While NY Times Agitates for Resumption of Drone Strikes, Peace Talks Set to Add Afghanistan, Haqqani Network

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a piece whose headline seemed to cry out that drone strikes in Pakistan need to resume: “Lull in Strikes by U.S. Drones Aids Militants in Pakistan”. In reading the article, it is difficult to find strong evidence for the claim that the lull in strikes has helped militant groups. While the article does note a slight uptick in some forms of violence, there have been no major attacks on US forces in Afghanistan as one would expect if the insurgent groups truly had gained significant additional strength and operational capability. An alternative reading of the lull in strikes, however, is that it has provided an important opening for negotiations aimed at ending hostilities in Afghanistan. Two very important developments on that front are now in place, as Afghanistan is sending a delegation to Qatar to visit the newly established Taliban office there and the Express Tribune reports that the US is ready for the Haqqani network to take part in the peace negotiations. In the meantime, the Express Tribune also reports that negotiations between Pakistan and the US have nearly reached the point that drone strikes will resume. If the strikes resume, will progress in the peace talks be slowed or halted?

The poor footing on which the Times bases its claim that insurgents have been aided by the suspension of drone attacks is given away in the opening sentence of the article:

A nearly two-month lull in American drone strikes in Pakistan has helped embolden Al Qaeda and several Pakistani militant factions to regroup, increase attacks against Pakistani security forces and threaten intensified strikes against allied forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials say.

Attacks on the US have not increased, we only have American and Pakistani officials saying that “intensified” strikes on NATO forces are possible or threatened. As for the increase in attacks on Pakistani security forces, we have this:

Other militant groups continue attacking Pakistani forces. Just last week, Taliban insurgents killed 15 security soldiers who had been kidnapped in retaliation for the death of a militant commander.

The spike in violence in the tribal areas — up nearly 10 percent in 2011 from the previous year, according to a new independent report — comes amid reports of negotiations between Pakistan’s government and some local Taliban factions, although the military denies that such talks are taking place.

So that’s it when it comes to documentation of the strengthening of militant groups: a 10% increase for the year in violence in tribal areas, when the drone “pause” has only been for the last two months or so, with earlier shorter pauses over the Raymond Davis incident and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The article also notes that the drones have not stopped flying, it’s just that they are not launching missiles. Perhaps US intelligence personnel will take this opportunity to improve the quality of their intelligence so that fewer innocent civilians will be at risk when missile strikes resume.

Meanwhile, we learn that the newly established office for the Taliban in Qatar is about to be visited by a delegation from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council:

A senior member of Afghanistan’s peace-making body will travel to Qatar soon to gather more details about plans for a Taliban political office in the Gulf nation, the High Peace Council’s adviser on international affairs said on Monday.

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

“We want to see the office with our own eyes and that’s why someone from the High Peace Council will be travelling to Qatar soon,” Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a leading member of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, told Reuters.

“We want to see how big the office is and other details.”

Since Afghanistan had not been included in the initial talks between the Taliban and the US that led to the opening of the Qatar office, a visit from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council so soon after its opening is a very promising development.

Equally encouraging is the news today that the Haqqani Network also is likely to be taking part in the peace talks:

The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.

A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.

The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.

“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

It would appear that all of the important parties for real negotiations aimed at ending hostilities in Afghanistan are moving toward the establishment of such negotiations. The governments of the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in concert with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, all sitting down to negotiate a way forward for the region is a very promising prospect. My feeling is that this level of progress has been aided tremendously by the cessation of drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan. That hypothesis may well be tested soon, as there are some reports that the US and Pakistan may be nearing agreement on the ground rules for re-starting the attacks:

Sources told The Express Tribune on Sunday that both sides have almost agreed on ‘fresh terms of engagements’ to resume drone attacks against suspected al Qaeda members and their local facilitators hiding in the tribal areas, including North and South Waziristan.


Officials said the resumption of drone strikes might be under new conditions. They added that Pakistani negotiators had convinced their American counterparts on at least a couple of conditions: First, the drone strikes should not be as frequent as they were in 2010 and 2011. And second, the CIA should narrow the stripe the aircraft were targeting under the approach known as ‘box formation’ in military terms.

“We don’t want them to be that frequent … it creates problems for us by invoking public anger,” the official added, saying Pakistani authorities believed drones were ‘strategically harmful but tactically advantageous’.

About the box approach, he added that the areas the Pakistani military had already claimed to have cleared must not be hit. “We want them to be within a smaller radius,” the official explained.

If the significant recent peace talk progress has been a direct result of the interruption in drone strikes, it seems likely the resumption of strikes will slow or halt that progress. It’s hard to imagine Taliban or Haqqani network leaders feeling comfortable at a negotiating table in Qatar speaking with parties they know will try to kill them once they return to their homes in Pakistan.

16 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    “…The article also notes that the drones have not stopped flying, it’s just that they are not launching missiles. Perhaps US intelligence personnel will take this opportunity to improve the quality of their intelligence so that fewer innocent civilians will be at risk when missile strikes resume…”

    And it’s not just in Pakistan either. Via the UPI yesterday:

    “U.S. drone initiated strike on Kurds

    A U.S. Predator drone mistakenly targeted smugglers in southeastern Turkey, killing 35 Kurdish civilians, a report said.

    The drone, was one of four based at Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey, launched the airstrike in December on the village of Ortasu, sources told Turkey’s Aydinlik…”

  2. Jim White says:

    Great Al Jazerra English Op-Ed by Robert Grenier fits very well with this post:

    The talks thus far have been strictly a two-way affair between the US and the Taliban. As with all aspects of its current engagement in Afghanistan, the US has deemed this venture too important to be left to its Afghan allies. This plays directly into the prejudices and political narrative of the Taliban, and sets a precedent which will be hard to reverse later on. The Taliban does not refer to itself as a movement, or as an insurgent force; it retains its old title: The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In their minds, the Taliban are still the legitimate government of the country. They have no desire whatsoever to negotiate with people whom they consider dupes of a foreign power. Why negotiate, in their minds, with the puppet? Better to negotiate with the puppet master on the terms of his departure.

    The Americans are aware of the unfortunate optics of the current situation, but assert that the present discussions are merely a “jump start”, after which the US will broker negotiations between the two principal Afghan parties to the current hostilities. In my experience, one is usually best advised to begin as one means to go on.

    The whole piece is worth a read.

  3. Jim White says:

    @Bob Schacht: Well, you see, we have a ton of folks whose specialty is selecting drone targets. We’ve really ramped up both government and contractor personnel in that area and now many of them are just sitting around doing nothing and getting paid while we have stopped firing missiles in Pakistan. Might as well let them branch out to new countries…

  4. rugger9 says:

    We keep seeing the myth of air power alone being able to win wars. It didn’t work for Goering to bring the British to their knees, and not in any war since. To hold the ground you must have reliable boots on it. The drone strike with the constant “mistakes” are going to become another variant on Abu Ghraib for extremist recruiting, even more so when you consider blood money is a real concept in the region.

  5. MadDog says:

    The latest on Memogate from PakistanToday:

    “Haqqani claims innocence but not very cooperative

    …The former ambassador declined on Monday to hand over his BlackBerry smartphone for investigation, saying he was unaware of where the device was.
    Haqqani also rejected the commission’s request to waive his privacy rights with the Canada-based manufacturer of BlackBerry phones, Research In Motion (RIM)…


    …It was a surprise for the commission members when Haqqani said that he had no idea where his BlackBerry was. “I came to Pakistan on short notice and left behind my belongings in the US. I have no information right now about where my BlackBerry set is. It might be lying somewhere at my US residence or Pakistan’s embassy in the US,” he told the commission.

    He said further that he had replaced his old BlackBerry set with a new one, adding that he had asked the Foreign Office officials to locate his old set. He also declined to share the PIN of his old set with the commission.

    Haqqani’s lawyer Zahid Bukhari also refused to submit the BlackBerry data to the commission, saying that it was the responsibility of the government to provide the commission with the data…”

    Given the stonewalling on his Blackberry, it looks to me more and more like Haqqani actually did write the stupid memo.

  6. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And also from PakistanToday, PM Gilani pushes back against Kayani and Pasha:

    “Kayani and Pasha’s replies in memo case illegal: Gilani

    Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told Chinese newspaper People’s Daily Online in an interview on Monday that any official action by a government functionary without the prior approval of the government would be unconstitutional and illegal. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha’s depositions in the Supreme Court in the memogate case were therefore illegal, said Gilani, because they did not contain the approval of the competent authority…”

    I’m sure that Kayani and Pasha are very, very afraid. /s

  7. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Possibly. I’m still very much on the fence. Haqqani could be protecting Zardari. The figure in this whole mess whom I trust least is Ijaz. He seemed to have the most to gain financially by stirring things up and is also in the easiest position from which to just walk away from the whole mess.

  8. MadDog says:

    And speaking of drones, via the UPI:

    “…the U.S aircraft carrier John C. Stennis and its strike group are cruising in the Sea of Oman at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz after Tehran announced it would not be allowed to cross through.

    The Stennis launched a Global Hawk drone “to monitor sea traffic off the Iranian coast and the Straits of Hormuz,” U.S. military sources said…”

    The UPI piece also provides more info on the naval chess moves by the various interested parties. Note the observations of this:

    “A buildup of Western naval forces in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea is a reaction to Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, military experts say.

    U.S., Russian, French and British air and naval forces moved to the Syrian and Iranian coasts during the weekend, Israeli military intelligence Web site DEBKAfile reported Monday.

    The Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov anchored earlier than planned at Syria’s Tartus port on the Mediterranean Sunday, causing France to respond by consigning an air defense destroyer to the waters off Tartus, DEBKAfile reported…”

  9. b2020 says:

    @Bob Schacht:

    Article says it all:
    “Turkish air force F-16 fighter jets arrived on scene about 16 to 18 minutes later and continued the attack on what the military thought were members of the of Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist group… Four drones were delivered to Turkey last year as a show of support by Washington in the fight against the terrorists. They are controlled by U.S. personnel in Nevada.”

    If that’s correct, US drones and “pilots” are on loan to fight other countries’ “terrorists”. Maybe we should lend one to Iran, which is suffering terror bombings – oh, wait.

    So Obama is now also engaged in a “War on Kurds”. This is a bit different then the cooperative US-Pakistani slaughter going on – I see the quid, which killings are the quo? – but it illustrates one of the corrupting vectors of drone campaigns – you trade not just intel to determine targets, but also targets for intel, or to get permission to base and fly the drones in the first place. The US assassination branch of military and CIA has been engaged in “We’ll kill yours if you kill ours”, sometimes by accident (Yemen’s Jabir Shabwani), usually by design.

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