On 10 April 2009, Pakistan’s second-largest English-language newspaper (circulation 140,000), the News International, cited figures on US drone attacks “compiled by the Pakistani authorities”. According to these figures, of the 60 cross-border Predator drone strikes into Pakistan between 14 January 2006 and 8 April 2009, only 10 hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders. These 60 strikes also killed a reported 687 Pakistani civilians.
Of the 14 drone attacks targeting the Pakistani tribal areas since 1 January 2009, three were carried out in January, killing 30 people; two in February killing 55; five in March killing 36; and four were conducted in the first nine days of April, killing 31 people. From 1 January 2008 to 8 April 2009, Predator and Reaper drones sent across the border from Afghanistan (and piloted from among other places USAF Creech in the United States) have averaged 34 killings per month and 11 killings per attack.
Pakistani officials told the Sunday Times (5 April) that drone attacks have been stepped up since Barack Obama became US president, killing at least 81 people. On 6 April, senior US officials told the New York Times that the Obama administration “intended to step up its use of drones to strike militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas and might extend them to a different sanctuary deeper inside the country.”
Officials are apparently proposing to broaden the missile strikes to Baluchistan, south of the tribal areas, “unless Pakistan manages to reduce the incursion of militants there”. On the same day, 6 April, US defence secretary Robert Gates announced that he wanted to maximize production of Predator and Reaper drones, amounting to “a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from a year ago.”
This escalation in robot plane warfare is meant to be part of a “a strategy to tackle the terrorist threat across the region, the underlying causes, the extremist madrasas and the lawless spaces in which terrorists recruit or train” (Gordon Brown, 22 March).
On 12 April, the Sunday Times reported the British social cohesion minister, Sadiq Khan, as saying (after a fact-finding trip to Pakistan): “The anger and frustration at the drone attacks was huge. The view they [the students] had was that the UK was somehow responsible for this. They haven’t understood this was purely a US matter. They lumped us together with the US, which to me is a poison. It demonstrates to me that we have a big problem.”
Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles were first used in Afghanistan in October 2001, in Yemen in November 2002, in Iraq in December 2002 and in Pakistan in May 2005. Armed Reaper drones, which can carry 14 Hellfire missiles, compared to the Predator’s two, became operational in Afghanistan in October 2007, in Iraq in July 2008.