February 1, 2011:
Terror group leaders in the Pakistani tribal territories are openly admitting that the CIA UAV missile attacks have done serious damage to their leadership. Al Qaeda leader Ustadh Ahmad Farooq complained that his group is suffering more damage now than during the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Last year there were 115 of these CIA missile attacks, and the rate of attacks has increased this year (at least ten so far this month). Farooq complained that terrorist leaders can't operate in many areas, and have to move about very carefully. But it gets worse.
While the Islamic terrorist groups in Pakistan's tribal territories are not happy with the six year CIA decapitation (kill the leaders) campaign, many of the local tribesmen are. Attacked by Predator and Reaper UAVs, armed with missiles, the terrorists (al Qaeda, Taliban and the Haqqani Network) have lost about 40 senior leaders in the last six years, most of them in the last three years. These losses are not only bad for morale at the top, but are seriously disrupting terrorist activities. The locals love this, because the Islamic radicals have been nothing but trouble. For one thing, the radicals come across as a bunch of self-righteous bullies, and use their weapons to intimidate, or kill, anyone who crosses them. This includes coercing families to provide daughters to be wives of bachelor terrorists. Then there is the terrorist tactic of using civilians as human shields for protection from the missile attacks. Here's where the CIA won hearts and minds, by scrupulously avoiding casualties among the innocent tribesmen. Moreover, the tribes eventually drew the line on human shields, bringing out their own guns and forcing the Islamic radicals to back off when demanding hostages. The locals also abandoned their compounds when the terrorists came by to spend the night. If the CIA hit the compound (after noting how the owners fled), the tribesmen blamed the Islamic radicals, not the CIA, for the damage. The Islamic radicals know that the tribesmen have been cheering, not so much for the CIA, as against the radicals, but don't make an issue of it. On the surface, everyone is a good Moslem. But the local Moslems make no secret of wishing that the super-Moslems would go somewhere else.
The terrorist losses have been severe, and include heads of operations, finance and intelligence. Many of the mid-level commanders were bomb making, and terror attack experts. These losses caused additional casualties as less skilled bomb makers died when their imperfect devices blew up while under construction. New bomb makers have been less successful because of poor instruction. The loss of operations commanders meant operatives were less effectively deployed, and more easily caught or killed. The damage to their intelligence operations meant there was less success in general, especially against the growing American informant network on the ground. The financial leadership losses has meant less income, and more reliance on stealing from locals, which makes the terror groups even more unpopular.
Most of the attacks have taken place in the last three years. In 2010, there have been about two attacks a week. In some cases there have been as many as four in 24 hours. In all of 2009 there were 53 attacks, and only 35 in 2008. While there are more attacks, fewer civilians have been killed. It's difficult to tell who is an innocent civilian in these circumstances, but since the Taliban have rarely claimed, and identified civilian deaths from these attacks, there are apparently very few civilians killed. There are several reasons for this. One is better intel, but there's a new weapon in use. The CIA controlled UAVs are now using a smaller missile; the Griffin. This enables targets to be destroyed with less risk to nearby civilians. The Griffin is an alternative to the Hellfire II, which weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds) and carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead and has a range of 8,000 meters. In contrast, the Griffin weighs only 16 kg (35 pounds), with a 5.9 kg (13 pound) warhead which is larger, in proportion to its size, than the one carried by the larger Hellfire missile. Griffin has a pop-out wings, allowing it to glide, and thus has a longer range (15 kilometers) than Hellfire (although Griffin is slower than the rocket propelled Hellfire). UAVs can carry more of the smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire.
In the last three years, the UAV campaign in Pakistan has killed about a thousand people. Some 30 percent of the dead were civilians, largely because the terrorists use human shields, and try to surround themselves with women and children. Many of these civilians were wives and children of the Islamic radicals. As the CIA intelligence got better, and the locals more insistent on not being human shields, more and more of the civilians were close kin of the terrorists, and at least aware of the danger they were in because of their husband's line of work.
Until recently, the Taliban and al Qaeda refrained from discussing these attacks publically, even to score some media points by complaining of civilian casualties. The last bit has to do with most of the civilians being wives and children accompanying their terrorist daddy. Civilian deaths are minimized by trying to catch the terrorists while travelling, or otherwise away from civilians. Journalists visiting the sites of these attacks later, find few locals claiming lots of civilian casualties. Unlike Afghanistan, the Pakistani Pushtuns tend to avoid criticizing their government, for fear of retribution from tribal leaders or the government itself.