If a counter-terrorism strategy can be measured by the enemy’s reaction, then the American military’s predator drone campaign can be judged an overwhelming success.
This was proven this week when the Taliban staged a desperate and unsuccessful suicide attack against the American consulate in Peshawar in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Seeking to retaliate for losses from Hellfire missile strikes, the Taliban sent a half dozen heavily-armed fighters, disguised as paramilitary soldiers, on a one-way mission to attack the consulate, using two explosives-packed vehicles in a well-planned assault.
“Our security forces and rapid reaction force sealed the area within five minutes and the attackers were forced to off load and blow up their explosives 25-30 meters from their target,” said Pakistani police chief Malim Naveed.
The terrorists failed however to breach the perimeter and succeed in their goal of killing Americans. Pakistani security personnel prevented the attackers from entering the building, killing all six while losing three of their own number. Two civilians also died.
“We did not let them enter the consulate building and that was the biggest achievement of the security forces,” said Naveed.
Later, the Pakistani Taliban officially claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was to avenge the losses they have suffered in the US drone campaign. In another drone-provoked revenge attack last December, a Taliban suicide bomber murdered six CIA agents and injured another six inside a CIA post near Khost, Afghanistan. After this week’s assault, Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq promised more are to come.
“We will carry out more such attacks. We will target any place there are Americans,” said Azam.
Life under the Hellfire missile has not been a pleasant one for the Taliban and al Qaeda. A New York Times journalist, held prisoner for several months by the Taliban, reported that even in the remotest areas of Pakistan’s wild tribal regions, the terrorists constantly scan the sky where drones can often be heard flying overhead, searching out their targets.
The substantial losses they have suffered at the hands of the Hellfire missile have angered the Taliban, provoking desperate attacks like the one this week. Starting in 2008 with the accession of Asif Zardari to the Pakistani presidency, about 700 al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists have been killed in drone attacks. A New York Times report states that Hellfire missiles have accounted for 90 Islamists in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the first six weeks of this year alone.
Particularly painful for the two terrorist organizations, according to military analysts, is the fact that among the dead are about two dozen top-level leaders and 100 mid-level ones. This quantity and quality of expertise and experience are not easily replaceable, especially the mid-level battlefield commanders. According to one estimate, half of the senior al Qaeda leadership has been killed or seriously wounded in the past two years.
This highly successful “decapitation” campaign, as it has been called, even came close to killing Ilyas Kashmiri, the dangerous and elusive commander of al Qaeda’s foreign terrorist operations. Kashmiri, who told a Pakistani reporter he barely escaped a Hellfire strike, was behind the Mumbai atrocity and is currently wanted in the United States for helping to plan a terrorist attack on a Danish newspaper, in which two Chicago men were also implicated.
While angry about their losses, what infuriates al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban the most is the informants who are selling the terrorists’ whereabouts to their American enemy. Over the years, American intelligence has succeeded in setting up an informant network in the tribal territories. Al Qaeda and the Taliban know that without these informers a lot of their people would still be alive and hence have taken bloody reprisals against those they believe have sold them out.
But the terrorists’ efforts to stop the drone operations with suicide attacks against American installations and executions in the tribal areas have been in vain. To his credit, President Obama has increased the number of Predator strikes, realizing their effectiveness, while the Taliban suicide attacks against Americans only seem to strengthen his resolve.
In Pakistan’s tribal areas, there are tribes and individuals hostile to al Qaeda and the Taliban. The terrorists’ brutal treatment and killing of tribal elders and others who opposed them doubtlessly has also created a pool of willing informers. But even minus a grudge, al Qaeda and the Taliban would still be faced with informers, since most everything in the murky world of terrorism is for sale.
The only drawback to the drone campaign’s success is the number of civilian casualties incurred. They are often people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, as one observer stated, the consolation is that the drones are eliminating terrorists who are responsible for a far greater number of civilian deaths.
Two residents of North Waziristan, a tribal area, also hold the opinion that the drones’ elimination of the Taliban and al Qaeda, “in particular the Arabs”, compensate for the accidental civilian deaths. They told The New York Times: “If you look at the other guys, the Arabs and the kidnappings and the targeted killings, I would go for the drones.”
The suicide attack on the American consulate is not an indication of Taliban resiliency, as some claim, but rather a sign of the terrorist organization’s weakness and desperation to stop the drone attacks. This small assault by six men should be viewed as a pathetic response to a military campaign that has killed nearly half their leadership.
By selecting a high profile target like the consulate, the Taliban strategy was to grab world headlines, if only temporarily, hoping to demonstrate it is still a powerful force. In reality, there has been a “significant decline” in terrorist bombings in Pakistan this year, which a Pakistani newspaper attributes to “the US drone war and Pakistani military operations.” This, in turn, is the best proof of the drone campaign’s worth and success.