New calls for the increased use of drones in Pakistan, experts worry about side-effects

The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents’ continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said in the Washington Post.The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta. Pakistan has rejected the request. Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash.

The White House is also considering adding the CIA’s armed Predator drones to the fight against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen. Gregory Johnsen at the Waq al-Waq blog offers the following thoughts on the possibility of using drones in Yemen:

I have sat and thought … and yet I can’t find a way that using drones in Yemen doesn’t exacerbate the problem of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (…) The results of a year of drone strikes will be no different from a year of airstrikes: al-Qaeda will gain more recruits, grow stronger, and continue to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks at the US and Europe. The US may kill a few commanders, but those men will be replaced many times over.

Johnsen argues that comparisons with Pakistan are likely to be unhelpful and a better model for Yemen would be the campaign the
Saudis waged against al-Qaeda between 2003 and 2006:


“That campaign combined the hard fist of
military and police power with the softer approach of encouraging
qualified Islamic scholars to challenge al-Qaeda’s claim that it
represented Islam. But most importantly it used al-Qaeda’s mistakes
against itself, leading to a public backlash that left the terrorist
organisation nowhere to hide.”

Brian Whitaker comments:

Johnsen’s main point, though, is something I alluded to
yesterday: the need to change the public discourse in Yemen in order to
undermine al-Qaeda’s support. That is not going to be achieved by drone
strikes; quite the reverse. 

“Yemenis need to be convinced that AQAP
is bad for them and bad for Yemen,”
Johnsen writes.
“But at the moment al-Qaeda is the only one doing the arguing.
It puts out statement after statement that depict the group as some
sort of Islamic Robin Hood defending Yemen’s oppressed and weak people
against western military attacks. While largely unnoticed in Washington
these unchallenged and baseless claims are carrying the day in Yemen’s
hinterlands.”

Some have gone so far as to suggest we’re heading for a new drones-arms-race. The WSJ reports now that China is “ramping up production of unmanned aerial vehicles in an apparent bid to
catch up with the U.S. and Israel in developing technology that is
considered the future of military aviation.”

China’s apparent progress is likely to spur others, especially India and Japan, to accelerate their own UAV development or acquisition programs.

U.S. anxiety about China’s UAVs were highlighted in a report released Wednesday by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was formed by Congress in 2000 to assess the national security implications of trade and economic relations with China.

“The PLA Air Force has deployed several types of unmanned aerial vehicles for both reconnaissance and combat purposes,” the report said. “In addition, China is developing a variety of medium- and high-altitude long-endurance unmanned vehicles, which when deployed, will expand the PLA Air Force’s ‘options for long-range reconnaissance and strike,’ ” it said, citing an earlier Pentagon report.

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