As the CIA increases the number of drone attacks in Pakistan, more militants are being killed—but of those militants, few appear on a list of most-wanted terrorists. The number of noteworthy leaders being killed by the Predator strikes appears to be dropping, or barely increasing, year by year. Last year, independent estimates show 581 militants were killed, but just two of those were high-ranking. There are more generous estimates, indicating 13 “high-value targets” were killed, but even that number is low for a year in which a record 118 drone strikes were carried out—at a price tag of more than $1 million each.
Senior Pakistani officials have asked Washington “to find better targets, do it more sparingly, and be a little less gung-ho,” one official tells the Washington Post. But even though the drone campaign, which once focused on leaders, now appears to be focused on foot soldiers, US officials insist the strikes are still critical to keeping the US safe. Says one, “To use a military analogy, if you're only going after the generals, you're likely to be run over by tanks.” On the good-news front, fewer civilians are being killed even as the number of strikes has increased. One estimate puts the civilian fatality rate at 6% last year, down from 25% in 2004, and the CIA believes no civilians have been killed in six months.