The assassination took place six days after President Barack Obama gave a widely publicized speech at the National Defense University announcing the administration’s plan to reduce drone attacks, as well as place the strikes under new, more “transparent” guidelines.
The remote-controlled airstrikes are deeply resented by a majority of Pakistanis. At the end of 2012, 80 percent reported an “unfavorable” view of the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center survey.
The drone killings were protested both by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the popular but defeated candidate Imran Khan, a former cricket star. Khan said if he was prime minister, he would order Pakistan’s air force to shoot down any drones that entered the country’s airspace.
“President Obama embraced drone strikes in his first term,” the New York Times wrote May 21, “and the targeted killing of suspected terrorist has come to define his presidency.”
Drone attacks in Pakistan were greatly expanded under Obama, but have declined over the last two years.
Estimates of the numbers killed range as high as 3,343. Estimates of civilians killed varies widely, as U.S. officials have labeled all military-aged males “combatants.” In addition, Obama has significantly escalated the number of what are called “signature strikes,” which target groups of unknown people whose observed patterns of behavior fit a profile of suspect activity.
The number of drone strikes in Yemen has fallen in half over the last year and there has been no drone assassinations recorded in over a year in Somalia.
In his May 23 speech, Obama argued that under the “war on terror” targeted assassinations were “effective,” “legal” and “just.” However, he said, today that war is being won, and drone strikes can be used more narrowly.
Selection of targets would be more transparent, he said. Killing could be avoided in cases where capture and interrogation was possible. Assassination would be ordered only when there was the threat of continuing and immediate harm to American lives, where no other government would take action and where there was “near certainty” of no collateral damage.
Obama said these goals were recorded in a new Presidential Policy Guidance he signed the day before. However, that document on the new “transparency” of drone protocol is top secret.
Since the talk, comments of administration officials have been more circumspect about the new drone assassination guidelines, particularly in the “Afghanistan theater of war,” which is assumed to include Pakistan. Here, all restrictions are off until the war there is “over.” And they remain under CIA control, with oversight and sometimes direct involvement of the president.
After the assassination of ur-Rehman, the U.S. refused to publicly confirm or deny any responsibility.
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