Obama 18. The Results of the Drone Program 26.02.13
In my blog today I will quote extensively from the report by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (NYU Clinic) called “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan Acknowledgments” (SNYU Report). The Report came out at the end of 2012 and has been the most comprehensive critical report of the Drone Program of the Obama Administration. The critique is summed up as follows:
The central justification for US drone strikes is that they are necessary to make the US safer by disrupting militant activity. Proponents argue that they are an effective, accurate, and precise tool to that end. However, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and efficacy of strikes, and the publicly available evidence that they have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. Considerable costs also have been documented. The under-accounted-for harm to civilians–injuries, killings, and broad impacts on daily life, education, and mental health–was analyzed in detail above, and must be factored as a severe cost of the US program. In addition, it is clear that US strikes in Pakistan foster anti-American sentiment and undermine US credibility not only in Pakistan but throughout the region. There is strong evidence to suggest that US drone strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivate attacks against both US military and civilian targets. Further, current US targeted killing and drone strike practices may set dangerous global legal precedents, erode the rule of law, and facilitate recourse to lethal force.
In this blog I will focus on the result of the Drone Program under the following headings:
1. Ratio of Militant:Civilian Deaths
2. Military and Political Results
3. Homeland Security
1. Ratio of Militant:Civilian Deaths
In a speech at the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies on "Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy," on 29 June 2011, John Brennan, Obama’s point man on counter-terrorism was recorded on C-Span as having claimed that, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop." Such a claim is just not credible. Fortunately, there are a multitude of sources that allow the claim to be checked.
John Brennan in his 2013 speech at the Woodrow Wilson Centre said: "In the course of the war in Afghanistan and the fight against al-Qaida, I think the American people expect us to use advanced technologies, for example, to prevent attacks on U.S. forces and to remove terrorists from the battlefield. We do, and it has saved the lives of our men and women in uniform. What has clearly captured the attention of many, however, is a different practice, beyond hot battlefields like Afghanistan, identifying specific members of al-Qaida and then targeting them with lethal force, often using aircraft remotely operated by pilots who can be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away."
Was the strategy of killing off members of al Qaeda successful? At what cost?
Brian Katulis and Peter Juul of theCenter for American Progress declared that "Destroying Al Qaeda" has been "America’s Greatest National Security Accomplishment in Decades." (I November 2011) "The Al Qaeda network over the past three years suffered its greatest losses since the United States and its allies evicted the terrorist organization from Afghanistan in 2001…Hardly a week goes by without some key figure in the Al Qaeda network and its affiliates being targeted in a range of actions, including drone strikes as well as other actions by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent attacks and degrade the Al Qaeda network. The damage done to Al Qaeda by the Obama administration represents America’s greatest national security success since the fall of the Soviet Union and the peaceful integration of Eastern European countries in the 1990s."
How can the US know that they have killed a targeted al Qaeda militant without an ability to conduct post-strike investigations on the ground? In fact, without such investigations, how can the US know how many civilians have been killed if they claim that the collateral damage has been very limited? How does the Obama administration define a militant and differentiate a civilian from a militant? Before we answer that, I will first examine some fairly reliable reports on the body count.
In the Brookings Institute Afghanistan Index prepared by Ian Livingston and Michael O`Hanlan dated 31 July 2012, on p. 32 there are two charts (Figures 5.3 and 5.4) that show, first the monthly unarmed drone attacks in Pakistan and in the second chart an estimate of the total number of deaths from US drone strikes in Pakistan from 2006 to 24 July 2012. The latter figures are mostly taken from Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “Revenge of the Drones,” New America Foundation, 19 October 2009 and a follow-up study, “The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010,” 24 February 2010. There are no parallel figures for the results of fatalities from attacks by piloted aircraft, either because there were none or because drone attacks were seen to belong to a special category. I reproduce the chart below:
Deaths (low) Deaths (high)
Several observations can be immediately drawn. First, the attacks accelerated in 2008 even before Obama took office with Bush`s orders to use Predator and Reaper drones instead of boots on he ground, and expanded again when Obama took office in 2009, reaching a peak in 2010. Second, if the chart is to be believed, the accuracy greatly improved in killing militants compared to the deaths of non-combatants. In 2008, for every militant killed, another civilian died as collateral damage. In 2012, no civilians were killed. In between, the accuracy of killing militants significantly improved though it was not perfect as Brennan claimed. A third observation: the results look too good. At first glance, they are not credible. Who was counted as a militant? When you send a tomahawk missile raining down on the home of a militant, how is it that no wives or children were killed?
The SNYU Report is even more critical, challenging the US narrative of minimal collateral damage. “The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.” The Brookings top end figures were 2,887 killed. The estimated average killed in the TBIJ report was 2,943, or 60 more than the top figure in the Brookings Report, a 2% difference, well within any margin of error. Civilian deaths in the Brookings report were 529 at the top end versus an average of 664 in the TBIJ Report, or about 25% higher. While the SNYU Report criticized the use of the oversimplified civilian/“militant” binary, it relied on precisely that binary in championing the TBIJ Report figures. I will come back to that binary in the discussion of the legal authority for the use of drones in my next blog.
The SNYU Report stated baldly that the government narrative of accuracy and relatively little collateral damage is false. However, if the figures the SNYU Report cites are to be believed, that depiction is accurate for 2011 and certainly for 2012. While acknowledging the existence of real threats in the Pakistani border areas and the need for defence, “in light of significant evidence of harmful impacts to Pakistani civilians and to US interests,” the Report concluded that “current policies to address terrorism through targeted killings and drone strikes must be carefully re-evaluated.”
Let us re-evaluate the militant/civilian ration of deaths assuming the slightly higher TBIJ figures. Ignoring the significant decline in the number of civilians killed, we are talking about an average of 74 civilians killed per year and 1 civilian killed per 4 militants.
Perhaps one should re-evaluate the use of drones and targeted killings, but hardly on the basis of the SNYU Report of civilians killed as collateral damage. Based on other war zones and comparative rates of civilian deaths to militant deaths, these figures frankly look amazing. One may be justly appalled at the damage on a personal level, but in comparative terms to any other military conflict, these figures are hard to believe, not for how bad they are but for how good they are. In the Korean War, two civilians were killed for every soldier. In WWII, the ratio was 3.2:1. In Vietnam, the ratio was 2:1. In the 1982 Lebanon War, the ratio was at least 4:1. In the series of wars in former Yugoslavia, the best estimated ratio was 1:1. In the militant actions of Palestinians on Israel in the first Intifada, the ratio of civilian to military deaths was 5:1. Only in Gaza did the ratio of militants to civilians killed reach an unprecedented low level of 1 civilian for every 30 militants. However, subsequently in Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza War, in my analysis, the ratio was 1:3 and in the Palestinian estimates, the ratio was reversed using similar totals but categorizing the deaths differently. If the US achieved a 1:4 ratio of civilian to militant deaths, especially if the ratio kept improving over nine years, this should be regarded as a very positive achievement.
Further, if one added to the numbers a large number of "spies" killed by al Qaeda itself to uproot alleged informers, then the number of militants indirectly killed by the program could be further increased. Then why the expression of such outrage by many on the "left"? Drones are a safer way of executing terrorists than employing ground troops according to then White House Counter Terrorism advisor John Brennan, who went on later to confirm that currently civilian causalities are "exceedingly rare". Clare Cullen argued that this was only the case because the CIA’s definition of a “combatant” is so broad that it effectively means anyone killed in a drone strike, as long as they are “military-age males” can be classified as a combatant. (Clare Cullen "Obama’s Drone Wars strain the liberal principles he espoused in 2008" iPolitics, 8 June 2011) If the use of "signature strikes" become more common that target people because they have the profile of a militant rather than because they have been individually identified as such, then the ratio of killing more militants than civilians improves, but only because of re-categorizing those killed.
I have no doubt that living under the threat of drones hovering above until it locates its target is terrorizing “giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities”. I also have no doubt that when Tomahawk or Hellfire missiles reach their targets that the property damage is considerable and that a number of civilians are injured as well. These attacks disrupt lives, livelihoods and cultural patterns. In sum, collateral damage goes well beyond the civilians killed and the property destroyed to disrupt the way of life of the civilian population in the target zone. War is, indeed, hell!
What about the claims of the SNYU Report that repeated efforts to kill high-level targets have killed civilians each time so that, in order to measure the principle of discrimination, the total of civilians killed for an individual target over multiple attempts should be calculated? The answer is straightforward. The risk of collateral damage has to be calculated for each individual action. The overall totals are simply an indicator, and only an indicator, of whether those individual decisions were reasonable. As well they serve as a measure for assessing the overall war effort and whether the actions accord with just war norms.
The real issue does not really arise when one or two individual civilians are killed as collateral damage, but when mistakes are made. This is true of all wars. Thus, the attempt to kill the head of the Pakistani Taliban, resulted not only in his wife being killed, but in dozens of civilian deaths in four earlier failed attempts.
A year earlier, a drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, while he was visiting his father-in-law; his wife was vaporized along with him. But the US had already tried four times to assassinate Mehsud with drones, killing dozens of civilians in the failed attempts. One of the missed strikes, according to a human rights group, killed 35 people, including nine civilians, with reports that flying shrapnel killed an eight-year-old boy while he was sleeping. Another blown strike, in June 2009, took out 45 civilians, according to credible press reports. (SNYU Report)
There are three other reasons, however, for distrusting the figures and ratios. Without ground spotters to report on the numbers killed on the ground, how could you possibly have accuracy?
The accuracy of a drone strike fundamentally hinges on the accuracy of the intelligence on which the targeting is premised. That intelligence has often been questioned. An anonymous US official cited by Tom Junod in his August 2012 Esquire article admitted that “[y]ou get information from intelligence channels and you don’t know how reliable it is or who the source was. The intelligence services have criteria, but most of the time the people making the decision have no idea what those criteria are.” (SNYU Report)
Second, given the record of errors in getting the individual targeted, even one where the collateral damage was to American service men killed by "friendly fire" – "In April 2011, for example, US forces used a predator drone to fire upon and kill two American soldiers in Afghanistan who had apparently been mistaken for Taliban fighters." Not all civilian collateral damage belongs to the same group as the enemy. But the main focus is on non-American civilians.
In September 2010, US special forces bombed the convoy of Zabet Amanullah, a candidate in parliamentary elections, killing him along with nine fellow election workers; US forces reportedly mistakenly believed Amanullah to be a member of the Taliban. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been documented cases of opportunistic informants providing false tips to settle scores, advance sectarian or political agendas, or to obtain financial reward. For example, in Guantanamo, a reported 86 percent of those imprisoned were turned over to coalition forces in response to a bounty offered by the US. Pakistani and Afghan villagers reported the bounty amount was “[e]nough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life.
When errors are cumulative, the ratio of civilian:militant deaths seems much worse.
Although proclaimed dead in January 2009 and again in September 2009, Ilyas Kashmiri, the alleged head of Al Qaeda’s paramilitary operations in Pakistan, gave an interview to a Pakistani journalist in October that same year. Our research team spoke with a survivor of the September 2009 strike in which Kashmiri was initially reported to have died. That survivor, Sadaullah Wazir, who was 15 years old or younger at the time of the strike, lost both his legs and an eye in the strike. Kashmiri was again proclaimed dead in June 2011, but even this account has been contested. Similarly, Abu Yahya Al-Libi, declared to be Al Qaeda’s #2 or #3, was thought killed in a December 2009 drone strike, only to be reportedly killed more than three years later in June 2012. Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone has also traced the multiple US attempts to strike the TTP’s former leader Baitullah Mehsud.
There is also the issue of the number of high level versus low level targets. There can be no question that, by the law of averages, the majority of those killed had to be lower level targets. In a May 2010 article by Adam Entous, he claimed that US spokesman told him that by that time “only 14 top-tier leaders of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other militant groups” had been killed as well as “two dozen high-to-mid-level leaders”; 90% were low-level fighters. Why would anyone expect any better results? If 2500 are killed and 25 (1%) are high-level targets and another 225 (9%) are mid-level targets, that is not abnormal for regular or asymmetrical warfare.
Between 2004 and 2007 only four senior al Qaeda commanders were killed: Nek Mohammed, a senior Taliban commander in South Waziristan in 2004; Abu Hamza Rabia, al Qaeda’s operational commander in 2005 on 1 December; Imam Asad, a Chechen who served as camp commander of bin Laden’s elite personal security force, killed 1 March 2006; Liaquat Hussain, second in command of the Bjour TNSM killed 30 October 2006. In 2008, assassinations picked up noticeably with Bush’s employment of drones; 19 al Qaeda leaders were killed in 2008 alone. More specifically, the high-level al Qaeda targets killed included: Abu Laith al Libi, senior military commander in Afghanistan of al Qaeda’s Shadow Army killed 29 January, except that his death was also declared in December 2009 and then again in June 2012; Abu Sulayman Al Jazairi, an Algerian leader and in charge of the external network of al Qaeda killed on 14 May in Pakistan; Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s WMD expert killed in South Waziristan 27 July, though he was previously thought to have been killed in January 2006; Khalid bin Abdul Rehman a local Taliban commander and a rumoured potential successor to second in command Abu Zaid-al-Kuwaiti killed by a Predator drone attack 13 August; Abu Haris a senior al Qaeda military commander from Syria who had just become al Qaeda’s Operations Chief in the Tribal areas was killed 8 September; Khalid Habib commander of the Shadow Army on 13 October; Abu Jihad Al Masri, leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and head of al Qaeda intelligence, 31 October; Abdullah Azzam Ala Saudi the liaison officer between al Qaeda and the Taliban on 19 November; Abu Zubair Al Masri, an explosive expert killed 21 November. In 2009, 17 more were killed including: Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan wanted for planning the US Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings killed 1 January; Osama Al Kini, Pakistan operations chief and also a planner of the American Tanzanian and Kenyan embassy bombings, killed on 1 January as well; Abu Musa al Masri, a senior explosives expert and trainer killed 21 October. In the next 3 years and 2 months, an additional 48 top level and middle level al Qaeda were killed. (See The Long War Journal, "Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004-2013" http://www.longwarjournal.org/pakistan-strikes-hvts.php) In the next blog, I will discuss whether the policy of decapitation itself is prudent, legal and ethical.
Alexander Downes argues that the drone program had become an attrition rather than decapitation program since many of the old high level targets have been killed. ("The Truth About Obama’s Drone Campaign: It’s About Attrition, Not Decapitation," Politics, 01.19.13) "Drone strikes are mostly killing low-level Pakistani militants, not al Qaeda leaders. This strategy is unlikely to cause the collapse of al Qaeda or even the Pakistani Taliban and may have counterproductive effects. Obama’s second term may therefore require new thinking on drones." Is the evaluation necessary because of the cost? If the collateral damage has been reduced significantly, what reason is there for stopping the program even if the ratio of lower level militants rises? Does killing of enemy militants increase recruitment?
If killing enemies increases the recruitment of others, then all war efforts are useless except in wars aimed at totally exhausting the human fire power on the other side. Further, there is a difference between aiming to disrupt and weaken an enemy structure and forcing it to disintegrate. There is no indication that Obama has that totalist kind of optimistic goal. Rather, what is envisioned is a long term attrition war until the extreme militants see the futility of their efforts.
The critics who argue either that decapitation is counter-productive because new leadership quickly springs up to replace those killed and/or that the efforts to kill militants only stimulate more anger and resentment, particularly when civilians are killed, and thus attract new recruits to the cause, then have the responsibility to articulate an alternative way of dealing with militants. In the end, it would appear that the alternative is retreat and withdrawal of support from more moderate regimes and allowing those regimes to fight their own battles against extremists. The problem then, if Iran is an example, militancy itself has no bounds and will inevitably clash either in the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean, partner Muslim majority countries and areas such as Israel-Palestine or former Yugoslavia. These, however, are larger strategic issues, so I will return to the grounded question of numbers.
If the above figures are accurate, then the Obama regime has figured out how to use drones to watch and wait for their targets over extended periods of time and then use precision-guided missiles to kill the target while, at the same time, minimizing collateral damage. The increasing percentage of Taliban leaders compared to al Qaeda may indicate that the decapitation program has been successful if only in scattering the remnants of al Qaeda. Though the Taliban and al Qaeda do not have the same objectives, and although the Taliban do not target America as America but only as occupiers, the Taliban still host the al Qaeda terrorists.
2. Military and Political Results
What about measurements of other results. Has the threat from al Qaeda been reduced? Has its prime effort in the media war been decimated, especially since al Qaeda`s release of videotapes has all but disappeared from the airwaves? Has the attack on terrorists turned Pakistani public opinion against the United States?
When Pakistan’s Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam visited America in August 2012, he told the then-CIA Director David Petraeus that predator strikes are proving counterproductive, giving a greater incentive to fundamentalist and extremist elements in Pakistan and increasing anti-U.S. sentiments among the people. (Saijad Shaukat "Killing Civilians: Obama’s Drone War in Pakistan: Illegal, Unethical, Violating Sovereignty and the UN Charter," Global Research, 14 December 2012) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated the same points after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 21 September: following these illegal and counterproductive strikes and when Pakistanis rather than foreigners are killed, public antagonism is aroused against the "U.S. War". President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan made the same point addressing the UN General Assembly on 25 September: if drone attacks provoke the tribal people in North Waziristan against Pakistan’s security forces, if they create the grounds for increased recruitment, then “Drone strikes and civilian casualties on our territory add to the complexity of our battle for hearts and minds through this epic struggle.”
Public opinion polls indicate that anti-US sentiment has risen is Pakistan.
Despite the vast foreign aid the US has invested in Pakistan, a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude project found that 74% of Pakistanis consider the US an enemy, up from 64% three years ago. Only 45% of Pakistanis felt it important to improve relations with the US, down from 60% the previous year, and fewer support cooperation or even receiving aid from the US.
US drone strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. A 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude project found that only 17% of Pakistanis supported drone strikes. And remarkably, among those who professed to know a lot or a little about drones, 97% considered drone strikes bad policy. As numerous analysts have noted, “[i]f the price of the drone campaign that increasingly kills only low-level Taliban is alienating 180 million Pakistanis–that is too high a price to pay.” (SNYU Report)
The unpopularity of the drone program goes well beyond Pakistan.
In 17 of the 20 countries polled by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the majority of those surveyed disapproved of US drone attacks in countries like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Widespread opposition spans the globe, from traditional European allies such as France (63% disapproval) and Germany (59% disapproval) to key Middle East states such as Egypt (89% disapproval) and Turkey (81% disapproval).
Pakistani’s highest government officials do not appear to be speaking out of two sides of their mouths, quietly acceding to the drone attacks while vociferously attacking them in public. Why would they take such a tack on American soil? Were they just warning the Americans to be more accurate in their targeting? After all, the drone attacks were taking out increasingly higher numbers of Taliban than of al Qaeda. They certainly seemed much more concerned about the program than its accuracy. Pakistani military had been attacked and 100 military personnel had been killed over the previous two years. Suicide attacks from the tribal areas were increasingly launched in the heart of Pakistan’s major cities. Were the political leaders merely trying to offload the blame for these attacks on the USA and using these to explain why quiet diplomacy and the rapprochement initiative with the Taliban leaders had not worked?
The fragile Pakistani state may have been further weakened by the drone program. Public opinion in Pakistan may have turned even more against America. However, there is also evidence suggesting other problems are much more worrisome to Pakistanis. Certainly, every time another car bomb explodes in Pakistan, increasing numbers of cries arise in shriller and shriller tones that it is America, not al Qaeda, that is to blame. On the other hand, while Shuza Nawaz, the author of the history of the Pakistan military, Crossed Swords, argued that if attacks were diverted from the Tribal areas to Pakistan proper, America would have crossed a red line. However, even though the attack against bin Laden was less than a mile for a large Pakistani military base, the Pakistani response was relatively mute.
Further, there is plenty of evidence of increasing strife between Islamic militants and moderates throughout the region totally independent of the drone strikes. Look at the protests in Shahbag Square in Bangladesh about bringing people to justice for their war crimes while Islamists denounce the protests as anti-Islam. (Syed Zain al-Mahmood, "Bangladesh split as violence escalates over war crimes protests," The Observer, 23 February 2013) Further, evidence suggests that the Pakistani public has become more anti-Taliban than ever. The pro-Taliban parties received only 2% of the vote in the Pakistani elections. Of course the actions of the Taliban in their assassination campaign (Benazir Bhutto), the blowing up of the Marriott Hotel depicted in Zero Dark Thirty, the public flogging of the 17 year old girl, the execution of a young couple for adultery. All these activities provoked much more disgust aimed at the Taliban than any knee-jerk anti-Americanism instigated by American drone attacks in Waziristan.
In the Woodrow Wilson Center talk, Brennan insisted that the threat from al Qaeda had been reduced. “In Pakistan, al-Qaida’s leadership ranks have continued to suffer heavy losses. This includes Ilyas Kashmiri, one of al-Qaida’s top operational planners, killed a month after bin Laden [though he had previously been reported killed in January
2009]. It includes Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, killed when he succeeded Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida’s deputy leader. It includes Younis al-Mauritani, a planner of attacks against the United States and Europe, until he was captured by Pakistani forces.” Brennan continued. “With its most skilled and experienced commanders being lost so quickly, al-Qaida has had trouble replacing them.” Brennan even quoted bin Laden to support these conclusions: “The rise of lower leaders who are not as experienced and this would lead to the repeat of mistakes.” These results are supported by Daniel Byman (Georgetown University) and his studies of the effects on Hamas and Hezbollah of decapitation programs of the Israeli government. In Byman`s words, "you drive down the age and experience of the leadership." In February of 2008, even Dennis Blair Director of National Intelligence, who emerged as such a strong critic of the drone program, testified to Congress that al Qaeda was having great difficulty replacing the loss of key leaders.
Communication links have been broken. The number of places to train and groom the next generation of operatives has been significantly reduced. Contrary to the contention of the SNYU Report, Brennan, while admitting that new offshoots have been developed in other areas, al Quaeda was “struggling to attract new recruits. Morale is low, with intelligence indicating that some members are giving up and returning home, no doubt aware that this is a fight they will never win. In short, al-Qaida is losing badly.” He then quoted bin Laden again from documents captured in his compound acknowledging “disaster after disaster” and urging his subordinates to flee the tribal regions, and go to places “away from aircraft photography and bombardment.” But go where? Missile killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in Yemen on 30 September 2011; just weeks later, al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, was also killed.
Brennan continued. “It is harder than ever for al-Qaida core in Pakistan to plan and execute large-scale, potentially catastrophic attacks against our homeland. Today, it is increasingly clear that compared to 9/11, the core al-Qaida leadership is a shadow of its former self. Al-Qaida has been left with just a handful of capable leaders and operatives, and with continued pressure is on the path to its destruction. And for the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the al-Qaida core is simply no longer relevant.” In contrast to this interpretation on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of drones, former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, who was fired by Obama, claimed that, “[Al] Qaeda officials who are killed by drones will be replaced. The group’s structure will survive and it will still be able to inspire, finance and train individuals and teams to kill Americans.”
In an article by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann entitled "The Drone War" in the New Republic (3 June 2009) relaying how the drone war had been significantly accelerated since Obama became president, the authors asked whether, even if the drone war succeeded in decapitating many of the leaders and scattering them all over, had not the effort resulted in endangering Pakistan itself thereby both undermining American policy in the region as well only temporarily damaging al Quaeda. This is the BIG question and the one I am unable to answer.
There is one other effect of the drone back which I am now convinced is unstoppable. There is now a drone arms race underway. Further, drone warfare propably increases the readiness to resort to fire arms because of the significantly reduced risks to one’s own soldiers. Drones are a game changer. “There’s something important about putting your own sons and daughters at risk when you choose to wage war as a nation. We risk losing that flesh-and-blood investment if we go too far down this road.” (Administrative System, supra note 98 (“FATA . . . remains under the direct executive authority of the President (Articles 51, 59 and 247).” Quoted in SNYU Report).
“When politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter—and the impact the military casualties have on voters and on the news media—they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way…. [drones are] short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make.” ( Wasseem Ahmed Shah, FCR Reform Process Should Not Stop, Dawn (Aug. 15, 2011), http://dawn.com/2011/08/15/fcr-reform-process-should-not-stop/ Cited in SNYU)
3. Homeland Security
The most important and uncontentious result is that there have been NO successful attacks against the American homeland OR Europe since the drone program was accelerated and given priority. More importantly, no plots have been uncovered or even disrupted that have been forged in the Tribal areas.
However, attacks on the homeland are not the only consideration. One of the results is not only what happens on the battlefield but how it affects the hearts and minds of the folks back home. If they become disgruntled by a strategy, if they organize an effective vocal opposition, that alone undercuts the strategy because it enhances the morale of America’s enemies and makes them more determined to wait America out. Professor Jack Goldsmith of the Harvard Law School, a former assistant attorney general in the administration of George W. Bush, wrote: “The government needs a way to credibly convey to the public that its decisions about who is being targeted, especially when the target is a U.S. citizen, are sound. First, the government can and should tell us more about the process by which it reaches its high-value targeting decisions. The more the government tells us about the eyeballs on the issue and the robustness of the process, the more credible will be its claims about the accuracy of its factual determinations and the soundness of its legal ones. All of this information can be disclosed in some form without endangering critical intelligence.”
Brennan claimed to have answered that challenge in his Woodrow Wilson Centre speech. Goldsmith at first agreed with him, but on further reconsideration after further leaks, Goldstone opined, " There are actually at least two questions here: (1) Has the USG officially acknowledged CIA drone strikes?; and (2) Even if the USG has not officially acknowledged CIA involvement in the strikes, should it be required to do so in light of its manipulation of the secrecy system through extensive opportunistic leaks? On both issues I find myself increasingly in the ACLU camp." (Empty Wheel, 31 May 2912) Brennan had not shown, as he promised, that the vetting of targets was "painstaking" and "exhaustive".
This goes to the heart of the accountability issue to be discussed in the next blog, but has virtually no impact in determining whether the drone program was effective.
Tomorrow: Obama 19. Drones: The Normative Debate 27.02.13
drones, collateral damage, civilians killed, political fallout]