WASHINGTON – Over one-hundred drone strikes in Pakistan last year ended up killing a total of 2 terrorists on the US most-wanted list, according to independent estimates.
In 2010, the CIA launched a total of 118 drone attacks in Pakistan, each costing more than $1 million, The Washington Post reported. It was a year in which the US dramatically expanded the scope and frequency of the strikes, which began under the Bush administration.
But just two of the militants killed were on the most-wanted list, according to the National Counterterrorism Center, which keeps track of terrorist leaders. They are Sheik Saeed al-Masri, a top Al-Qaeda operative, and Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, who helped carry out the US embassy bombings of 1998.
An additional thirteen were considered “high-value targets,” while the vast majority of the 581 estimated militants killed were low-level operatives.
A senior Pakistani official said that most of those killed were “mere foot soldiers” who had no leadership role or influence over the extremist groups, reflecting a broadening of the targets that were once limited to senior leaders of Al-Qaeda and similar factions.
US military officials say the program has helped disrupt Al-Qaeda’s operational capacity since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Yet the numbers raise important questions about the efficacy of the unmanned predator drone strikes — in addition to longstanding questions about their morality — as the classified program plays a larger role in US counter-terrorism strategy.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t go after people who have American blood on their hands,” a US official told the Post. “To use a military analogy, if you’re only going after the generals, you’re likely to be run over by tanks.”
To the CIA’s credit, the collateral damage from the drone bombs has apparently fallen in recent years. The New America Foundation estimates that civilian casualties dropped to 6 percent in 2010, from 25 percent in 2004.
The drone attacks have contributed to souring perceptions of the US in Pakistan, where favorable ratings are notably low.
Two out of three Pakistani journalists view the US strikes as acts of terrorism, according to a recent survey.