Taliban Execute American ‘Spies’
By William Tucker
Several media outlets are reporting that the Taliban have executed four American spies. The bodies of the suspected spies were found in the village of Mir Ali in North Waziristan accompanied with the note stating that, “Spies are spies, and they will come to the same fate as these men. Do not spy for America.” It is not news that the Taliban are executing individuals they suspect of spying, but it does give us an opportunity to discuss why the Taliban suspect they have spies in their midst.
The U.S. has been using unmanned aerial drones in strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan since at least 2004 with varying success, but things changed dramatically in 2008 with 19 high level commanders being struck in 2008. Since that substantial uptick the trend of successful airstrikes has continued with 14 high level commanders killed in 2009 and a further 8 killed thus far in 2010.* It goes without saying that this level of success has made the leadership of al-Qaeda and the Taliban very nervous.
Airstrikes are typically used to hit large enemy concentrations or a fixed target; that is a building or any other infrastructure that supports the command and control of your enemy. These drone strikes on the other hand are being used against specific individuals that move frequently making targeting incredibly difficult without actionable intelligence. In essence, what this means is human intelligence is crucial if these drone attacks are to be successful which explains why the Taliban are distracted by looking for spies. Furthermore, it is no mistake that the Pakistani Taliban struck at the CIA presence in Afghanistan that is suspected of directing the drone strikes.
Coming back to the question of the four American spies we are left with little evidence of their guilt or innocence, but if they were indeed acting on behalf of the U.S. then we can make sense of their actions. On the other hand, if these individuals were innocent then the pressure of the strikes is certainly getting the best of the Taliban. Either way the drone strikes are working beyond the scope of killing high level leaders and adding a psychological aspect that is having a destabilizing effect.
*Numbers of those killed by drone strikes only reflects high level leader. The actual amount of those killed has been the subject of debate. All numbers taken from information available at The Long War Journal.
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