The Terrible Arithmetic
Kelley’s article on counting the collateral damage arising from the drone wars starting me thinking about the latest “success” being reported in Washington, the killing of alleged al-Qaeda number two Abu Yahya al-Libi. A series of drone strikes took place on Saturday through Monday, June 2nd through the 4th, part and parcel of eight strikes that have taken place since May 20th, when Pakistan refused to reopen the NATO supply route to Afghanistan. The June 4th attack was a double strike that reportedly killed al-Libi. Local sources reported thirty people were killed in the multiple attacks over the June 2nd weekend alone. We have learned recently that the CIA, which is carrying out the attacks, regards anyone killed in a drone strike as a militant as long as they are male and of arms bearing age.
Apparently the recent strikes zeroed in on a cell phone that was being used intermittently by someone believed to be close to al-Libi supplemented by satellite imagery on small groups moving about during the night in the tribal area where the attacks took place. The information was less than definitive, hence the multiple strikes.
Al-Libi’s death has not been independently confirmed. He was reported killed back in 2009 but later resurfaced. I have a problem with any use of drones to kill people unless someone is absolutely caught in flagrante preparing or carrying out a terrorist act against US persons, but the more serious issue relates to whether the collateral damage to civilians, which is undeniably taking placed in spite of White House disclaimers, does more harm than the good derived from killing an occasional terrorist. The evidence would appear to suggest that the current bad relationship with Pakistan is a direct result of Pakistani media reports of the civilians killed in the drone attacks. Since the US government fudges the numbers by referring to everyone as a militant, only admitting to a tiny number of civilian deaths, at least 30 people were killed to get al-Libi who might have, in fact, escaped.
Sunday’s papers reported that the Obama Administration will accelerate its drone attack schedule in the spirit of “what have we got to lose?” Well, actually we have everything to lose. Without a measure of Pakistani cooperation the entire central and south Asian enterprise that the United States has so foolishly entered into will collapse and we will be forced to watch a United States Army again beating a hasty retreat from a foreign country. But this time there will be no helicopters flying off the roof of an embassy to aircraft carriers standing nearby offshore – Afghanistan is landlocked.