Saturday, November 15, 2008

Breathing Space

President Bush has warned President-elect Obama of the threat of al Qaeda attacks during the presidential transition:

President Bush has repeatedly described the acute vulnerability of the US during a transition. The Bush Administration has been defined largely by the 9/11 attacks, which came within a year of his taking office.

His aides have pointed to al-Qaeda’s first assault on the World Trade Centre, which occurred little more than a month after Bill Clinton became President in 1993. There was an alleged attempt to bomb Glasgow airport in Gordon Brown’s first days in Downing Street and a London nightclub attack was narrowly thwarted.

This places our Predator missile strikes in Pakistan's lawless frontier areas the last few months or so in a different light:

In the last three months, there have been over 20 U.S. missile strikes (usually with 107 pound Hellfires launched from Predator or Reaper UAVS) in Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda have tried to respond to each of these attacks with a suicide bombing, but have only managed one such attack for every two or three Hellfire strikes. Pakistan is running another public relations campaign in support of these Hellfire attacks. It goes like this. These Hellfire missile attacks are not popular with most Pakistanis, who see these UAV operations as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. At the same time, Pakistan wants the attacks to continue, as the Hellfire missiles have killed dozens of key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders so far this year. This has helped make it possible for the Pakistani army to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda bases in Pakistan, without taking heavy casualties (and the risk of being forced to call off the attacks because of that).

Not only are we killing enemy leaders, we are provoking them to use their assets against Pakistan instead of saving them for use against us. And by attacking Pakistanis, the jihadis give the Pakistani government justification to continue heavy-handed punitive raids into jihadi-infested tribal areas.

Rather than being a last-ditch effort to get bin Laden, I'd bet that our missile strikes are an effort to disrupt the enemy in preparation for this transition. [NOTE: I was puzzled about the motivation for strikes in this post.]