US Predator drone strikes in Pakistan have been on target 10 times out 60
According to a report by Amir Mir, published in Pakistan’s The News, US drone strikes have mostly missed targeted al-Qaeda leaders. The study covers a period between 14 January 2006 and 8 April 2009.
Out of 60 Predator strikes, 10 hit their intended target, killing 14 members of al-Qaeda in addition to 687 civilian deaths. According to these calculations, from the total number of deaths only about 2% of them were al-Qaeda.
This is a terrible track record and explains the fear, anger, and opposition from Pakistani citizens to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The US seems to be crippled by poor intelligence on legitimate targets but seems to follow through with attacks despite the poor intelligence. A significant portion of this intelligence is believed to be provided by local tribes people who are given cash rewards for this information.
I have not yet been able to find official calculations by the US military. This may not be available since the use of drones in Pakistan is classified and officials generally only speak of their overall tactical impact under condition of anonymity. A look at official statements immediately following a strike then retractions by US officials sometimes months later is enough to make my head spin with confusion. It’s not uncommon for claims to be made that al-Qaeda targets were killed only to be retracted or reduced in number and sometimes civilian casualties admitted after strong pressure and evidence contradicting these reports.
The militants in Pakistan have responded to US intelligence gathering from locals by kidnapping, torturing, and murdering people they accuse of spying for the US.
You can read the full article and breakdown of numbers here.
An article in McClatchy, by Jonathan S. Landay, reviews the issue from a slightly different perspective. The article quotes a US intelligence official saying:
The UAV strikes have had two unintended consequences.
First, al Qaida and the Taliban have used our use of unmanned aircraft in their propaganda to portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death. In their culture, and in the context of what they portray as a war between Western religions and Islam, that can be a powerful argument,
Second and not surprisingly,” he continued, “rather than sit around in the (tribal region) waiting for the next strike, some of the jihadis have moved into Pakistan proper, into Karachi and even into Punjab, where we can’t target them and where they’re in a better position to attack the Pakistani government.
Other military and intelligence officials that were interviewed expressed concern that “the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.”