Former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command Anthony Zinni defends Pakistan drone strikes

10/18/12 Janelle Irwin
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Many people criticize the United State’s use of drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen because they often claim civilian lives. A retired Marine Corps General defends the strikes saying they are necessary to thwart terrorist activity.

Anthony Zinni is the former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command and a current peace envoy in the Middle East. Most of the deadly attacks have occurred in Pakistan. Zinni says that’s because it’s the epicenter of terrorism.

“We have the leadership of the Taliban – I’ve recently been out in Afghanistan – and the frustration of our troops on the ground is the leadership of the Taliban is in Pakistan, clearly. The things that cross the border besides just being led and controlled from Pakistan – things like suicide bombers being trained and the technology for IEDs and all that, it’s all put together in Pakistan and then transits the very porous border and very rugged terrain. So, the frustration is the sanctuary that is given there.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 900 civilians have been killed by nearly 350 drone strikes in Pakistan. One hundred and seventy six of those deaths are reported to be children.

“We go through great pains to ensure that we minimize any potential civilian causalities, or collateral damage as it’s known, and a lot of times the collateral damage is inflated – it’s not what it may seem to be.”

The U.S. government estimates civilian casualties far lower than the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. During a speech in April, chief counterterrorism adviser to President Barack Obama John Brennan explained that drone strikes can identify a specific target from a great distance, minimizing civilian casualties. But still, retired CENTCOM commander Zinni says the U.S. can do more to minimize those deaths by improving its relationship with Pakistan.

“The Pakistani military, which I know very well from my time in CENTCOM here going back a very long time, they’re not geared for this kind of conflict. They’re not – as much difficulty as we have with insurgencies and that sort of thing, it certainly is alien to them. They are a very conventional military. They basically were designed to face off against their perceived enemy in India. So, for them to go into the hills of Waziristan and fight this kind of conflict is very difficult. They don’t necessarily have the right equipment and training and leader education. So, the ways we can help – if they’re willing to do it and work with them in that area…”

There are still other questions involving the use of Drone Strikes, especially in Yemen and Pakistan. The U.S. Congress has not declared war on either country. Officials argue the use of the unmanned drones protects American lives by targeting suspected militants, but the U.S. defines a militant as any fighting aged male. Al Cardenas, chairs the American Conservative Union and is the former head of the Republican Party of Florida. Speaking before a U.S. Global Leadership Coalition event in Tampa with Zinni, he said drone strikes help keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

“Our engagements in the Middle East ought to be few and far between in terms of having our boots on the ground.”

Drones are controlled by “pilots” no where near the actual aircraft. That has been likened by critics to a video game where there seem to be no real consequences. Cardenas defended the use of unmanned drones because he says the risk is necessary for national security.

“You know of their military strikes when there are these terrorists camps being formed somewhere whose intention it is to kill our citizens, well, those are worthwhile, but surgical endeavors.”

Groups like Code Pink regularly protest the use of drones. Peace activists say it’s an issue that crosses party lines and criticize both Republicans and Democrats for misusing the technology. At a protest this summer, activists chanted the phrase “Obama’s drones kill more kids than Bush’s did”.

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