Now Playing: Drones
CIA: Our Drones are Killing Terrorists. Promise.
Al Qaeda is so spooked by CIA drone attacks that Osama’s crew is staging spectacular bombings in Pakistan, in an attempt to get America to call off its unmanned attack fleet, former U.S. officials and counterterrror advisers say. And the CIA is apparently so spooked about the possibility of a withdrawal that they’re spilling details about their supposedly-secret drone strikes to the New York Times.
On April 19th, agency sources tell the paper, a CIA drone hit a truck parked inside an al Qaeda compound in Pakistan’s tribal province of South Waziristan. Packed with “high explosives, apparently to be used as a bomb,” the truck “erupted in a fireball” when it was struck. “A second, empty truck destroyed in the same attack may also have been there to be outfitted with explosives,” intelligence officials say. “In another significant attack, on April 29, missiles fired from a C.I.A. Predator killed Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi, an Algerian Qaeda planner who American intelligence officials say they believe helped train operatives for attacks in Europe and the United States.”
The Times goes on to report that “in meetings this past week in Washington, American and Pakistani officials discussed the possibility of limited joint operations with American Predator and Reaper drones. Under one proposal, the United States would retain control over the firing of missiles, but it would share with the Pakistani security forces some sophisticated imagery and communications intercepts that could be relayed to Pakistani combat forces on the ground.”
But according to Gen. David McKiernan, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. military already shares its drone footage with the Pakistanis. “We exchange frequencies, we exchange intelligence, we have a Predator feed going down to the one [Afghanistan/Pakistan] border coordination center at Torkham Gate that’s looked at by the Pak military,” he said in November.
And according to the Wall Street Journal, the CIA is already sharing footage from its unmanned air force, too.
On Jan. 22, Pakistani paramilitary forces arrested Zabu ul Taifi, a Saudi national and alleged al Qaeda operative… [He] was located at a safe house in the Khyber Agency… through a combination of human intelligence from Pakistani agents, informants on the ground and aerial surveillance by U.S. drones.
Once authorities were confident Mr. Taifi was in the walled, mud compound, Pakistani paramilitary forces backed by helicopters grabbed him, the officer said. Throughout, Predator drones hovered overhead and would have attacked if Mr. Taifi or other suspects had tried to escape, the officer said. In all, Mr. Taifi and six other men — Afghans and Pakistanis — were nabbed in the raid.
That seems to be in direct contradiction to the Times report. Something’s not adding up here.
Meanwhile, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zadari keeps saying that he wants killer drones of his own. On Meet the Press yesterday, Zadari was asked if he considered the “drones that fire missiles and target Taliban” to be effective. The Pakistani’s answer: “I would consider them to be very effective if they were part of my arsenal. I’ve been asking for them, but I haven’t got a positive answer as yet. But I’m not giving up.”
Apparently not. According to Air Force Times, “Pakistan is working on its own Predator-like unmanned aerial vehicle,” or UAV.
The country’s air force and government-owned defense conglomerate, the National Engineering and Scientific Commission, are flight-testing a new-design aircraft to be equipped with a… laser designator and laser-guided missiles. The Burraq UAV is named for a winged horse creature in Islamic tradition, similar to Pegasus.
According to local news reports, Pakistan is focusing its unmanned aircraft efforts on upgrading various older UAVs with Chinese help.
But the sources note that no domestically produced UAV is large enough to heft both a missile and a targeting system. The military’s most capable UAV is the air force’s Selex Galileo Falco, which can laser-designate targets for other platforms but cannot deliver munitions.
UPDATE: IF you’re new to the killer drone world, this 60 Minutes segment, which aired last night, is a good primer.
[Photo: Noah Shachtman]
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