Assassination Campaign Turned into Revenge Campaign?
A Jordanian Suicide bomber trained by TTP blew himself up in a CIA base in Khost province of Afghanistan on the penultimate day of 2009. The CIA lost seven of its officer in the attack. It was the worst ever attack since 1983 when the agency lost 8 of its agents in Beirut, Lebanon. TTP claimed responsibility of the attack and said the attack was meant to avenge death of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of TTP. In retaliation, CIA had vowed to avenge deaths of its officers.iv It seems the agency kept its words and wrote a new history in targeted killings. However, the Taliban faction (Hakeemullah Mehsud) responsible for the killings of CIA agents in Khost was avenged nominally in the campaign as more than 90 percent drone attacks hit its rival groups, such as that of Qari Gul Bahadur.
In 2010, Taliban have stepped up their revenge campaign against suspected U.S. spies in the North Waziristan. Suspected American spies are being killed regularly. Tribesmen in the region have said corpses appear in fields and on roadsides, almost every day with written warnings pinned to their clothes “All American spies will meet the same fate.” The tribesmen now say the US campaign has had extensive consequences for people in North Waziristan and has provoked cycles of violence that are difficult to predict and impossible to control. The intelligence officials said that 70 informants of Intelligence agencies have been assassinated in North Waziristan since 2004, making the area nearly a “black hole” for spies.v The relatives of these alleged spies deny Taliban’s claims. It seems civilians are at receiving ends from both sides of the conflict.
Only two incidents of civilian casualties were reported in international media while one incident was reported by a local newspaper. In these three incidents, only 17 people were reported dead. Apparently, this figure suggests that only a fraction of total fatalities were civilians but in reality, there are too many complications in determining exact number of civilian casualties. Almost none of the media organization reported body counts from independent sources throughout the year. Almost all reports were based on claims of unnamed U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials. Fearing public reaction, the security officials whitewashed civilian casualties. Neither Pakistan nor U.S. government has any proper mechanism to ascertain civilian deaths in this unparalleled killing campaign. It is also a debatable question whether CIA’s drone campaign is still a target killing exercise or it is now randomly killing all suspected militants. There is no specific definition of combatant militants in the area. People in the tribal belt usually carry guns and ammunition as a tradition. U.S. drone will identify anyone carrying a gun as a militant and subsequently he will be killed. Another method to identify the target is human intelligence. It is unclear whether CIA counter-checks human intelligence with other available sources or not because in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal belt people use to settle their personal enmity by accusing their opponent as militant and passing wrong information to U.S. forces. As the drone, campaign is kept highly secret the world does not know what measures, if any, CIA has set in place to avoid civilian casualties. However, researches conducted by some western think tanks suggest that civilians are common victims of drone attacks. Brooking Institute’s research suggests that for every militant killed ten or so civilians also diedvi. According to a report by Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), at least 2100 civilians were killed and various others injured during 2009 in the ongoing war on terror, drone attacks, and activities against the terrorists. The report says the bereaved families of these people have been left helpless without any proper assistance provided to themvii. Another study by New America Foundation, which supports drone attacks, suggests that in a total of 114 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and early 2010 approximately between 834 and 1,216 individuals had been killed, about two thirds of them were thought to be militants and one third were civilians. However, the study of New America Foundation is based on media reports not on first hand information. Analysis of media reports in 2010 clearly suggests that civilian casualties were deliberately overlooked to avert the public reaction. International media reported civilian deaths only two times in 132 different attacks while one incident was reported by a local newspaper. One even cannot find mentioning of civilian deaths in controlled reports.
Not only the intelligence officials but also the FATA secretariat, which works under governor of Khyber Pakhtun Khawh province, is responsible for ignoring civilian casualties in drone attacks. There are eleven elected members of National Assembly from FATA but they were too unable to highlight civilian deaths in drone attacks.
Taliban militants are one of the biggest hurdles in reporting civilian deaths. They use to cordon off the area after every attack to conceal the identity of their killed commanders and fighters. Local or international journalists are also not allowed by them in the area to collect the data of civilian and militant deaths in drone attacks.
Taliban are also accused of using civilians as a shield to avoid drones but CIA does not spare them while they are with their family members. Baitullah Mehsud and Mustafa Abu Yazeed alias Sheikh Saeed Al-Masri were killed along with their wives and children.
During the year 2010, it is also observed that drones do not spare funeral prayers of the killed militants as well. This coercive policy is aimed at forcing ordinary people not to participate in funeral prayers of militants to isolate them from general public. Many times, people involved in rescue activities also come under attack. The assumption that these people are supporters of militants is quite wrong as in Muslim traditions and teaching people use to help rescue injured and bury the dead bodies regardless of their affiliation with a certain group or ideology.