- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2010

An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) oppose U.S. drone strikes and military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban in the lawless region along the Afghan border, according to a new survey.

The unprecedented poll, conducted by the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow, found more than three-quarters of FATA residents oppose U.S. drone strikes, and nearly nine out of every 10 people polled oppose the U.S. military pursuing al Qaeda and the Taliban in the region.

On Friday, insurgents set fire to more than two dozen NATO fuel tankers in southern Pakistan. The tankers were carrying fuel for coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The attack took place a day after Pakistan shut off a key supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan in retaliation for an incursion by a NATO helicopter that allegedly killed three Pakistani soldiers.

The supply route at Torkham remained closed on Friday.

While opposed to U.S. military action, FATA residents do not embrace al Qaeda or the Taliban and believe the Pakistani army alone should tackle these militants.

More than three-quarters of them actually oppose al Qaeda’s presence in the region and more than two-thirds oppose the Pakistan Taliban.

The poll found opposition to the U.S. military with almost six in 10 surveyed saying suicide attacks against American troops are justified.

A majority of the suicide bombers in Afghanistan come from the FATA.

Predator drone strikes executed by the U.S. in FATA fuel the anti-U.S. sentiment.

The Obama administration has escalated the covert drone program over the past few months.

The drones are operated from Pakistani territory and strikes are planned after robust intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Pakistani agencies.

U.S. and Pakistani officials say the drone strikes have been effective in taking out militants.

But a majority of Pakistanis say the missiles are killing innocent civilians.

Forty-eight percent of those surveyed in the FATA said the drones largely kills civilians; 16 percent said they thought the drones accurately target militants; and another 33 percent said they kill both civilians and militants.

Nearly 70 percent of FATA residents polled in the survey said they want the Pakistani military alone to fight Taliban and al Qaeda militants holed up in the tribal areas.

Anti-U.S. opinion appears to be directed at the U.S. military and not America itself.

Almost three-quarters of the people surveyed said their opinion of the U.S. would improve if the U.S. provided more visas for FATA residents, scholarships to study in America, withdrew its military from Afghanistan or brokered a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The survey was conducted from June 30 to July 20 and is the result of face-to-face interviews with 1,000 FATA residents.

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