The Blog

Will the U.S. Continue to Hit al Qaeda in Pakistan?

1:24 PM, Nov 11, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Pentagon is planning to expand the number of air bases in the remote regions of Afghanistan's south and east, USA Today reports. The bases will allow the U.S. military to sortie more of the deadly unmanned Predator and Reaper aircraft that provide surveillance and striking power for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The bases are needed "particularly in the rugged mountain area near the border with Pakistan" as the region "has seen some of the toughest fighting for U.S. troops."

The article focuses on using the Predators and Reapers to support U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, but the USA Today misses the elephant in the room. The U.S. military and CIA have been conducting covert airstrikes into Pakistan's lawless tribal areas that border eastern Afghanistan, primarily with unmanned Predators and Reapers. The strikes have skyrocketed over the past year after President Bush loosened the restrictions on striking inside Pakistan. U.S. intelligence is deeply concerned the next attack on the West will be hatched in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The United States has conducted at least 28 airstrikes and cross-border attacks in Pakistan in during 2008 (you can see the current list here). Twenty-one of these attacks have occurred between Aug. 31 and Nov. 7. At least four senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in these attacks. In comparison, there were only 10 recorded strikes during 2006 and 2007 combined.

The big question is whether or not President-elect Barack Obama will continue the current policy of hitting al Qaeda and their Taliban allies inside Pakistan. The Pakistani government has already implored Obama to halt the attacks. Obama has run on a platform that emphasizes a kinder, gentler foreign policy that stresses diplomacy. He also promised to be aggressive inside Pakistan. He will soon learn that being "liked" and "respected" by the international community often conflicts with vital U.S. national security interests.