Two weeks ago in Pakistan, Central Intelligence Agency sharpshooters killed eight people suspected of being militants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and wounded two others in a compound that was said to be used for terrorist training.
Then, the job in North Waziristan done, the C.I.A. officers could head home from the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters, facing only the hazards of the area’s famously snarled suburban traffic.
It was only the latest strike by the agency’s covert program to kill operatives of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies using Hellfire missiles fired from Predator aircraft controlled from half a world away.
The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.
By increasing covert pressure on Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, while ground forces push back the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan, American officials hope to eliminate any haven for militants in the region…
Yet with few other tools to use against Al Qaeda, the drone program has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and was escalated by the Obama administration in January. More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted under President Obama than under President George W. Bush. The political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.
On one hand, this is a means to an end. My experience with national liberation movements, what knowledge I have of Islamist bandits – passing themselves off as holy warriors – is that the end is what is worth considering in warfare.
On the other, international treaty agreements have a value extending beyond short-term military campaigns. Even when they’re honored in tacit acceptance of their abrogation by the politicians who whinge in public.
There is also the value of acting against insurgencies which limit a region’s population to the standards and way of life of the bandits rather than anything they might choose on their own – given the opportunity to be free of warring bands.