Ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged his government secretly signed off on U.S. drone strikes, the first time a top past or present Pakistani official has admitted publicly to such a deal.
Pakistani leaders long have openly challenged the drone program and insisted they had no part in it. Musharraf’s admission, though, suggests he and others did play some role, even if they didn’t oversee the program or approve every attack.
In an interview this week in Islamabad, Musharraf insisted Pakistan’s government signed off on strikes “only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage.”
Across Africa and Asia, an illegal trade worth $7 to $10 billion annually is threatening to annihilate elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, and others of the world’s biggest and most beautiful species. Conservation groups and governments are struggling to police the poachers and protect the animals, but the stretches of wild land they must patrol are far too big for their resources; will too little oversight, poachers are able to kill and trade undetected.
Biologists and conservation groups have found reason to hope they can stop the bloodshed: drones, or, more generally, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The World Wildlife Fund has seen in UAVs the potential to scan large areas for poachers, and earlier this year launched a pilot program in Nepal to try them out. And now, with $5 million in funding from Google, the WWWF will be able to expand its conservation-drone program at four (so-far unnamed) sites in Africa and Asia. The money was given as part of the first round of Google’s Global Giving Awards and will also go toward a tagging system and analytical software that will help rangers monitor wildlife and illegal logging across huge landscapes.
Pakistan has evidence that al-Qaida’s second in command was in a house hit by a U.S. drone strike in the country’s northwest tribal region, but it is unclear whether he was killed, intelligence officials said Tuesday.
U.S. officials have said they were targeting Abu Yahya al-Libi in Monday’s strike in Khassu Khel village in the North Waziristan tribal area and were “optimistic” he was among those killed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the drone program.
Militants and residents in the area told Pakistani agents that al-Libi was in the house when it was hit, said intelligence officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential.
In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.
Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.
The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.
In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.
With a year to go in President Obama’s first term, his administration can point to undeniable results: Osama bin Laden is dead, the core al-Qaeda network is near defeat, and members of its regional affiliates scan the sky for metallic glints.
Those results, delivered with unprecedented precision from aircraft that put no American pilots at risk, may help explain why the drone campaign has never attracted as much scrutiny as the detention or interrogation programs of the George W. Bush era. Although human rights advocates and others are increasingly critical of the drone program, the level of public debate remains muted.
Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.