Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — that is, pilot-less drones — shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died. The numbers are often remarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.
Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report — and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.