x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

US drone attacks killed 700 civilians, officials say

In 2009, 44 predator strikes carried out by the CIA in the tribal areas of Pakistan struck only five of their intended al Qa'eda and Taliban targets, but more than 700 innocent civilians also died, according to Pakistani authorities. According to a senior Taliban commander, a suicide bomb attack that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was an act of retaliation against the US drone attacks.

In 2009, 44 predator strikes carried out by the CIA in the tribal areas of Pakistan struck only five of their intended al Qa'eda and Taliban targets, but more than 700 innocent civilians also died, according to Pakistani authorities. A senior Taliban commander said a suicide bomb attack that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was an act of retaliation against the US drone attacks. Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported: "According to the statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities, the Afghanistan-based US drones killed 708 people in 44 predator attacks targeting the tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009. "For each al Qa'eda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities." The Wall Street Journal said: "A senior commander connected to the Afghan Taliban and involved with the attack against the CIA that left eight people dead said on Saturday that the bombing was retaliation for US drone strikes in the Afghan-Pakistan border region. " 'We attacked this base because the team there was organising drone strikes in Loya Paktia and surrounding area,' the commander said, referring to the area around Khost, the city where the US facility was attacked. The commander, a prominent member of the Afghan insurgency, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The suicide attack, which dealt the biggest loss to the agency in more than 25 years, killed a woman who was the station chief along with six other CIA officers and one private security contractor. " 'We attacked on that particular day because we knew the woman who was leading the team' was there, the commander said." ABC News reported the suicide bomber was a regular CIA informant who had visited the same base multiple times in the past, according to someone close to the base's security director. "The informant was a Pakistani and a member of the Wazir tribe from the Pakistani tribal area North Waziristan, according to the same source. The base security director, an Afghan named Arghawan, would pick up the informant at the Ghulam Khan border crossing and drive him about two hours into Forward Operating Base Chapman, from where the CIA operates. "Because he was with Arghawan, the informant was not searched, the source says. Arghawan also died in the attack. "The story seems to corroborate a claim by the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border that they had turned a CIA asset into a double agent and sent him to kill the officers in the base, located in the eastern Afghan province of Khost. "The infiltration into the heart of the CIA's operation in eastern Afghanistan deals a strong blow to the agency's ability to fight Taliban and al Qa'eda, former intelligence officials say, and will make the agency reconsider how it recruits Pakistani and Afghan informants." The Financial Times said: "The attack was linked by some US officials to a militant network created by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a legendary Afghan warlord widely believed to be close to Taliban militants while also maintaining ties with Pakistan's security and intelligence establishment. "After Thursday's attack, Pakistan's security officials have moved to distance the country from any links to the Haqqani network but have also warned against an escalation in attacks by pilot-less US drones on the country's territory. " 'If the Americans step up the attacks at what they suspect are locations of Haqqani's men inside Pakistan, that would be a risky step,' one security official in the provincial city of Peshawar told The Financial Times. 'The Americans can not simply go by assumptions. First, all the facts must be ascertained.'" The Sunday Times added: "Although Chapman was officially a camp for civilians involved in reconstruction, it was well-known locally as a CIA base. Over the past couple of years, it focused on gathering information on so-called high-value targets for drone attacks, the unmanned missile planes that have played a growing role in taking out suspected terrorists since President Barack Obama took office. The Haqqanis were their principal target. " 'That far forward they were almost certainly from the CIA's paramilitary rather than analysts,' said one agent. "The head of this intelligence-gathering operation was a mother of three. Although the Chapman base chief has not been named, she was described as a loving mother and an inspiration by a fellow CIA mum. " 'She was a dear friend and a touchstone to all of the mums in CTC [counter-terrorism],' she said. "Another CIA official said the base chief had worked on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism for years, dating back to the agency's so-called Alec Station. That unit was created to monitor Osama Bin Laden five years before the attacks of September 11, 2001. "Wednesday's bomb wiped away decades of experience. Eight years into the war, the agency is still desperately short of personnel who speak the language or are knowledgeable about the region. " 'It's a devastating blow,' said Michael Scheuer, a former agent and head of Alec Station. 'We lost an agent with 14 years' experience in Afghanistan.'" The Wall Street Journal said: "The bombing is a blow to America's foremost intelligence agency and could, at least temporarily, set back counterterrorism operations in a land where the US continues to struggle. "The Khost officers were providing key intelligence to the fight against al Qa'eda and the Taliban, former agency officials said. That included running networks of informants into Pakistan and providing support, as nearly all area operations do, to the CIA's drone program that kills high-value targets in Pakistan's tribal regions. "Previously, the CIA had lost a total of only four officers in Afghanistan, where a cadre of its personnel helped Afghan tribal forces oust the Taliban within weeks of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Thursday's blast brings that toll to 11. "A number of the dead had been counterterrorism operatives since before the 9/11 attacks. "Those killed included 'experienced, front-line officers and their knowledge and expertise will be sorely missed,' said Henry A Crumpton, who led the CIA campaign in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Mr Crumpton, who is retired, said the experience of those lost won't be easily regained."

pwoodward@thenational.ae