his first drone airstrike on January 23, his fourth day in office. Two airstrikes occurred on that day and 14 people were killed. The New York Times reported: “The [Jan. 23] strikes suggested that the use of drones to kill militants within Pakistan’s borders would continue under President Obama.”

* http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/systems/uav.htm
** The list misses a whopping eight airstrikes from September to December 2008 (the
strikes on 8/20, 9/4, 9/5, 9/17, 10/9, 10/12, 12/11, and 12/16).