Attrition: Heads Continue To Roll

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July 1, 2011: Despite the Pakistani anger at the United States for flying into Pakistan to raid Osama bin Laden's hideout (in a military town), and the subsequent expulsion of many American military trainers and intel specialists, the CIA decapitation (kill the leaders) campaign there continues. While CIA attacks are a bit less than last year, they are still very frequent. So far this year, there have been 41, compared to 118 for all of last year (and 53 in 2009, 33 in 2008, 4 in 2007, 2 in 2006 and 2005 and one in 2004). Attacked by Predator and Reaper UAVs, armed with missiles, the terrorists (al Qaeda, Taliban and the Haqqani Network) have lost about 50 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 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 skilled 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.

While there are more UAV attacks in the last few years, 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. Overall deaths from these UAV attacks varies from 1,300 to 2,500, and it's generally agreed that most of the victims have been terrorists or their immediate families.

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. UAVs can carry more of the smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire.

The fact that there are civilians among the dead at all is largely because the terrorists use human shields, and try to surround themselves with women and children. Many of these civilians are 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.

The Taliban and al Qaeda don't like to discuss these attacks, even to score some media points by complaining of civilian casualties. 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.

 


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