The U.S. government gave the CIA approval to launch more drone strikes against Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the tribal regions of Pakistan.
Drone strikes, previously limited to top al Qaeda leaders, have expanded to include “low-level fighters whose identities may not be known,” Reuters reported.
CNN reported that “drone-launched missiles are now hitting lower-level al Qaeda and Taliban personnel, camps, training areas, bomb makers, buildings and other targets in the remote region.” It also quotes an unnamed official, who explained that the “expansive target set was originally approved in the final months of the Bush administration in late 2008, but has been stepped up under the Obama White House.” CNN also reports that increased drone strikes are ” seen as a key strategy to help protect the growing number of U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan from insurgents operating in Pakistan’s border region.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that the expanded drone strikes rely on what is called ”pattern of life” analysis, which uses evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations. The collected information is used to target suspected militants, the Times reported.
“The enemy has lost not just operational leaders and facilitators — people whose names we know — but formations of fighters and other terrorists. We might not always have their names, but … these are people whose actions over time have made it obvious that they are a threat,” a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official told the Times.
The approval for more drone strikes comes at a time when many inside and outside the government question their legality. Wired’s Danger Room reported that “the connection between the robotic strikes over there and [U.S.] safety here appears to be growing. The Pakistani Taliban, who have claimed credit for the botched Times Square bombing, say the car bomb was in retaliation for drone strikes.” It also reported that drones are just one aspect of the war in Pakistan, echoing a statement made to CNN by Frances Fragos Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, and now a CNN intelligence analyst, that drones are just one tool in the larger strategy.
Further reading: Reuters, CNN, LA Times, Wired’s Danger Room