More Evidence US Views Drone Strikes as Political Retaliation Tool

On the same day that the US and Pakistan formally signed the agreement reopening the NATO supply routes through Pakistan, a piece profiling the US-Pakistan relationship in the New York Times provides further evidence supporting the idea that the US sometimes uses drone strikes as a tool for political retaliation. The retaliatory strikes previously have been stepped up to almost one per day when a particular point is being emphasized.

The entire Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt piece in today’s Times is worth reading, but I want to focus on the evidence they provide for drone strikes as retaliation. The piece focuses on the Haqqani network and how the perceived ties between them and Pakistan’s ISI complicate the US-Pakistan relationship. At one point in the article, the discussion moves to contingencies the US has considered about what the US would do if the Haqqani network manages to inflict a significant blow against US forces in Afghanistan:

But a new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, one senior official said.


American officials recently considered what that could mean. Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.


The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.

Gosh, “a flurry of intensified drone attacks” sounds very familiar. That is exactly what happened last May when Zardari’s visit to the NATO summit in Chicago did not produce the agreement for reopening the supply routes. Retaliatory strikes started almost immediately, with at least four strikes coming within a span of six days.

With the understanding that the US views drone strikes as a retaliation tool, we can watch this week’s visit to Washington by new ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam. Islam will visit with David Petraeus and others Wednesday through Friday of this week. Drones are expected to be on the agenda for the meetings:

Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was appointed in March, “will visit USA from 1st to 3rd August. This will be a service-to-service bilateral visit,” the statement said.

“He will meet his counterpart General David Petraeus, director CIA.”

The short statement gave no other details, but a senior Pakistani security official earlier told AFP that the pair would discuss counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing.

Islam would also demand an end to US drone attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and again ask for the means for Pakistan to carry out the attacks instead, the security official said.

The US has made it clear multiple times that it will not give up on carrying out drone strikes and that it does not trust ISI enough to bring them closely into the loop when choosing targets or timing for strikes. It seems very likely to me that the US will carry out a strike within the first day or two after the meeting ends, just to send the message to the ISI that the meeting has changed nothing in how the US will operate. If the strike is as reckless as the one that killed a group of 40 who turned out to be mostly civilians on the day after the release of Raymond Davis, then the US could be accused of letting the need for political retaliation move it all the way to blind rage. Another hint in the Times piece tells us that Haqqani leader “Sirajuddin Haqqani surrounds himself with civilians — often women and children — at his base in the town of Miram Shah”. Will the US decide to allow some “collateral damage” to women and children in an attempt to take out Sirajuddin Haqqani as Islam returns to Pakistan from his meeting with Petraeus?

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
7 replies
  1. Phil Perspective says:

    Will the US decide to allow some “collateral damage” to women and children in an attempt to take out Sirajuddin Haqqani as Islam returns to Pakistan from his meeting with Petraeus?

    You betcha!!!

  2. rkilowatt says:

    Recall Lidice? Political murders of civilians when SS leader Heydrich killed in forced [invasion] occupation,1942.

    …”all 173 men over 16 years of age from the village were murdered. …”. Also women/children sent to concentration camp and murdered.

    Forcefully occupying a country is bullying on a grand scale.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    Sometimes — hell, repeatedly, but only at certain times — the rulers let slip what that really think:

    Obama at April 2010 WH Correspondents’ Dinner “I have two words for you, Predator Drones, you will never see it coming, you think I’m joking …”

    Funny, coming from a guy who supposedly daily looks over his drone kill list.

    Psychologically, one cannot underestimate the amount of damage such “responsibility” entails, i.e., a deadening or blunting of the moral sense, adaptation to the thrill of such power (and the need to seek it out again and again, lacking a corresponding negative stimulus), etc.

    In theater, the motivations are more visceral, in that they are reactions to actual acts of violence on buddies, people whose welfare is your responsibility, who you must look in the eyes every day, vs. those who you see only from the distance, from video feed, or in states of bodily destruction afterwards (“bug splatz”).

    This sick society will not go unpunished. And not from any moral or supernatural force of nature in a karmic fashion, but because it will have lost its moral compass entirely, and so will continue to act irrationally, until some aspect of reality will loom up unexpectedly and demand attention. This is what happened to European society in general when the old monarchies lingered too long, ending in the unexpected catastrophe of World War I.

    I expect something along those lines again, unfortunately. I say this with zero satisfaction, and in fact, with fear. But any sober historian looking at this craziness can’t help but be honest and wonder if the worst doesn’t lie ahead.

  4. Jose Rios says:

    The only reason these groups are “trying to inflict violence on Americans” is because we are over there with guns, When you invade and occupy, some people (or not American so “terrorists”) will try to kill you. I don’t blame anybody for defending their own country from whoever the fuck else, Consenquences to your actions is something Americans have never understood…

  5. Jose Rios says:

    Ah so they tell us “he surrounds himself with civilians”, could be fuck buddies, could be family, could be friends, he could just be a popular figure, but they make it sound like if we have to kill him, we have to even if innocents die as well…

  6. Michael Murry says:

    We most certainly do body counts. In fact, we do practically nothing else. Some ruined foreign houses and dead foreign bodies, call them whatever you wish. The names don’t matter. We just need something to count as destroyed or dead. Count, count, count. It all reminds me of some lines from Orwell’s 1984: “The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen. … He could not follow the figures, but he was aware that they were in some way a cause for satisfaction.” The old three kinds of lies: “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” Utter, meaningless, bullshit.

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