Thursday, March 26, 2009




There have been two more missile strikes from Predator (unmanned) aircraft on suspected terrorists in the South and North Waziristanareas of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. With these, there have been seven Predator strikes carried out by theUS Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the tribal belt of Pakistan since President Barack Obama assumed office on January 20,2009.

2. The first of these strikes carried out on March 25,2009, targeted two vehicles--- a pick-up and a car--- which were moving on a kacharoad (non-metalled country road) near the Makeen area of South Waziristan. Seven terrorists, believed to be Uzbecks and Arabs, werereportedly killed. While there is no doubt about their links with Al Qaeda, they seem to be low-level operatives of the organisation.

3.The second of these strikes targeted the house of a tribal leader by name Malik Gulab Khan in an area called Essokhel, 30 Kms from thetown of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, on March 26,2009, killing fours persons. All of them are believed to be Pakistani supporters of the Taliban.There have been no local protest demonstrations against the two strikes indicating a lack of local anger over the deaths of these persons.This would indicate that the locals do not believe that those killed were innocent civilians.

4. The first strike on two moving vehicles was more significant than the second strike on a building. Shortly after the vehicles carrying theterrorists started moving on the road, a Predator aircraft appeared over them and fired two missiles hitting both vehicles. This precise information about the movement of the vehicles, which led to the instantaneous Predator strike, could not have come from human intelligence. A possibility is that the inmates of the vehicle were speaking over phone and their conversation was intercepted by the US technical intelligence units operating on the Afghan side. Or a greater possibility is that the US has one or more spy-in-the-sky satellites over the FATA, which are keeping a continuous watch over all vehicular movements in the area. The vehicles targeted had probably come to the notice of the CIA earlier as being used by the terrorists and the moment their movement on the road was detected by a satellite, thePredators, which were already over the area, went into action. The local villagers have been quoted by some sections of the Pakistani media as saying that Predators had been flying over the area for some hours prior to the attack. They did not blindly target any vehicle.They precisely targeted the two vehicles by which the seven terrorists were travelling. It is not clear whether the Americans knew beforehand that these persons were Uzbecks and Arabs or came to know of it only after they had hit the vehicles and killed them. (26-3-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )