shutterstock_116770390

UPDATE:

A weekend news analysis piece in the New York Times highlights what some may call the unintended consequences of drone killings and which others may classify in the “you can’t win for losing” or “I’ll never understand” column.

Referring to the Friday drone killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who “was Public Enemy No. 1: a ruthless figure who devoted his career to bloodshed and mayhem, whom Pakistani pundits occasionally accused of being a pawn of Indian, or even American, intelligence,” Declan Walsh writes:

But after his death, it seems, Pakistani hearts have grown fonder.

Since missiles fired by American drones killed Mr. Mehsud in his vehicle on Friday, Pakistan’s political leaders have reacted with unusual vehemence. The interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, denounced the strike as sabotage of incipient government peace talks with the Taliban. Media commentators fulminated about American treachery. And the former cricket star Imran Khan, now a politician, renewed his threats to block NATO military supply lines through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — a province his Tehreek-e-Insaf party controls — with a parliamentary vote scheduled for Monday.

Walsh adds “[v]irtually nobody openly welcomed the demise of Mr. Mehsud, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians,” and “to some American security analysts, the furious reaction was another sign of the perversity and ingratitude that they say have scarred Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.”

Walsh explains that such equivocation is “rooted in a complex mix of psychology and politics that may be central to the way Pakistanis see their arch allies, the Americans,” that it may be partly a product of Pakistan’s own failure to counter a stubborn insurgency and may stem from Pakistan’s perception that the Pakistan-U.S. relationship is “a long story of treachery, abandonment and double-crossing.”

Walsh also mentions that Aafia Siddiqui, “a Pakistani woman who is serving an 86-year jail sentence in New York for trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan, is a virtual national hero, popularly known as the ‘daughter of the nation,” and that “[o]n the other side, Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year, making her an icon around the world, has been demonized in Pakistan, where she is regularly called a C.I.A. agent or a pawn of the West.”

Read more of Walsh’s interesting analysis here.

Original Post:

In an impassioned and valid comment about the loss of innocent lives as a result of military drone strikes, one of our readers pointed to an article where a “former high-ranking official from the Department of State claims that the mass loss of civilian life caused by American-launched drone strikes in Yemen are creating dozens of new militants with each attack.”

Nabeel Khoury, former deputy chief of mission in Yemen for the State Department, writes, referring to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula:

Drone strikes take out a few bad guys to be sure, but they also kill a large number of innocent civilians. Given Yemen’s tribal structure, the US generates roughly forty to sixty new enemies for every AQAP operative killed by drones.

The article clarifies: “[Khouri’s] ‘40-60 new enemies’ estimate was not scientifically drawn, but instead relied on his intimate knowledge of Yemeni society.”

Replying to the comment and while acknowledging the loss of innocent lives tragedy, I said:

As to the “creation” of “40” or more new militants (“terrorists”?), yes, I am a math major, but while I am sure that such tragedies create significant hate and resentment towards the United States, I honestly don’t think that anyone can put a number to it. But, as you say, “even 10 percent” is not good.

Coincidentally, in a piece yesterday, former CIA deputy director Philip Mudd writes in “The Truth—and Tragedy—of Drone Warfare” at TheDailyBeast.com:

Further, the argument that these weapons have created more terrorists than they have killed makes for more rhetoric than reality. Clearly, drone strikes result in high levels of anti-U.S. animosity. Animosity, though, does not equate to threat. The threat we face in North America today is substantially less than what we faced a decade ago, partly because of military operations that rooted out al Qaeda in Afghanistan; actions by sister security services that resulted in successes around the world; and excellent domestic intelligence work in Europe and North America. But behind the scenes, intelligence professionals across the board would agree that one key factor in the decade-plus effort to mitigate threat was simple: drones, and their capability to degrade of leadership and support networks.

Naturally, all kinds of alarms will go off and suspicion will set in when reading such a statement by a “former CIA official” — as should have also been the case when reading the counter-argument by “a former deputy chief of mission.” It probably depends on how one feels about “drone warfare” and the truth probably lies — as with most such controversies — somewhere in-between.

Nevertheless and regardless of how one feels about this issue, it may be informative to read Mudd’s take on this topic. A “take” in which Mudd admits that “[r]ecent human-rights reports have raised valid questions about the cost in civilian lives of drone warfare, with an overarching judgment that the U.S. has underestimated the civilian tragedy that results from these strikes,” but that we should also be cognizant of the “devastating impact drones have had on the al Qaeda network and the dangerous illusion that use of these ‘precision’ weapons somehow means that innocents will be spared in future conflicts.”

After pointing out — rightly or wrongly — that “[r]egardless of the shape of our debates about the use of drones, we should not lose sight of the fact that these weapons have saved more civilian lives than we will ever know in the face of an adversary that purposefully targets innocents,” that “regardless of the precision of ground weapons and air strikes by manned aircraft, these weapons have resulted in tragic loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan” and that “If we decide to use force, we should accept the consequences,” Mudd concludes by suggesting an area where those who oppose the use of drones and those who support their deployment may agree on:

We should stop calling them precision weapons, and stop suggesting that 21st century warfare will somehow prove more civilized than the wars of the past. War is tragic. And our decisions to deploy force, regardless of how precise 21st-century weapons systems become, should not grow any more casual because of some judgment that drones are a clean solution. They are a devastatingly effective tactical solution. But, like the weapons systems that arm ships, planes, and ground forces, they kill.

I emphasize “may” because I know that — as in many similar critical issues — Americans will continue to “healthily” disagree.

Read more here.

Image: www.shutterstock.com

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
Sort by:   newest | oldest
sheknows
Guest
sheknows
2 years 10 months ago

It’s time to confine drone use to desert and open area attacks of enemy personnel.

It is clearly not the weapon of choice for populated areas. The current people doing this either don’t care or simply don’t have the skills necessary to do this correctly.

Going to have to come up with something new.. make them much smaller,like insect size drones remotely controlled to a specific target and a very elite training program with much harder criteria.

We cannot continue to indiscriminately kill innocent civilians.

The_Ohioan
Guest
The_Ohioan
2 years 10 months ago
I’m reassured that this president is anything but casual about the use of these weapons. Certainly the number of civilians killed in this vs another type of warfare is less and that is the most important point for my money. Unless we desist from warfare against al Qaeda completely, civilians are going to be killed, as they are in every war. If we stop pursuing al Qaeda those civilians not killed by al Qaeda operatives themselves will be saved, but Western civilians will die instead. It’s a vicious maelstrom and there’s no way out – at this point. I would… Read more »
SteveK
Guest
SteveK
2 years 10 months ago

It’s time to confine drone use to desert and open area attacks of enemy personnel.

Yes, we certainly wouldn’t want any civilians to get hurt in our march to make the world a safer place to live… Now would we?

It’s a shame that anyone has to get hurt sheknows but I think The_Ohioan’s take on this situation is a more accurate overview of what is, and should be our nations priorities and policies.

petew
Guest
petew
2 years 10 months ago
To give sympathy to the devil, any American President (including GW Bush)along with the top military brass that directs any of our wars, must be scared to death of another 911 type strike allowed to happen under their watch. I would guess it is one thing to be a congressional Monday morning quarterback, but to actually sit in the oval office and contemplate how to protect innocent American lives, probably takes priority over considering the death of innocent civilians in Pakistan, or Afghanistan. I know its unsatisfying to rationalize human death in this way, but, for what its worth, civilians… Read more »
ShannonLeee
Guest
ShannonLeee
2 years 10 months ago

My question in all of this is about the damage the strikes are doing to terrorist networks. We kill number 1, number 2 steps in. We kill number 4, number 5 takes over. Are we playing wack a mole, going after whomever we have can kill in the top 10, or are we doing significant damage to terrorist networks? For every new terrorist we “create”, is the result of the strike strategically worthwhile?
I have no problem with the drone program, but it would be interesting to see an analysis of the strategy.

ShannonLeee
Guest
ShannonLeee
2 years 10 months ago

thanks for the links D, I saw the article online. Like in any organization, there are certain people that truly cannot be replaced and sometimes these folks are not at the top of the food chain. Sometimes it is better to let terrible leaders live.

sheknows
Guest
sheknows
2 years 10 months ago

Ok, ok, I get it. You guys all see this drone thing as the way to go. Actually, nit too long ago I agreed. ( see previous articles..lol). What changed my mind was the fact that too many civilians are dying and we do not hear of that. When we do, it is almost “leaked” information.
I am just not a fan of women and children being collateral damage in a technology that is supposed to be target specific. What happened to the specific part of that?

petew
Guest
petew
2 years 10 months ago
There is a hypothetical question that might place this dilemma in perspective—suppose that when Hitler was at the peak of his power and German troops occupied most of Europe—what if our intelligence had determined for certain that he was hiding within the walls of an elementary school in Berlin? What if we knew for certain that we could take him out with a massive bomb, but then we discovered that he was deliberately using the school children as a shield, hoping they would prevent an allied attack on him, based on humanitarian grounds? This would obviously be an agonizing decision… Read more »
JSpencer
Guest
JSpencer
2 years 10 months ago
We will NEVER win hearts and minds as the result of using drones. Sure, we can kill some high ranking terrorists (at least they are terrorists from our point of view) but how many innocent lives do we destroy for each one of those? Therein lies the problem. To the people of these countries such actions will ALWAYS make us the enemy. Btw, Hitler could have been stopped years before he was, not because the means were not available to do it, but because the political (and cultural) will wasn’t there to do it. Most people (especially the germans –… Read more »
JSpencer
Guest
JSpencer
2 years 10 months ago

Hitler was a phenomenon that appealed to a disgruntled germany at a specific time in it’s history, a sort of perfect (horrible) storm. Germany was looking for a cure to it’s economic problems and low national morale. Hitler took advantage of that and filled the vacuum. I don’t see any equivalent to a Hitler in Pakistan or Afghanistan – thank god.

DaGoat
Guest
DaGoat
2 years 10 months ago

@DDW

I truly envy those who have the certitude to unequivocally and unconditionally render judgments on such issues one way or another.

There is no reason to envy them, since they are too uninformed or rigid to see the moral quandary. It is inconsistent to say on the one hand “it is not OK to torture people even if it serves a greater good”, and on the other say “it is OK to blow up little children if it serves a greater good”.

Today
Guest
Today
2 years 10 months ago

Like most of us, I am sorry that “innocent” people are being killed by drone strikes. Criminals like the Mehsud types force innocents to hang out around them, which only proves how little they care about human life. However, it is a good reminder to all of us to not hang out with “bad” people. If you have something to lose, stay away from Mehsud types.

SteveK
Guest
SteveK
2 years 10 months ago

@everybody

I know one thing for certain… It’s better (and more humane) to use a drone strike to eliminate a terrorist leader than to carpet bomb an entire city in a failed effort to do the same.

The lack of comment on the video of our unilateral “shock and awe” attack on a city full of non-combatant citizens seems to indicate that others don’t seem to see a difference.

petew
Guest
petew
2 years 10 months ago
Da Goat, In the case of Syria, we have seen the constant slaughter of innocent civilians without an apparent end in sight, yet we, and the rest of the world, have demonstrated a lack of political will to intercede and remove Assad by force. So,this is another case where we have known for along time how crazy this leader is (slaughtering his own people on a massive scale)and we cannot really know what harm he will do in the future, if remaining in power. But, as with Hitler, we have failed to take the chance to end his influence, when… Read more »
DaGoat
Guest
DaGoat
2 years 10 months ago
DDW I think my position on torture is pretty much the same as during the Bush years, namely that in an extreme situation like the one you pose – imminent danger and some surety that the tortured has useful knowledge to avert the tragedy – it could be justified. Realistically that situation rarely occurs. I don’t think it should be used for fishing expeditions which is the way it sounds like it was being used. I also feel like there’s an added dimension to torture in that when you are a captor that implies a responsibility to treat your captive… Read more »
DaGoat
Guest
DaGoat
2 years 10 months ago

@petew

I did not support Obama’s plans to bomb Syria. My reasoning didn’t have much to do with moral issues, it was more that as is common in the Middle East the supposed good guys didn’t look any better than the bad guys, and even if we helped the rebels win we would be stuck with another decade or two of nation-building. Also after what happened in Iraq I had trouble with the idea of attacking another country that posed us no harm.

JSpencer
Guest
JSpencer
2 years 10 months ago

The lack of comment on the video of our unilateral “shock and awe” attack on a city full of non-combatant citizens seems to indicate that others don’t seem to see a difference.

Steve, my views on the Bush/Cheney War (which of course include “shock and awe”) have been well documented on TMV over the course of many years. There should be no need to reiterate them. My belief is that two wrongs don’t make a right, even when one overshadows the other. That said, I doubt your comment was directed to me.

wpDiscuz