Former Intel Chief: Call Off The Drone War (And Maybe the Whole War on Terror)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

ASPEN, Colorado Ground the U.S. drone war in Pakistan. Rethink the idea of spending billions of dollars to pursue al-Qaida. Forget chasing terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, unless the local governments are willing to join in the hunt.

Those arent the words of some human rights activist, or some far-left Congressman. Theyre from retired admiral and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair the man who was, until recently, nominally in charge of the entire American effort to find, track, and take out terrorists. Now, hes calling for that campaign to be reconsidered, and possibly even junked.

Starting with the drone attacks. Yes, they take out some mid-level terrorists, Blair said. But theyre not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, its not going to lower the threat to the U.S. Al-Qaida and its allies have proven it can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign, he said.

The statements wont exactly win Blair new friends in the Obama administration, which forced him out of the top intelligence job about a year after he was nominated. Not only has Obama drastically escalated the drone war thereve been 50 strikes in the first seven months of this year, almost as many as in all of 2009. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the remotely-piloted attacks the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaida leadership.

Plus, American relations with the Pakistani government are at their lowest point in years. And every time Washington tries to tip off Islamabad to a raid, it seems, the targets of the raid seem to conveniently skip town. No wonder the U.S. kept the mother of all unilateral strikes the mission to kill Osama bin Laden a secret from their erstwhile allies in Pakistan.

But Blair believes the cooperation not only with Pakistan, but also with the government in Yemen and with whatever authorities can be found in Somalia is the only way to bring some measure of peace to the worlds ungoverned spaces. We have to change in those three countries, he told the Forum (Full disclosure: Im a moderator on one of the panels here.)

The reconsideration of our relationship with these countries is only the start of the overhaul Blair has in mind, however. He noted that the U.S. intelligence and homeland security communities are spending about $80 billion a year, outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet al-Qaida and its affiliates only have about 4,000 members worldwide. Thats $20 million per terrorist per year, Blair pointed out.

You think woah, $20 million. Is that proportionate? he asked. So I think we need to relook at the strategy to get the money in the right places.

Blair mentioned that 17 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorists since 9/11 14 of them in the Ft. Hood massacre. Meanwhile, auto accidents, murders and rapes combine have killed an estimated 1.5 million people in the past decade. What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem? he asked.

Blair purposely let his own question go unanswered.

13-32

US Assured of Action Against ‘Sanctuaries’

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: A flurry of activity of Monday provided hope that the Pak-US marriage of convenience was not over despite the recent bellowing and booming of the Pakistani leadership.

2011-05-16T133358Z_1323651652_GM1E75G1FO201_RTRMADP_3_BINLADEN

U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) (L) meets with Pakistan’s PM Yusuf Raza Gilani at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad May 16, 2011.

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

By the end of Senator John Kerry’s day-long stay in Islamabad it appeared that the US had convinced Pakistan to undertake several steps for proving its commitment to the fight against terrorism. These included returning the wreckage of the helicopter which had malfunctioned during the May 2 raid in Abbotabad and eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in tribal areas.

In exchange Washington has committed itself to a process, which if successful, will lead to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad for reviving the strategic dialogue which has been stalled since the arrest of CIA operative Raymond Davis and subsequent events such as drone attacks and the unilateral US operation killing Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden.

John Kerry, who heads the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, extracted these promises from the Pakistani leadership; he warned them that “if the relationship is to fall apart …. US will always reserve the right to protect its national security”.

Senator Kerry’s tough love message was reinforced, Dawn has learnt, by the telephone calls Secretary Clinton made to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Ms Clinton rang up Mr Gilani when he, the president and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani were meeting Senator Kerry. The call is reported to have lasted about 20 minutes.

The secretary of state had called Mr Zardari on Sunday.

“I think we made serious progress. Pakistan has agreed to do a number of things immediately to demonstrate its further seriousness of purpose and we agreed to have several officials from the US to come here in the middle of the week or sometime soon to carry on this discussion and prepare the ground for Secretary Clinton,” a visibly fatigued Kerry told a selected group of journalists after his meetings with Pakistani civil and military leaders.

Having met the army chief on Sunday night, Mr Kerry spent most of Monday in meetings. As he noted: “We worked harder today to talk about ways in which we can be better partners, work cooperatively and open doors to joint cooperation to fight terrorism.”

Senator Kerry met President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Army Chief Gen Kayani, individually and collectively, before a joint declaration was issued by the two sides expressing the willingness to carry on with their relationship.

“In furtherance of its existing commitment to fight terrorism, Pakistan has agreed to take several immediate steps to underscore its seriousness in renewing the full cooperative effort with the United States,” the joint communiqué said.

Senator Kerry avoided divulging details of the steps agreed upon, but vaguely described it as including cooperation on counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and targeting terrorist sanctuaries. The latter is hardly surprising; having been high on the American wish list for a long time, action against the havens in tribal areas was one of the major demands Mr Kerry brought to Islamabad.

He said: “We need Pakistan’s cooperation, we need Pakistan’s help against sanctuaries in this country from where people are destabilising Afghanistan and frankly killing … all of (those who) are trying to provide for a stable Afghanistan.”

However, he stopped of claiming that Pakistani leaders had agreed to go after the Haqqani network, one of the core contentious issues in the rocky bilateral ties. He was only willing to say cryptically that both countries had agreed to target “some entity, which is engaged in terrorism … the entity that needs to be taken on one way or the other”.

He also said that other measures to be taken by Pakistan included returning the tail of the helicopter which was left behind by the Navy Seals during the Abbotabad raid.

After it malfunctioned, the Americans exploded the helicopter before they left; this was done, it was reported, to prevent the stealth technology from falling into Pakistani, and possibly other, hands.
However, distrust is still not a thing of the past. Despite Pakistan’s new commitments, which Mr Kerry himself described as “more detailed, more precise and clarified”, he made it clear that Washington was no longer going to be satisfied by mere promises.

“This road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions,” he told journalists.

This is why Washington is going to follow a step-by-step approach before confirming that Secretary Clinton will be taking a flight to Islamabad.

Two US officials — Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and CIA Deputy Director Mark Morrel — will visit Islamabad to follow up on Mr Kerry’s talks and discuss the agreed measures in details and possibly gauge progress on the commitments made to the senator.

Secretary Clinton’s visit remains contingent on the outcome of Grossman’s discussions. “First a meeting will take place to try to lay the groundwork for that (Clinton’s meeting) and coming out of that meeting the secretary would set the date,” Senator Kerry said. However, in the midst of all the tough talk and the conditions he set, Mr Kerry also made an effort to soothe ruffled feathers, “we are committed to working together with Pakistan — not unilaterally, but together in joint efforts” — contingent once again on Pakistani cooperation.

“But, if we are cooperating and working together there is no reason (for acting unilaterally),” he said.           

From The Newspaper

13-21