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Who are we killing and why?


While Left Blogistan is getting their collective panties in a wad over the thought of poor Julian Assange facing rape charges in a Swedish court of law, our government is busy killing people:

‘Unprecedented’ Drone Assault: 58 Strikes in 102 Days

It may take years, but some researcher will travel to Pakistan’s tribal areas and produce a definitive study on what it’s been like to live amidst an aerial bombardment from American pilotless aircraft. When that account inevitably comes out, it’s likely to find that 2010 — and especially the final quarter of 2010 — marked a turning point in how civilians coped with a drone war that turned relentless.

Even as the Obama administration’s assessment of its war strategy nodded to the primacy of the CIA’s drone campaign, Predators underscored the point. Over the past two days, four Predators or Reapers fired their missiles at suspected militants in North Waziristan, with three of the strikes coming early today.

They represent a geographic expansion of the drone war. Today’s strikes come in Khyber, an area abutting Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, that’s been notably drone-free. It has become an area for militants fleeing military action in South Waziristan to take succor.

They also bring the drone-strike tally for this year up to 113, more than twice last year’s 53 strikes. But those figures don’t begin to tell the whole story.

According to a tally kept by the Long War Journal, 58 of those strikes have come since September: There has been a drone attack every 1.8 days since Labor Day. LWJ’s Bill Roggio says the pace of attacks between September and November (there was a brief December respite, now erased) is “unprecedented since the U.S. began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004.” (By contrast, in 2008, there were just 34 strikes.)

Both Roggio and the New America Foundation have found that the overwhelming majority of this year’s strikes have clustered in North Waziristan: at least 99, by Roggio’s count.

That torrid pace of attacks should make it beyond debate that the drones are the long pole in the U.S.’s counterterrorism tent, even if the drone program is technically a secret. The Pakistanis haven’t sent their Army into North Waziristan to harass al-Qaeda’s haven in the mountainous, Connecticut-sized region, waving off U.S. pressure to invade.

Without a ground force to rely on, the CIA argues, the only option for fulfilling the administration’s goal of crushing al-Qaeda is a missile strapped to a surveillance aircraft. During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would pursue al-Qaeda in Pakistan unilaterally if he deemed the Pakistanis intransigent. No one expected he meant he’d do so from the skies.

Of course, the Pakistanis have been the silent partner in the strikes, allowing the drones to fly from their territory, so it’s not as if these are unilateral attacks.

But no one knows whether a backlash is just around the corner. While most Pakistanis remain ignorant of the strikes, those in the tribal areas live literally in their shadow, and register enormous discontent, approving of retaliatory attacks on U.S. forces.

Reportedly, the CIA’s top officer in Islamabad has fled Pakistan after a man from North Waziristan whose son and brother were killed in a strike filed a lawsuit against the agency.

There’s no official or universally accepted figure of how many civilians have died as a result of the strikes, but New America pegs it at around 25 percent of all fatalities. Long War Journal’s registry is more generous, claiming that 1,671 militants and 108 civilians have died in the strikes since 2006.

Then there’s the question of whether the strikes are legal. Obama administration claims that the September 2001 congressional Authorization to Use Military Force in retaliation for 9/11 provides all the legal protection necessary for the strikes. Some lawyers and law professors, by contrast, think that the drones’ remote pilots could eventually get hauled before a war-crimes tribunal.

Who exactly are we killing? What have they done to deserve death? Who decided they should die?

Last time I checked we weren’t at war with Pakistan.