22 Apr 2011

US drones: lessons for Libya from Pakistan

As the US approves armed drone attacks on President Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, Channel 4 News looks at America’s record of drone strikes in Pakistan, believed to be led by the CIA.

US President Obama has given the go ahead for drones to strike Libya (Image: Getty)

With the Pakistani state at war with the Pakistani Taliban, its government is complicit in the use of drones.

Despite complaint that the attacks are an infringement of Pakistani national sovereignty, the government provides a great deal of intelligence for the attacks.

The number of drone attacks has ramped up under President Obama, to an estimated 166. So far that is a 300 per cent increase in the number of drone attacks in Pakistan compared to those during George W Bush’s presidency.

The US Defence Secretary confirmed today that Mr Obama has now given the green light for Predator drone attacks to go ahead in Libya.

However, US drone attacks have previously been criticised for failing to kill a significant number of militant leaders, despite their ability to perform a highly targeted, intelligence-based warfare.

Channel 4 News has also investigated the legality of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement with the drone attacks in Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan drone warfare - special report

Death rate

The number of people killed in 2010 by American drones is thought to be between 607 and 993, yet of those the New America Foundation has estimated that just two per cent of the deaths were senior Taliban or al-Qaeda figures.

In the last 12 months there have been at least 113 attacks by secret US drones in Pakistan’s mountainous Waziristan region – double the number of strikes in 2009.

The foundation’s director Peter Bergen told Channel 4 News earlier this year that most victims of the attacks are low level militants.

“So the question is, do those people really represent a threat to the United States or its allies, and in my opinion, they don’t,” he said.

The rate of civilian casualties meanwhile is thought to be dropping – from around 20 per cent in 2004 to around 6 per cent in 2010.

Since their increased usage in 2009, drone attacks have come under heavy criticism.

CIA involvement

The legality of drone strikes in Pakistan and the alleged role of the CIA has been brought into sharp focus after it was reported that Jonathan Banks, the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, was pulled out of Pakistan after his cover was blown.

He was blamed by tribesmen from North Waziristan for the deaths of their relatives in the drone strikes.

The CIA does not admit or deny that it conducts drone attacks on Pakistan or any other country, but it is widely suggested that “covert” strikes in tribal areas were controlled by CIA from bases in America, some 8,000 miles away from the target.

Pakistan drone strikes: the CIA's secret war