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U.S. drones in Pakistan: Both friend and foe

June 24, 2009 |  7:57 am

Pakistan, In the Waziristan province of Pakistan, a stronghold of the militant Taliban group, a U.S. drone killed more than 40 people and wounded dozens of others attending a funeral for a Pakistani who was killed earlier that day -- by a drone. 

Though there are conflicting reports over whether these casualties were civilians or Taliban militant fighters mourning the death of their comrade-in-arms, the fact remains that such an attack on a funeral will have a backlash, no matter who was hit.

The drone, according to Reuters, was gunning for Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban movement and the alleged plotter behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Of course, he escaped unharmed -- a familiar tag line in these tales.

Though the drones -- pilotless, missile-packing aircraft that patrol Pakistan's treacherous terrain -- are amazingly capable of spotting and hitting their targets, doing so at a funeral is only fanning the flames. Funerals are no less important a ceremony to Muslims and Pakistanis as they are to Americans. Is desecrating such an important cultural occasion -- Taliban or not -- a smart thing for the United States to do? 

While the drone's sortie Tuesday could be seen as making a dent in the Taliban militia, perhaps even more dangerous than the militia itself is the passionately angry sentiments that may come from such an attack -- and the retaliation that anger provokes.

--Catherine Lyons

Photo: Supporters of Islamic political party Jamat-e-Islami shout slogans in Peshawar Pakistan on April 24 during a protest against US drones attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border. Credit: Arshad Arbab / EPA

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