(MintPress)–As President Barack Obama deals with controversy surrounding his leading role in U.S. drone strikes, such attacks are intensifying in Pakistan, with at least five militants killed Monday near the Afghan border, according to a Pakistani security official interviewed by AFP news.
The global news agency reports it was the third drone attack in the region since Thursday, with other reports claiming up to 72 NATO drone-related deaths in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan within a 72 hour period. The latest attacks add to a surge in drone activity following unsuccessful talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari at the NATO Summit, held May 19-21 in Chicago, regarding the opening of trade routes.
The heightened drone campaign comes in the midst of controversy over Obama’s power to determine who makes the “kill list.” An article published Tuesday in the New York Times details Obama’s approach to decision making, describing a president who gives the orders to issue strikes against suspected terrorists, while taking responsibility and understanding that civilian deaths — often family members of suspected terrorists — could occur at the same time.
Just last week, U.S. drone strikes killed at least 14 individuals in two separate Pakistani air raids, all of which security officials said were suspected Taliban militants — a definition now given by the White House to any civilian who is of militant age.
Afghanistan didn’t entirely avoid strikes, as the country’s officials claimed Sunday that NATO strikes killed a family of eight in eastern Afghanistan — a move that’s added to tense relations between the new Afghan government and the U.S.
The U.S., however, said Tuesday that the weekend strike in Afghanistan killed al-Qaeda’s second highest leader, Sakhr al- Taifi, who was suspected of leading attacks on Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
US terror drone strikes
The heightened air strike campaigns in Pakistan’s northwestern town of North Waziristan are intended to target Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, whom the U.S. government believes takes refuge in the tribal region.
The philosophy on the end of the U.S. is rooted in the belief that targeting and killing insurgent leaders and members will interrupt terrorist organizations that may be plotting attacks within Afghanistan and throughout the Western world. But U.S. attacks by unmanned drones are becoming increasingly controversial, as claims of civilian casualties increase.
While similar drone strikes have been carried out since 2004, they’ve intensified as of late, creating a growing sense of tension between the U.S. and Pakistan, specifically, and drawing attention to the not-so-secret American foreign policy practice.
In November 2011, U.S. drone strikes killed more than 20 Pakistani soldiers, enraging the Pakistani government and prompting the country to demand an apology from the U.S. — one which they did not receive. The incident led to the closure of a supply route to Afghanistan, previously accessed by U.S. and NATO forces.
The U.S. has blamed Islamabad for not doing enough on its end to combat terrorism in its country.
Discussions were set to ensue at the NATO Summit between the two countries, potentially leading to supply route access. But the price tag placed on the route was not to the liking of Obama. According to the Daily Telegraph, Zardari offered the open routes to the U.S. at a price higher than what it previously paid. Obama reportedly blew off Zardari at the conference, sending a strong message to the Pakistani leader that the U.S. would not be backing down on negotiations.
Obama strike campaigns
U.S.-based think-tank organization, The New America, reports drone strikes in Pakistan have killed up to 2,680 in the last eight years. According to AFP, 2009 brought 45 missile strikes in Pakistan, increasing in 2010 to 201. In 2011, 64 strikes were carried out.
Those within the Obama administration claim otherwise, however. Chief Counter Terrorism Official John Brennan said in a speech last year that no civilians were killed in raids over the year, according to a report by the New York Times.
The drone strikes have become a staple of Obama’s foreign policy, intended to wipe out suspected insurgents thought to be hiding, mainly in the tribal Pakistani land bordering Afghanistan. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 275 of the total 327 drone strikes in Pakistan have taken place during the Obama presidency, with an estimate of 484-828 civilians killed since 2004.
Air raids have also been carried out in Yemen and Afghanistan, most notably. The Bureau reports up to 37 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002.
Peace activists have vocally opposed the president’s use of drone strikes, citing the unaccounted civilian deaths not acknowledged by the U.S. The number of civilian deaths due to drones is tough to keep track of, as civilian deaths are not closely tracked by the U.S., which also defines anyone of ‘militant age’ as a militant. Other estimates are not based on scientific means, but on educated guesses. The New America Foundation, in its paper, “Revenge of the Drones,” estimated that from 2006-2009, drone strikes have killed between 252-315 Pakistani civilians.
For a president elected on the basis of a more peaceful foreign policy stance than his predecessor, George W. Bush, the drone campaigns have come as somewhat of a surprise.
In the New York Times, Bush’s top national security lawyer, John B. Bellinger III, indicated that Obama’s appeal to liberals could possibly play into the fact that the world has turned a blind eye to drone strike concerns. While Bellinger himself supports the strikes, he raises a concern all too common for activists who have encountered friction in advocating against the Obama administration’s foreign policies.
Peace activist organization Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said in an interview with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that liberals have largely left Obama alone on the issue. Benjamin and her organization, however, have not.
“We will try as much as we can, going out to events and being there with our model drones, and getting on the inside when we can, saying ‘Stop the killer drones!’ And we’ll be going to the conventions, will have contingents who’ll be marching against drones, against the killing of civilians, against the continued war in Afghanistan,” she told the Bureau. “But to be realistic, we are not a very strong force at the moment.”
A recent article in the New York Times details Obama’s handling of drone strikes, indicating the president takes it upon himself to decide if drone strikes could be carried out, especially when there’s risk that such strikes could claim noncombatant casualties, including young family members of those allegedly associated with the Taliban.
Obama publicly announced U.S. drone strikes in January — just after the death of Osama Bin Laden — when Brennan indicated the foreign policy practice was helping the U.S. win its war on terror and that the practice was legal under international law. The Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on the other hand, denounced Brennan’s speech.
“We believe there are few things as dangerous as the proposition that the government should be able to kill people anywhere in the world, including citizens, on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to the court either before or after the fact,” ACLU Director Hina Shamsi told BBC News in January.
Although drone strikes have been successful in killing suspected terrorists, some question when such strikes will need to stop. Obama’s Chief of Staff in 2011, William M. Daley, told the New York Times he’s not sure what will justify a halt in drone strikes. Other critics claim the strikes have only fed into terrorist recruitment, fueling the fire of those on the receiving end of drone attacks.