If his death is borne out this time, it would be a milestone in a covert eight-year airstrike campaign that has infuriated Pakistani officials but that has remained one of the United States’ most effective tools in combating militancy.
That’s revealing. It’s inarguable that the drones kill people the U.S. government wants to kill, and some it doesn’t intend to kill. But does this really qualify as “combating militancy”? In Yemen, the increase in drone attacks has resulted in a doubling of the ranks of the local branch on Al-Qaeda. Some would-be attackers reportedly cite the drone attacks on civilians as motivation to attack the United States. And former CIA Pakistan station chief Richard Grenier tells the Guardian (6/5/12):
We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
And for another view—that of the Pakistani living with the threat of drones—consider these accounts in the new issue of Harpers, from families of victims of a single attack in North Waziristan:
The first time I saw a drone in the sky was about eight years ago, when I was 13. I have counted six or seven drone strikes in my village since the beginning of 2012. There were 60 or 70 primary schools in and around my village, but only a few remain today. Few children attend school because they fear for their lives walking to and from their homes. I am mostly illiterate. I stopped going to school because we were all very afraid that we would be killed. I am 21 years old. My time has passed. I cannot learn how to read or write so that I can better my life. But I very much wish my children to grow up without these killer drones hovering above, so that they may get the education and life I was denied.
The men who died in this strike were our leaders; the ones we turned to for all forms of support. We always knew that drone strikes were wrong, that they encroached on Pakistan’s sovereign territory. We knew that innocent civilians had been killed. However, we did not realize how callous and cruel it could be. The community is now plagued with fear. The tribal elders are afraid to gather together in jirgas, as had been our custom for more than a century. The mothers and wives plead with the men not to congregate together. They do not want to lose any more of their husbands, sons, brothers and nephews. People in the same family now sleep apart because they do not want their togetherness to be viewed suspiciously through the eye of the drone. They do not want to become the next target.