After a lull, a spike in US strikes within Pakistani territory since mid-August has meant that the number of unmanned drone attacks carried out by the Americans in the first eight months of 2010 has exceeded that for the whole of 2009.
It also makes this year the most lethal since the drone strikes commenced in 2004.
The latest strike was in the tribal agency of Kurram that targeted the Tehrik-e-Taliban or the Pakistan Taliban. That took the total for 2010 to 54 exceeding last year’s 53, according to figures from the Long War Journal, which tracks the strikes within Pakistan.
The nature of the targets is also an indicator of the priorities of the US mission. Of the four strikes so far in August three have been against the Haqqani Network, a group that is considered close to the Pakistan military and has often been blamed for attacks against the Afghanistan government. The other prominent target has been the Pakistan Taliban, which has figured more prominently on the US radar since Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who was trained by this outfit, attempted to carbomb Times Square this year.
Security analyst Bill Roggio, said of the pattern of strikes: “In my opinion, they are most effective in disrupting Al Qaeda's external operations — attacks directed at the US, Europe, etc., as well as against Al Qaeda’s senior leadership.”
Regarding the extremist outfits that the Predators and Reapers have homed in on, Roggio said, “ Of the 54 strikes this year, the overwhelming majority of attacks took place in areas run by the Haqqani Network (13 strikes) and Hafiz Gul Bahadur (25 strikes). The primary targets seem to be Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.” Bahadur is a major Tehrik-e-Taliban leader with close links to the Haqqani Network.
Also significant is the geographic location of the majority of the strikes — North Waziristan. With the region emerging as a major training ground for Pakistan-based terrorists, 90 per cent of the strikes this year targeted that area as opposed to 40 per cent in 2009.