May 4th, 2010
06:34 PM ET

U.S. official: Greater use of drones goes back to Bush era

WASHINGTON (CNN) - When the latest apparent U.S. drone strike was conducted this week against militants in Pakistan, the obvious question appeared to be: Did the United States get a "big fish" in the Taliban or al Qaeda organizations?

But a U.S. counterterrorism official says that's now the wrong question to ask, and chances are those hit were not major players. He wouldn't discuss the specifics of the latest strike, but with the official backing of his bosses, he sought to explain how U.S. strategy has changed in the crucial effort to attack targets inside Pakistan with missiles fired from drones.

The plan now is to attack a broader set of terrorist targets far beyond the original effort to strike and kill top al Qaeda leaders, the official said.

The strategy originated not with President Barak Obama, but with the previous administration, he said.

While the United States is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones - which are controlled remotely - U.S. officials normally do not comment on suspected drone strikes.

The more expansive target set was originally approved in the final months of the Bush administration in late 2008, but has been stepped up under the Obama White House, the official said. It is seen as a key strategy to help protect the growing number of U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan from insurgents operating in Pakistan's border region.

Drone-launched missiles are now hitting lower-level al Qaeda and Taliban personnel, camps, training areas, bomb makers, buildings and other targets in the remote region.

"You've had an expanded target set for time now and, given the danger these groups pose and their relative inaccessibility, these kinds of strikes - precise and effective - have become almost like the cannon fire of this war. They're no longer extraordinary or even unusual," the official said.

"The enemy, to be sure, has lost commanders, operational planners, weapons specialists, facilitators, and more. But they've also lost fighters and trainers - the kinds of people who have killed American and allied forces in Afghanistan," he said. "Just because they're not big names doesn't mean they don't kill. They do. Their facilities - where they prepare, rest, and ready weapons - are legitimate targets, too."

Success in using the drones depends on larger intelligence efforts, said Frances Fragos Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, and now a CNN intelligence analyst. Drones are just one tool in larger strategy, she said.

It requires other tools - intelligence, military and diplomatic - to support it, she said.

The administration has been sensitive to accusations that a large number of civilians have been killed since the stepped-up raids began. Statistics kept by the New America Foundation indicate that 30 percent of those who died in drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 were non-militants.

The U.S. counterterrorism official disputed that, saying, "We believe the number of non-combatant casualties since this campaign intensified is under 30 - those being people who were near terrorist targets, often by choice - while the total for militants taken off the battlefield exceeds 500."

The official said those figures are based not only on intelligence but also on visual observations before and after strikes.

"The terrorists, who have a real incentive to spread stories of atrocities from the air, haven't done so because they can't do so," the official said. "They'd have to produce names, dates, photos and witnesses - the kinds of things you see almost instantly if the coalition makes a mistake in Afghanistan. But you just don't see that sort of thing coming out of the tribal areas. Instead, even press accounts from the area speak of militants cordoning off places that have been struck, and of local and foreign fighters being hit."

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Filed under: al Qaeda • Civilian deaths • Drone strikes • Obama • Taliban
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. IMARIAINHET

    научих много

    March 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mohammad A Dar

    Converts can die just as quick as a seasoned one. Remember one thing, "Excuses are like A_________'s, everybody has one. The ones left will eventually realize what happens to terrorists and what the USA is trying to do for them. S___ happens! Get real or send your first born over there to protect you,,,,,,surprise me and tell me not from us.
    Posted by: DAN---------–Pray left one will be you, there is no grantee, Match is still on, So for has been blow for a blow, Brainless elephant is loosing strength and Dancing on the tunes of Osama. Intelligent people have their own initiatives, not the ignorant followers of Pharisees (criminal) proud to be Genitals (slaves) not free people, like rest of the Americans.

    May 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mohammad A Dar

    Mahammad A Dar...your an idiot. To many people have died on each side. And yes Al Quiada attacked the US first, the reaction and reporcusions are on those who harbor them and are them. I have lost friends in this war and watched both sides die in Afghanistan. Let me tell you, far more terrorists have died and that will continue until we as a nation are secure in our freedom and not allow the beliefs of radical muslims, not normal, but radical muslims to be subjected on us which seems to be pretty clearly their goal. So have fun with that goat in whatever part of the world your from cause your not a good one. goodbye
    Posted by: Army-------------see, see they not, hear, hear they not, They just do not under stand. Mathew 13:13. The Ignorant conservative Genitals (Brian less slaves) of the Pharisees, The criminals. True one can not argue with an Ignorant, you and your kind, The slaves.

    May 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mohammad A Dar

    Complaining or treating the symptoms does no good, unless causes have been taken care of. Take care of the causes, symptoms and illness will go away., IS THAT WHAT YOU SAID?-–As with GANGRENE, You have to cut and remove more of the good before there is a chance of JUST the good remaining. My suggestion is do not convert ahead of time or you had better be known as a "BACK SLIDER".
    Posted by: DAN-------Call your self American brain less conservative Osma bin Ladin. He thinks the same way and sending human Drones to inflict civilian casualties like American Drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is not America or Good sensible Americans deserve it, but Blinded Goons like you. He claims to be taking GANGRENE off of the Worthless brains of self described ignorant conservatives. If there is any thing in there head,other than GANGRENE.

    May 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. HereOneTime

    The US Navy was using drones off destroyers in Vietnam in the sixties. Ballons were used to spot artrillery fire by our founding fathers. Did I see a funny bug the size of a golf ball floating around?

    May 6, 2010 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. Scotch Hollow

    The US. military needs to steep up us of the use of drones in military defeance. I think it is the one od the best tech. advantages we have. Todays warfare is around the world and we can not maintain military bases around the world to defend our country. The us of a drone is no more deferant then cruster bomding and area killing many civilians, with the drone are target is normaly hit.
    The use of Dones and more tech. in them is needed.

    May 6, 2010 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. Interesting

    If three men were standing in a field and one took out a hidden gun and shot a bystander,
    Only one man is guilty of Murder. How ever it is known in law if you know who fired the gun and do not speak out or oiint out that person with the gun then you are aiding and abetting and felon. This makes you his accomplice. We apply this to bank robbers and the like but does it not also apply here? I think it does. In the Koran and the bible a lie by ommission is still a lie because you do not speak out the truth.

    May 6, 2010 at 4:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. DAN

    Complaining or treating the symptoms does no good, unless causes have been taken care of. Take care of the causes, symptoms and illness will go away., IS THAT WHAT YOU SAID?-----As with GANGRENE, You have to cut and remove more of the good before there is a chance of JUST the good remaining. My suggestion is do not convert ahead of time or you had better be known as a "BACK SLIDER".

    May 6, 2010 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. DAN

    Converts can die just as quick as a seasoned one. Remember one thing, "Excuses are like A_________'s, everybody has one. The ones left will eventually realize what happens to terrorists and what the USA is trying to do for them. S___ happens! Get real or send your first born over there to protect you,,,,,,surprise me and tell me not from us.

    May 6, 2010 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  10. Army

    Mahammad A Dar...your an idiot. To many people have died on each side. And yes Al Quiada attacked the US first, the reaction and reporcusions are on those who harbor them and are them. I have lost friends in this war and watched both sides die in Afghanistan. Let me tell you, far more terrorists have died and that will continue until we as a nation are secure in our freedom and not allow the beliefs of radical muslims, not normal, but radical muslims to be subjected on us which seems to be pretty clearly their goal. So have fun with that goat in whatever part of the world your from cause your not a good one. goodbye

    May 6, 2010 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  11. DAN

    No matter what, better them than us. Anyone that writes about innocent people getting killed and that we cannot control the kills good enough are playing into the terrorists hands and,,,,,makes me wonder just who they are. Most of the negative remarks are terrrorists themselves or friends of them. Say what you want but, YOU idiots are playing into someones hands and are not protecting OUR soldiers by suggesting that we walk and shake their hands hoping that they'll be better people. The only good ones are dead ones and anyone near them should consider that their lives might end very quick. Yes, I know that some have no choice but, You'll never convince me that any ten or twenty or fifty of them is worth one of ours. My suggestion is get a life, get over it, stay away from the terroristsand their friends and when some get converted because of a loss of a loved one, prepare to die also. Once you convert, I really do want you in my crosshairs.

    May 6, 2010 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. Mohammad A Dar

    May 5th, 2010
    8:45 pm ET

    Send in the drones. Send in the drones. They are already here.
    Posted by: censorship
    Flag this comment------------–So now you wish to do, what Shazad failed to do, Collateral damage in USA besides Afghanistan and Pakistan..

    May 5, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. censorship

    Send in the drones. Send in the drones. They are already here.

    May 5, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mohammad A Dar

    perhaps drone use started during the bush administration because drones were invented during the bush administration...........

    wait that makes too much sense.
    Posted by: slozomby------------–Drones were invented before Bush time. Only thing, mushroomed was the conservative ignorance. A proud contribution of Bush, Chennai.

    May 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. slozomby

    perhaps drone use started during the bush administration because drones were invented during the bush administration...........

    wait that makes too much sense.

    May 5, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Mohammad A Dar

    i do not believe we started this terror war. if the terror stopped i bet the drone strikes would stop also. i am against all war and when i read history there always seems to be some force [ hitler ] that has to be stopped with force. i wish we had drones in WW11.
    Posted by: dr,v--------------No body else has to judge, if a person makes his choice in truth. 9/11 was not an action but a reaction, one has to remember the action he took to invite the reaction, It is forgivable, if person admits it and rectifies. but denial of it will not make the problem, go away. Complaining or treating the symptoms does no good, unless causes have been taken care of. Take care of the causes, symptoms and illness will go away.

    May 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Mohammad A Dar

    something up in order to prove they are not innocent? It is guilt by association in my opinion. If they truely are innocent and don't want to be guilty, then they should move to another area that isn't filled with radical nuts. That is what I would do if the population of Oregon became 90% radical terrorists.
    Posted by: D in Oregon---------------–Do you mean, 9/11 and other attacks are justified. do you agree with them,presumption of guilt by association is justified. If this is the case, probably you have no case against them.

    May 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  18. dr,v

    i do not believe we started this terror war. if the terror stopped i bet the drone strikes would stop also. i am against all war and when i read history there always seems to be some force [ hitler ] that has to be stopped with force. i wish we had drones in WW11.

    May 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Mohammad A Dar

    May 5th, 2010
    2:05 am ET

    Remember that Ishmael is Abraham's 1st born son but, born of a handmaid not a Godl'y wife. Isacc was born of Abraham's God given & lawfull wife. GOD did bless them both but, in differant ways. True we are half brothers & we have differant purposes here on earth according to GOD's plan; it would do all involved some good to read about their/our history.
    May GOD Bless & keep us all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!---------–Life begins with the man, not the woman. Masters Isacc and Ishmael were of the same seed. There is no difference in seed of one man. There is nothing more for one and there is nothing less for other. They were the children of our parents, Adam and Eve. They are our brother and of equal status as human being. They were chosen, we are not. Greatness is not in birth, but in obedience of God as was commanded by the masters, our master and our Imams., peace be upon them. Massage of obedience of the truth, not of the desires. May Allah the merciful, bless us to decide every thing by the Truth, not a reason, because every one of us is created equal. The day you are ready to implement the truth, Muslim will not be far behind. Ba Izan Allah. By the will of the limit most high. The Truth.

    May 5, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  20. jkantor267

    The difference is that the use of Drones shows just what a hypocrite Obama is. He uses them because they are out of sight and out of mind of the News Media. But he's not really willing to do what it takes to win the war. And so soldiers die for nothing – and Afghanistan will fall back into medievalism.

    May 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  21. D in Oregon

    I have to disagree Smith in Oregon. I would venture to say that there are very few if any innocent villages in the that area of Pakistan. I don't think there are many people in that area who either have not already taken up arms against the west or support those who have taken up arms. I don't agree with killing innocent people and I agree that when it happens it can create more problems. However, how would you have the military fight? Wait until they come over to Afganistan or America and shoot at someone or blow something up in order to prove they are not innocent? It is guilt by association in my opinion. If they truely are innocent and don't want to be guilty, then they should move to another area that isn't filled with radical nuts. That is what I would do if the population of Oregon became 90% radical terrorists.

    May 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Real Officer

    Tracking, thats what you get paid for. I am right there with you. But if I can take you over and bring you back, that is even better. The UAVs are a great asset, but like you said this is what we get paid to do.

    May 5, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  23. davec

    Beware of making war too easy and less costly in terms of US human lives.

    May 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Real soldier

    "without putting our soldiers in harms way"

    Dude, that's what we get paid for. That's what we train for. That's what we do!

    Predator's... pffft.

    May 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  25. jc

    It is unfortunate that civilians get caught in a hostile environment but if the blame is to be set upon anyone it should be the antagonists. How do you do that when one side claims invasion and one claims self-defense? Islam claims persecution across the globe but at the same time, most of the countries tied up in a conflict with Islam is doing so out of retaliation for something the radicals initiated on them in the first place. Why is it that Islam feels the need to impose it's will on the rest of the world? How many other religions use death and destruction as a platform to do that? One might argue that Christians do the same thing, but I have yet to hear even one claim that America is in the middle east in the name of God. On the contrary, America is more and more denouncing God and the leader is actually endorsed and supported by the same people who demand seperation of church and state, so, that seems illogical to me. Now if Obama was crying for the destruction of all Arabs or Muslims because God demands it (like the majority of Muslim leaders) then Yes I could catagorize Christians with Islamists but so far that hasn't happened.

    May 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Heuib

    Steve – I am sure they would use chemical, biological, and nuclear if they could get ahold of those items. And an enormous technological advantage is what we are striving for. We do not intend to fight a fair or even fight.

    May 5, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Steve

    Taking the human out of warfare, takes the possibility or demand for peace out of warfare as well.

    Also, I know this 'protects Americans by taking them out of harms way', but I feel that we are assuming such an enormous technological advantage that we will force the enemy to seek out non-conventional weapons like chemical, biological or God forbid; nuclear.

    Look at this from their perspective: it's like War of the Worlds for them, and if we were in their shoes, you bet we'd be looking for the biggest, baddest weapon imaginable to try and level the playing field.

    May 5, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  28. Iraq Paramedic

    Steven McReady, yes I am a paramedic & have been on the streets of large American cities on 911 ambulances, worked night shifts in emergency rooms of hospitals & been on offshore oil rigs as a paramedic & now over here. My personal experiances of having my hands on the newly dead, dieing & severly injuried have only strengthened my belief in GOD & his son JESUS CHRIST. It is quite comforting to know that after witnessing a mans brains all over the walls & cieling of his residence & then having to tell his family that GOD will listen to me & calm me so I can go on to the next call. It is hard some times to realize that it all is part of his ultimate plan but, that is a conversation for another forumn.
    May GOD Bless & keep us all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 5, 2010 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  29. Steven MacReady

    Are you sure you're a paramedic, Iraq Paramedic? You sound more like a freaking chapalin to me.

    May 5, 2010 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  30. Iraq Paramedic

    Remember that Ishmael is Abraham's 1st born son but, born of a handmaid not a Godl'y wife. Isacc was born of Abraham's God given & lawfull wife. GOD did bless them both but, in differant ways. True we are half brothers & we have differant purposes here on earth according to GOD's plan; it would do all involved some good to read about their/our history.
    May GOD Bless & keep us all !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 5, 2010 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  31. Mohammad A Dar

    An excellent way to kill more enemies without putting our soldiers in harms way.
    Posted by: Dan in Lafayette,IN-----------Excellence is in truth, not in a reason or fabrication, No body excels more in criminality, than a criminal, pretending to be beneficent, but in reality a manipulating crook.

    May 4, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Dan in Lafayette,IN

    An excellent way to kill more enemies without putting our soldiers in harms way.

    May 4, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Mohammad A Dar

    An excellent way to make more enemies.

    May 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cyrus Howell

      America will take a chance. It has no fear of cowardly Islamic big mouths.
      Perhaps the Afghans would have drones themselves if they had fought World War II, and were not still stuck in the 8th century.
      They still are unaware the razor blade has been invented.

      July 13, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  34. Smith in Oregon

    Unfortunately the extremely poor vetting being used in evidence of the large numbers of innocent civilians killed, unknown people being targeted and simply poor directional information makes me wonder if Dick Cheney's old cronies are still pulling the puppet strings in the vetting conferences which green light the targets of the hell fire missiles.

    Blasting a innocent village family by mistake directly translates to 100 or more previously neutral residents to take up arms against America in revenge. And they'll target any American tourist, journalist or soldier they can find. Time and time again there have been public apologies for poor vetting resulting in a wrongful hellfire missile attack. Such happens, however the unintended blow back can have long lasting regional problems which is seldom ever considered.

    May 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |