Just a footnote to David’s post about Robert Gates’ testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It’s worth noting that the Pentagon chief acknowledged that the new administration will continue to fire Predator missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. “Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is, and we will continue to pursue that,” Gates said.
Obama approved a continuation of the strikes last Friday at his first meeting of the National Security Council. That same day, a missile fired from a drone in Waziristan killed at least 20 people—powerful evidence indeed of Obama’s decision.
Given the new president’s quick break with many of his predecessor’s policies, Obama’s decision represents a rare point of continuity—and comes not without criticism. UAV attacks in the region, numbering at least 30 according to a Reuters estimate, have ignited protest from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and provided a handy propaganda tool and recruiting engine for insurgents. Indeed, for all of the top leaders reportedly killed in air strikes over the years, Al Qaeda and the Taliban have only grown stronger.
The Pakistani government filed a formal complaint over the weekend, stating the “attacks in the Waziristan area which caused civilian causalities are a matter of great concern… are counter-productive and should be discontinued.”
For his part, Gates testified this morning that “Pakistan is a friend and partner” and is surely aware of the “existential threat” posed by Islamic militants operating in its tribal areas.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Army.mil.