The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan (2/21/11), pointing out that the drones are killing plenty of Pakistanis, but not the “high-value” ones:
CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two.
Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.
The piece seems to present a pretty clear story– until they allow anonymous U.S. officials to weigh in to defend their assassination program. Hence we hear from “U.S. officials familiar with drone operations”:
“This effort has evolved because our intelligence has improved greatly over the years, and we’re able to identify not just senior terrorists, but also al-Qaeda foot soldiers who are planning attacks on our homeland and our troops in Afghanistan,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified program.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t go after people who have American blood on their hands,” the official said. “To use a military analogy, if you’re only going after the generals, you’re likely to be run over by tanks.”
An unnamed former government official is also quoted comparing the drone assassinations to the HBO series The Sopranos and to a game of chess. Readers are told that drone advocates “say that empirical evidence suggests that the ramped-up targeting of lesser-known militants has helped to keep the United States safe.” Sounds like the sort of thing Bush administration officials liked to say all the time about anything they were doing.