Northwest Pakistan Sees Surge Of Drone Strikes
RICHARD SMITH, Host:
That military push coincides with an apparent surge of drone strikes on the other side of the border, in Pakistan. As NPR's Rachel Martin reports, the timing may be more than a coincidence.
RACHEL MARTIN: Talking about U.S. drone strikes in northwest Pakistan is always tough - mainly because the U.S government doesn't publicly acknowledge the attacks and they're virtually impossible to independently verify. So people in the know end up describing the drone strikes vaguely, like this...
JOHN NAGL: Irregular ways we're conducting this war against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MARTIN: John Nagl says that uptick may be linked to the heavier U.S. military footprint now in Afghanistan. More boots on the ground means more intelligence gathering, which leads to more targeting of insurgent leaders who may be on the other side of the border.
NAGL: I think that's what we're seeing. I think we've gathered some intelligence and are using that intelligence to multiply itself and to get deeper and deeper inside these insurgent networks and make life harder for them.
MARTIN: Making life harder means making it tough for the insurgents to carry out their operations. Because the more drone strikes keep taking out insurgent leaders, the more precautions they're likely to take.
STEPHEN BIDDLE: They never travel in the open. They never communicate. They never gather in large groups. They also can't carry out a military command function very effectively.
MARTIN: That's Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations.
BIDDLE: So what you're trying to do is set up something of a dilemma for them in which if they want to actually run an insurgency with any effectiveness, they've got to make themselves vulnerable to some degree.
MARTIN: Stephen Biddle says the drone strikes make it difficult for Taliban commanders who may want to drag the war on so long that the U.S. eventually gives up and leaves.
BIDDLE: In general, it produces a cost to waiting on the other side, because every month there's a certain probability that they're going to get caught by one of these airstrikes, and they don't know when.
MARTIN: So Biddle says the targeted insurgents have a choice - accept the threat of a drone attack and keep running their operations or lay low to avoid them. Either way, the strikes can throw insurgent groups off balance. Amos Guiora is a law professor at the University of Utah and an expert on drone attacks.
AMOS GUIORA: It's obvious to them that there is someone amongst them who's a mole or is a turncoat against them. And that clearly rattles their cage. From the group's perspective, from the terrorist organization's perspective, not only has an operative been killed but it is an indication of penetration which suggests potential weakness.
MARTIN: It's impossible to measure the real impact of the recent drone attacks. But the timing and scope of the strikes, more than a dozen in the past two weeks, suggests that one hit can lead to another. Again, John Nagl.
NAGL: There's a burst of activity. People move. People talk. Things happen. Once you get that first corner lifted to see inside an insurgent cell, it's much easier then to find the second and the third and the fourth and the network sort of lights up.
MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.
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