The New York Times reported last week that the CIA has been given the green light to expand its “secret” drone attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan.
Under the program, Hellfire missiles are fired at targets in Pakistan from Predator drones flown remotely by CIA operators in the United States. The program, which seeks to kill senior Al Qaeda and Taliban figures and disrupt their operations, was begun during the Bush administration and expanded by the Obama administration in January 2009. The decision to further expand it was made in parallel with the administration’s recent decision to expand the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
The drone program is officially “secret” primarily because it is highly unpopular in Pakistan, not least because of the number of innocent civilians killed in the Hellfire strikes. Estimates of the death toll range from just over 20 to several hundred.
While Washington is enthusiastic about the program, other commentators are raising questions about its legality and effectiveness and the implications of remote-controlled robot wars.
As the New York Times noted,
The [U.S.] political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.
In other ways, however, the program is not so unprecedented.
The Obama administration clearly hopes that the “secret” bombing drone attacks in Cambodia Pakistan will help stem the momentum of the Viet Cong Taliban in Vietnam Afghanistan and buy the time and space for Vietnamization Afghanization of the war. And the rest of us are left hoping that the airstrikes don’t further destabilize Cambodia Pakistan and possibly lead to a new “Year Zero”, this time featuring nuclear-armed fanatics.