US expands drone war, extremists expect new recruits

The US has stepped up its drone attacks against militants in the Middle East, but the growing number of civilian deaths in the strikes has sparked public anger, with concern the action is driving up the number of extremist recruits.

In Pakistan, CIA drone strikes aim at terrorists but end up killing mostly civilians. Public outrage is growing. Hatred and anger foster more terror.

“If you push them against the wall, then this militancy and terrorism is going to increase. It’s not the solution. If you are attacking them with drones and they are not part of the war, they have the Taliban on the other side, which they are going to join,” explains Mirza Shakhzad Akhtar, a Pakistani lawyer for drone attack victims.

In Pakistan in the one year, US strikes killed 700 civilians, but netted only five actual militant leaders.

Many Pakistanis are furious at their government for helping the Americans kill their own people. They accuse their leaders of doing that in exchange for billions of dollars from Washington.

Americans, on the other hand, are not too happy with what they get in return for their billions. In the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination in Pakistan, the US all but accused the country’s military intelligence agency of sheltering the Al-Qaeda leader.

“How long do we support governments that lie to us? When do we say enough is enough?” Senator Patrick Leahy asked at hearings before the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ position was: “Most of the governments lied to each other. That’s how the business gets done.”

Amid all the cheerleading about Bin Laden’s killing, the US has stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan.

“Drone strikes in Pakistan and the number of civilian casualties that result because of those drone strikes are allowing extremists like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other groups present in Pakistan to recruit new members. They are doing it at an accelerating pace,” believes writer Matthew Alexander.

Washington now sees Yemen as the most dangerous Al-Qaeda outpost, and is planning to step up drone attacks on the country, establishing a base in the Persian Gulf specifically for that purpose. Especially now Bin Laden’s replacement, Ayman Al-Zawahri, is thought to be building up Al-Qaeda’s already significant presence in Yemen.

The US had been co-operating with Yemeni counter-terrorism forces in targeting Al-Qaeda, but they have since left the field, preoccupied instead with the nationwide turmoil against the Ali Saleh regime. That means the Americans are likely to have a freer hand going it alone, with the CIA to take a central role. As the agency is not subject to the accountability the US military is legally under, one can expect more bombs to fall on Yemen.

“When the US starts hitting people who are members of Al-Qaeda in the Iranian Peninsula, then I think the real worry is that it expands this war to the point where so many people will join Al-Qaeda,” Gregory Johnsen, Near East studies scholar at Princeton University, said.

There is fury in Yemen over the killing of scores of civilians by the drone strikes. In one attack there, the American military presumably aiming at an Al-Qaeda training camp ended up killing dozens of women and children. In another strike a year ago, a drone mistakenly killed a deputy governor in Yemen, his family and aides.

With the expansion of the drone war it seems the US is seeking only a missile solution to fighting Al-Qaeda. Analysts say that some of the main features of this global chase are not having to take into account the voice of the nation that they are bombing and the lack of accountability when it comes to civilian deaths. These features add more paradox to the US strategy, with many asking whether America is fighting and fostering terror at the same time.

­ War correspondent Eric Margolis says that drone attacks are used by Americans because “it is a cheap way to fight, and does not endanger any American lives.

"It is popular on Capital Hill because it appears to be having success and the military has got to come up with something, or the CIA saying ‘we are killing militants’ and filling a body-count list. But there is a danger here, and that is what American intelligence professionals have been rightly saying for sometime: As the CIA becomes more and more militarized, it is losing its primary mission, which is to provide intelligence and information on an unbiased basis… it is now a participant [in the US’s wars], and its decisions and information will be biased as a result.”