Stepped-Up Drone Strikes Test U.S.-Pakistan Ties Missiles fired by unmanned U.S. aircraft have hit targets across the Afghan border since 2006. But an increase in the barrage is sparking growing public anger — a political problem for the Pakistani government.
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Stepped-Up Drone Strikes Test U.S.-Pakistan Ties

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Stepped-Up Drone Strikes Test U.S.-Pakistan Ties

Stepped-Up Drone Strikes Test U.S.-Pakistan Ties

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The U.S. military launched more drone missile strikes today, this time inside Afghanistan. Officials say 16 insurgents were killed. The Obama administration has been increasing CIA drone attacks across the border in Pakistan.

And as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the targets of those missiles are striking back.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. HUMAM KHALIL ABU-MULAL AL-BALAWI: We hereby declare...

TOM BOWMAN: A video released over the past few days shows a Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan.

Mr. AL-BALAWI: All the fighters who sought refuge with Baitullah Mehsud are entrusted with the duty to revenge him in the USA and outside it.

BOWMAN: Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last year. The suicide bomber was avenging him. What the bomber didn't say in that tape was he was providing the Americans with information for other drone attacks against al-Qaida. A former intelligence official tells NPR that the bomber Humam Khalil al-Balawi was, quote, "feeding us low-level operatives, and we were whacking them."

Balawi's path from informant to suicide bomber highlights a secret and growing fight. As the U.S. sends thousands more troops to Afghanistan and mounts the occasional drone missile strikes like the ones today in Afghanistan, it's stepping up drone attacks on insurgent safe havens in Pakistan.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): The policy debate that we had with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan is focused on eliminating the safe havens which are now in Pakistan. Originally they were in Afghanistan.

BOWMAN: Admiral Mike Mullen is the nation's top military officer.

Adm. MULLEN: It is very focused on those safe havens.

BOWMAN: That focus is through drone strikes, mostly by CIA aircraft flown from bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The increased number of these attacks reflect the Obama administration's twin goals: defeating al-Qaida and bringing security to Afghanistan. But Shuja Nawaz, an expert on the Pakistani military, says there's growing public anger in Pakistan over the American air attacks, which are also killing civilians. Pakistan's government, Nawaz says, wants to have it both ways.

Mr. SHUJA NAWAZ (Expert on Pakistani Military): The government of Pakistan pretended that this was the U.S. doing something unilaterally, when a fair amount of evidence is now available that many of the strikes were taking place with Pakistani assistance.

BOWMAN: Assistance that includes providing the Americans with targeting information. The drone strikes, according to one estimate, have left 1,000 dead since 2006. As many as a third of the dead are civilians. Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar says that's a political problem for Pakistan's government.

Mr. PAUL PILLAR (Former CIA Analyst): Casualties inflicted on innocent people make it difficult for Pakistan to defend its relationship and cooperation with the United States.

BOWMAN: Besides the civilian death toll, there's another problem. The U.S. and Pakistan differ over which Islamic fighters to target inside those safe havens. Pakistan is content to help the Americans target al-Qaida and Pakistani Taliban leaders seen as a threat to the Pakistani government. But Pakistan is less willing to help the U.S. go after Afghan Taliban fighters. Shuja Nawaz says these insurgents � the Haqqani network, for example - are seen by Pakistan in a more positive way.

Mr. NAWAZ: As a potential ally or at least not a group that would be opposed to Pakistan.

BOWMAN: But these are some of the very groups the U.S. wants to go after. Here's Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Envoy, Afghanistan and Pakistan) The Haqqani group straddles the border and is responsible for some of the most serious events that take the lives and injure American and allied forces. There's no question about that.

BOWMAN: But Holbrooke wouldn't criticize Pakistan when he appeared in a recent Washington conference.

Mr. HOLBROOKE: Continued discussion of this issue in public works against the goal, which is a reduction in the risk to our American forces in Afghanistan.

BOWMAN: Translation: We'll talk about it privately with the Pakistanis.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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