The most significant victim of the drone attacks from American perspective was Al-Qaeda’s No. 3 leader and financial and operational chief Mustafa Abu Yazeed alias Sheikh Saeed Al-Masri who was killed on May 22 in North Waziristan along with his wife, three daughters, and a granddaughter. In December 2009, al-Masri was reported of claiming responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He told Adnkronos International, “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat mujahideen.” The Asia Times Online also reported that it had received a claim of responsibility from al-Masri by telephonei
Another significant death was of an Egyptian Al-Qaeda Commander Sheikh Fateh who took over as al-Qaeda's chief of operations for Afghanistan and Pakistan in May after death of Al-Masri but he was also killed on September 28, 2010.
Out of 938 reported deaths, 72 were foreign militants mostly Arabs. However, Uzbeks and Chinese (militants of Islamic Movement of Turkistan) were also killed in drone attacks. It means only 7.6 percent of reported militant killed in drone attacks belonged to Al-Qaeda’s hardcore.
Most significant death from Pakistani perspective was that of Qari Husain Mehsud who was believed to be mastermind of suicide attacks in Pakistan. Although TTP had denied his death but Asia Time Online confirmed that he was killed in a drone attack on October7, 2010.ii The day when Qari Husain was killed 12 persons, including two children, were killed and over 65 others sustained injuries when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in the Clifton area of Karachi in Sindh. This was the 40th suicide attack of the year 2010in Pakistan. The nation saw a notable decrease in suicide attacks after the death of Qari Husain. Only nine suicide attacks were carried out in Pakistan after his.iii
Apart from these few Al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, the rest of the people killed were mere foot soldiers. This is first time in the history of warfare that a spy agency is targeting ordinary fighters in its highly expensive target killing campaign. Initially the drones were aimed to hit only high value targets but now, the CIA also targets suspected militants regularly.
According to US media reports Pakistan has secretly approved the drone attacks inside Pakistan but officially Pakistan denies these allegation. The unease of Pakistani government regarding drone attacks shows that U.S. is crossing the alleged ‘allowed’ limits. It seems that if it was indeed allowed then the limits were to hit only high value targets. The expansion of the campaign from high value targets to ordinary foot soldiers is causing irritation in Islamabad.
American government never publically admit that it uses drones for target killing inside territory of another sovereign country but privately US officials consider the drone campaign a vital part of war on terror.
Frequency of Drone Attacks
In average, every day of the year 2010 witnessed killing of about 3 (2.6) persons in drone attacks and every 3rd day of the year saw a drone attack in Pakistan. There were 132 drone attacks carried out on 94 different days killing 938 persons. In average, each day of the attack witnessed killing of 10 persons while every strike took seven lives. Fifty seven percent (75) of the 132 attacks were carried out in the last four months of the year.
Main Target North Waziristan
In the year 2010, 119 out of total 132 drone attacks were carried out in North Waziristan, which accounts 90.15 percent of the total attacks. South Waziristan was hit only nine times by drones. Khyber Agency, previously spared by drones in 2010, was targeted twice in December killing 62 people in two consecutive days. Earlier, there was a common perception in Pakistan that U.S. did not use drones against Taliban who were fighting against Pakistani forces. However, the killings of Baitullah Mehsud (2009) and Qari Husain (2010) have, to some extent, changed this perception. Despite these two high level deaths, TTP led by Hakeemullah Mehsud is yet not the primary focus of drone attacks.
Single deadliest day of the year 2010 was 17 December when three drone attacks killed 54 people in Khyber Agency. The victims were believed to be members of Lashkar-e-Islam which is a militant group involved in local fighting. Lashkar-e-Islam usually avoids confrontation with Pakistani armed forces. There are no credible reports that the group sends militants across the border to fight against NATO forces. However, the group is accused of carrying out attacks on NATO supply containers.
Flood Relief and Drone Attacks
U.S. pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for flood victims. It used its war machinery to help flood affectees in the country in order to win hearts and minds of Pakistani public. Ironically, at a time when U.S. was saving lives in one part of the country, it also intensified drone attacks to unprecedented level taking lives in another part of the country. In September, American humanitarian efforts were at their peak in Pakistan after a devastating flood across most parts of the country. However, September was also the deadliest month of the year with 147 fatalities in highest ever (23) drone attacks. In the same month, an air strike on a Pakistani border post further deteriorated the situation. Meanwhile, a court in U.S. sentenced Dr. Afia Siddiqui, which poured fuel on file. These three incidents further tarnished American image among Pakistani public. The US government spent millions of dollars in flood-affected areas but failed to get benefit of it. It lost the opportunity to win trust of the Pakistani people. These three incidents collectively undermined the U.S. efforts to win hearts and minds of Pakistani nation. It also suggests that there is a lack of coordination between U.S. state department, Pentagon, CIA and Law and Justice Department. The campaign of wining hearts and mind was not positively backed due to uncoordinated efforts of these different departments.