Brennan to Pakistan: The Beatings Drone Strikes Will Continue Until Morale Improves

There was yet another US drone strike in Pakistan today. According to Bill Roggio at Long War Journal, today’s strike is the fourth strike in six days. After the first strike in this series, I posed the question of whether that strike was more politically based than strategically based, as the strike came just two days (Roggio has it as one day after the summit, but there are large time zone differences; the summit ended on Monday in Chicago and the first strike was early Wednesday local time in Pakistan) after US-Pakistan negotiations on reopening NATO supply routes through Pakistan broke down at the NATO summit in Chicago and on the very day that Dr. Shakeel Afridi was sentenced for treason because he helped the CIA to gather intelligence that aided the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden.

There is now ample evidence to believe that politics are indeed behind the recent strikes and, as Marcy and I have been noting on Twitter, they likely will continue on a virtually daily basis to make the political points that the US is stressing. Recall that after the first strike in the series, I quoted a Guardian article that also came to the conclusion the strike was politically motivated:

The attack came as Washington runs out of patience with Islamabad’s refusal to reopen supply routes for Nato troops in Afghanistan.

US drone strikes have complicated negotiations over the routes, which Pakistan closed six months ago in retaliation for US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. Pakistan’s parliament demanded the strikes stop after the attack, but the US refused.

In today’s report, Roggio provides a quote with direct evidence that the strikes now are tied politically to the impasse over reopening the supply routes (although it seems likely that Dana Rohrabacher isn’t the only one advocating the use of a “stick” on Pakistan over the Afridi sentencing, too):

A US intelligence official involved in the drone program in the country told The Long War Journal that the strikes would continue now that Pakistan has refused to reopen NATO’s supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

“There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the official said. “Unfortunately the politics of getting the GLOC into Afghanistan has trumped the targeting of bad guys in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the official said, referring to the Ground Lines of Communication.

But hold on just a minute here. Note the misdirection in this quote. Despite the claim that the US is “targeting bad guys” with these strikes, Roggio reports elsewhere in this article that no high value target has been reported as killed in today’s attack. In fact, he reports that there have been 17 US drone strikes in Pakistan this year, but only two high value targets have been killed in them.

Where have we heard someone recently trying to make the false claim that “signature strikes” are targeted rather than based simply on patterns of activity? Why that would be in John Brennan’s April 30 drone speech, which Marcy has cleanly dissected as a failed attempt to direct attention away from the war crimes committed regularly in signature strikes.

Roggio’s anonymous source says basically that the strikes will continue until the political situation improves. Despite the source’s claim that the strikes target “bad guys” the evidence instead shows that these are signature strikes that at best target mid-level or even lower level militants who happen to be in areas “known to harbor insurgents”. Given how closely this misdirection about targeting mirrors Brennan’s speech (and the fact that Brennan himself now controls signature strikes) it seems likely that the strikes themselves are Brennan’s way of telling Pakistan that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

25 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    I don’t know why you oppose targeting bakeries. Naan can be very dangerous, you know.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Ah, see? It’s obvious that we just haven’t figured out what counts as a “day,” but they really are on a drone-strike-a-day pace.

  3. justbetty says:

    Is there any reason that the Pakistan military cannot shoot down the drones- assuming they have the capacity? Can’t they say they are defending the civilian population that is being killed in these attacks? “We told you to stop, you wouldn’t listen, so we did what we had to do.”

  4. Jim White says:

    @justbetty: Well, it is their air space. But then there is the question of those billions of dollars they have gotten from us over the years and whether they want that to continue.

  5. mzchief says:

    OT– Remember, this is from the Guardian … “Syrian army being aided by Iranian forces” (Guardian.Co.Uk, by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, May 28, 2012, 16.41 BST):

    A senior commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has admitted that Iranian forces are operating in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

    Ismail Gha’ani, the deputy head of Iran’s Quds force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guards tasked with overseas operations, said in an interview with the semi-official Isna news agency: “If the Islamic republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale.”

    Isna published the interview at the weekend but subsequently removed it from its website.

  6. jo6pac says:

    @mzchief:There is also Russian Advisers (aka sops) there helping the Assad govt. Then there’s more weapons on the way from Russia as they try a catch up to the Amerikan proxies suppling the so-call freedom fighters. This isn’t going to end well for anyone in Syria

  7. MadDog says:

    @justbetty: Yes…and no.

    Just my thoughts, but in order for Pakistan to shoot down the US drones flying over Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they have limited choices:

    1) Use Pakistan’s US-supplied F-16s to shoot down the US drones either with the F-16’s onboard cannon or with its air-to-air missiles. Neither can be considered an easy shot. Cannon fire is a tough shot against such a small target as a drone. Air-to-air missiles are either infrared-guided or radar-guided, and again, against a small signature like a drone, not an easy shot.

    Pakistan is also probably loathe to redeploy its limited number of F-16s from their primary mission of air defense and air attack against Pakistan’s dreaded rival India.

    2) Use anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). This would mean placing Pakistani military troops manning those AAA batteries within Pakistan’s FATA. Given that Pakistan’s FATA encompasses some 27,000 square miles of territory, there would have to be Pakistani military troops manning those AAA batteries all over the place.

    The Pakistani military would be loathe to do this because again it would mean redeploying their AAA air-defense assets away from their primary target of the Indian Air Force, and secondarily, and perhaps even more importantly, those Pakistani military troops manning all of those AAA batteries would themselves be targets smack dab in the middle of enemy territory.

    There is a very good reason that the Pakistani military and government are reluctant to go into the FATA, and that is because they don’t rule there. The various tribes and gangs do.

  8. MadDog says:

    And speaking of Blabbermouth Brennan’s US drone strikes, earlier today in Yemen via the AP:

    Yemen: US drone strike kills 5 militants

    “A U.S. drone strike Monday aiming for an al-Qaida leader has killed five militants in the country’s south as part of a Yemeni offensive against the Islamist group, Yemeni officials said.

    They said the airstrike targeted Qaid al-Dahab, a local leader of al-Qaida, in a convoy of three cars near the town of Radda, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the capital, Sanaa. Four militants were wounded. The officials said al-Dahab’s fate was not yet known…


    …Later Monday, Yemen officials said seven other al-Qaida militants were killed in southern Yemen, but they disagreed over how they died. Security officials said they were killed in an airstrike, but the military said they were hit by a missile fired from a ship off Yemen’s shore. Local tribal officials said the seven militants were in two cars…”

    (My Bold)

    Since I don’t believe the Yemen Navy has such a missile capability, who do you think does?

    If you said the US Navy, who just happens to have a bunch of its missile-equipped ships always patrolling off the Yemen coastline, give yourself a gold star!

  9. MadDog says:

    And related to Jim’s point about the “tit-for-tat” politics of the US/Pakistan relationship these days, this from the WaPo:

    Pakistan spy chief puts off Washington visit amid rift over doctor’s treason conviction

    “Pakistan’s new intelligence chief has postponed his first visit to Washington amid harsh U.S. criticism of the 33-year prison sentence imposed on Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor convicted of treason for aiding the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden.

    Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, appointed in March to head the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, was set to meet this week with his U.S. counterpart, CIA Director David H. Petraeus, a Pakistani official said.

    But Islam canceled the trip because of “pressing commitments here,” the Pakistani military said in a brief statement Monday. “There is no other reason,” it added.

    A senior Pakistani official said increased bilateral tensions rooted in the Afridi case and a long-simmering dispute over Pakistan’s refusal to reopen its territory to NATO supply convoys contributed to the postponement…”

  10. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: When the CIA’s WaPo’s David Ignatius speaks, all must bow down and listen:

    A rare look inside al-Qaeda’s Yemen operations

    Osama bin Laden wrote before he died that Yemen was the place where al-Qaeda had its best chance of establishing its own state — if it acted carefully and avoided alienating the local population. I suspect that bin Laden, who was something of a TV news junkie, would be encouraged and also worried by a new PBS documentary from inside the terror group’s Yemeni operations.

    The unusual documentary, “Al Qaeda in Yemen,” airs Tuesday night on PBS’s “Frontline.” It is reported by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi-born journalist for the Guardian newspaper and one brave dude: As he says at the beginning of the show, “This is an organization known for kidnapping journalists, detaining them for a long time, sometimes beheading them.” So kudos to Abdul-Ahad and “Frontline” for taking viewers on a gutsy trip inside al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch is known.

    What struck me, as I watched a preview of the show, was that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is adopting some of the harsh tactics that bin Laden warned his affiliates against, since they alienated other Muslims. The documentary includes examples of these brutal methods, and also some evidence that they are indeed turning off the very people that al-Qaeda needs as allies…”

  11. MadDog says:

    Totally OT – Via The Diplomat:

    U.S. Forces Spy on North Korea

    “U.S. Special Forces have been parachuting into North Korea to spy on Pyongyang’s extensive network of underground military facilities. That surprising disclosure, by a top U.S. commando officer, is a reminder of America’s continuing involvement in the “cold war” on the Korean peninsula – and of North Korea’s extensive preparations for the conflict turning hot.

    In the decades since the end of the Korean War, Pyongyang has constructed thousands of tunnels, Army Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces in South Korea, said at a conference in Florida last week. Tolley said the tunnels include 20 partially subterranean airfields, thousands of underground artillery positions and at least four tunnels underneath the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. “We don’t know how many we don’t know about,” Tolley said.

    “The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” Tolley added. “So we send [Republic of Korea] soldiers and U.S. soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.” Tolley said the commandos parachute in with minimal supplies in order to watch the tunnels without being detected themselves…”

  12. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: I have a couple problems with what Army Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces in South Korea said.

    US Special Operations soldiers on the ground in North Korea are no better at seeing North Koreans digging holes in the ground than are our overhead reconnaissances systems.

    If you are digging tunnels underground that extend for miles, evidence of that can clearly been seen from the air. There would be evidence of a lot of people at such sites, and a whole lot of dirt that has to be removed from the underground tunnels and taken away somewhere.

    Neither US Special Operations soldiers on the ground nor our overhead reconnaissances systems can determine the direction of the underground tunnels by watching things above ground.

    I rather doubt that US Special Operations soldiers or South Korean soldiers are going into these underground tunnels to determine the direction as these places are likely guarded 24×7 by the North Koreans.

    So tell me what would be the cost/benefit analysis of risking the lives of US Special Operations soldiers by parachuting them into one of the most dangerous places on the planet?

    Or in other words, is the US Special Operations command out of their fookin’ minds, and out of control?

  13. Roman Berry says:

    Politically motivated drone strikes, the use of violence or the ongoing threat of violence to achieve political aims. That’s essentially the definition of terrorism, yes? So who are the terrorists?

    You know, every time news of another drone strike gets reported and we’re told that suspected militants or suspected terrorists have been killed, I wonder exactly what militant or terrorist acts it is the newly dead are suspected of having committed, and given that these suspects are being killed in areas far removed from our own shores and even our foreign bases and armed forces, I wonder how those acts of which they are suspected can possibly be against the United States.

    I believe that the labels “militant” and “terrorist” are used consciously by our government to shut down conscious, critical thought. They don’t want us to question. And sadly, it seems to work. All across the net I see it when someone dares question what is going on. The replies are always “But they were terrorists!” Ask “How do you know they were terrorists?” and the reply is always some version of “You can’t be serious. The government said so.” And for those that say those kinds of things, that makes it so. The same government they don’t trust to do much of anything is apparently infallible when it comes to deciding that someone on the other side of the world should die. No questions allowed.

    I think we are a terrorist nation. The terrorists are us. Do what we want…or else. And we have the weapons to demonstrate the or else. Our government is projecting a policy of rule through fear. Terrorism.

  14. MadDog says:

    When it comes to spreading the latest weapons of war, the US takes a back seat from no one. Via the WSJ:

    U.S. Plans to Arm Italy’s Drones

    “The Obama administration plans to arm Italy’s fleet of Reaper drone aircraft, a move that could open the door for sales of advanced hunter-killer drone technology to other allies, according to lawmakers and others familiar with the matter.

    The sale would make Italy the first foreign country besides Britain to fly U.S. drones armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs. U.S. officials said Italy intends initially to deploy the armed drones in Afghanistan.

    Lawmakers who question the planned deal say the decision to “weaponize” Italy’s unarmed surveillance drones could make it harder for the U.S. to deny similar capabilities to other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, and set back efforts to urge sales limitations on other nations that make sophisticated drones such as Israel.

    Advocates say such sales would enable trusted allies to conduct military missions on their own as well as help open markets for U.S. drone manufacturers…


    …NATO member Turkey also wants to buy armed Reapers—for use against Kurdish separatist fighters—and the Obama administration supports Turkey’s request. Lawmakers have objected, citing tensions between Ankara and Israel, so far preventing the administration from sending such a proposal to Congress for review…”

  15. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: The more I thought about this last night, the more I suspect that General Tolley’s comments about purportedly having US Special Operations soldiers parachuting into North Korea were disinformation.

    His logic doesn’t compute.

    If the US cannot find underground tunnels being dug in North Korea by our overhead reconnaissances systems, then how in the world would the US know where to send those parachuting US Special Operations soldiers?

    Does the US just parachute these US Special Operations soldiers randomly anywhere along the 160 miles of the Korean Demilitarized Zone?

    I now think General Tolley’s comments were meant to pull the North Koreans’ legs. Have them rushing around madly searching for non-existent parachuting US Special Operations soldiers.

    And though I may be slow on the uptake, I can’t believe the North Koreans would find any more sense in General Tolley’s comments than I do.

  16. MadDog says:

    And before I attend to my morning rituals, a wee NYT piece (9 pages) worth noting:

    Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will

    This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

    President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.

    “How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

    It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be…”

  17. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: Or otherwise known to White House staffers in the White House canteen gulping their Double Expresso with half Soy milk with a dusting of whipped cream cappuccinos – hold the Vanilla bean:

    Time to die Tuesday! or If it’s Tuesday, it must be time to die!

  18. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: I’m sure many will be blown away by numerous aspects of this NYT piece (pun wasn’t intended, but pun nevertheless). From page 3, there’s this:

    “…Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent…”

  19. kathleen says:

    The U.S. and Israel to Assad…we don’t like competition in the “massacre” arena. When the U.S. and the U.K invade a sovereign nation based on a “pack of lies” and hundreds of thousands are killed, maimed and millions displaced they define it as “national interst” When Israel attacks Gaza and kills children, women, men it is defined as a “national interest” In both instances you never see pictures of dead children streamed across MSM outlets. But in the case of the crimes the Assad regime is committing talking heads to these killings as “massacres” and images of dead children are shown repeatedly. Can anyone explain how what took place in Iraq, the Gaza in Syria are not all defined as “massacres?”

    U.S. killings in Iraq “massacres”
    Israel’s killings in Gaza “massacres”
    Obama’s killings with drones “massacres”
    Assad’s killings in Syria “massacres”
    Clearly all “massacres” are not created equal

  20. klynn says:

    Great post Jim.

    “Until the political situation improves…”

    This is why we should have never dismantled USIA. Brennan cannot understand cross-cultural mediation. The “political situation” would be the after-affects of the drone strikes and the use of drones overall. The drone threat just causes a nation to double down. And, the world is watching.

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