Since the suicide bombing that killed seven Americans in Afghanistan on December 30, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has retaliated against militants in Pakistan with intensive series of missile strikes from drone aircraft.
Beginning the day after the attack on a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, the agency has carried out 11 strikes killing 90 people suspected of being militants, according to Pakistani reports, which make no mention of civilian casualties.
“For the CIA, there is certainly an element of wanting to show that they can hit back,” said Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks the CIA’s drone campaign. Roggio, as well as Pakistani and American officials, said many of the strikes had focused on the Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who claimed responsibility for the Khost bombing.
The Khost attack cost the agency dearly, taking the lives of experienced Al Qaeda analysts. Yet the CIA has responded by redoubling its assault.
Pakistan’s announcement on Thursday that its army would delay new offensives against militants in North Waziristan is likely to increase American reliance on the strikes, officials said. By next year, the CIA is expected to more than double its fleet of the Reaper jets— bigger, faster and more heavily armed than the older Predators — to 14 from 6, an official said.
Even before the Khost attack, White House officials had made it clear to Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, and CIA director Leon E. Panetta that they expected significant results from the drone strikes in reducing threats from Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban.
The strikes, carried out from a base in Pakistan and controlled by satellite link from CIA headquarters in Virginia, have been expanded by President Obama and praised by both parties in Congress.
However, there are some dissenting voices. John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis, said, “The more the drone campaign works, the more it fails — as increased attacks only make the Pakistanis angrier at the collateral damage...”