Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama’s enthusiasm for drone strikes takes heavy toll on Pakistan’s tribesmen

Drone missile attacks near to Pakistan’s Afghan border have become an everyday occurrence since Obama took power

Declan Walsh in Islamabad, The Guardian, Oct 7, 2010

US drone near Pakistan
The Obama administration has authorised 125 drone strikes so far – twice the number George Bush used in his last five years in power. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

The Pashtun tribesmen have several nicknames for the drones that endlessly circle over their mud-walled mountain villages. Some call them “wasps” or “mosquitoes”, after the low buzz emitted by the pilotless aircraft’s small engines.

But the most telling name is “bangana” – the Pashto word for a thunderclap – after the terrifying impact of a laser-guided Hellfire missile as it slams into a building, often obliterating everyone inside.

Since the CIA launched its first drone strike in Pakistan in June 2004, killing a young Taliban leader, such missile attacks have become an everyday event in North and South Waziristan, along the troubled Afghan border.

Predator and larger Reaper drones have killed up to 1,800 people, according to media estimates gathered by the New American Foundation, including at least two dozen senior al-Qaida operatives and hundreds of more junior militants.

But the drones also kill many civilians – the exact toll is hotly contested – and debate rages, in Pakistan and abroad, about whether they ultimately quell militancy or encourage it.

Washington has few doubts. So far Barack Obama has signed off on over 125 strikes – twice the number authorised by George Bush during the last five years of his presidency. Manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with demand from the CIA.

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