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Drone Strikes and Their Consequences

Micah Zenko reviews some of the perverse consequences of drone strikes: While they have killed known high-level al-Qaida officials, drone strikes may have also helped to create more lower-level militants or terrorists. Some Pakistanis and Yemenis have said that they joined al-Qaida-associated groups because of U.S. counterterrorism operations in their country. And both Faisal Shahzad, […]

Micah Zenko reviews some of the perverse consequences of drone strikes:

While they have killed known high-level al-Qaida officials, drone strikes may have also helped to create more lower-level militants or terrorists. Some Pakistanis and Yemenis have said that they joined al-Qaida-associated groups because of U.S. counterterrorism operations in their country. And both Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, and Najibullah Zazi, who pleaded guilty in a plot to bomb New York City subways, claimed to have been motivated in part by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Even the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, admitted, “I certainly will not try to argue that some of our actions have not led to some people being radicalized. I think that’s a given.” Moreover, U.S. officials acknowledge that targeted killings do nothing to address the underlying factors associated with an increased risk that certain populations will join with insurgent or externally directed terrorist organizations [bold mine-DL].

Perhaps unsurprisingly, drone strikes are widely opposed by the citizens of important allies, emerging powers and the local populations in countries where strikes occur. For example, a recent survey polling countries around the world revealed overwhelming opposition in Greece (90 percent), Egypt (89 percent), Turkey (81 percent), Spain (76 percent), Brazil (76 percent), Japan (75 percent) and Pakistan (83 percent).

Joshua Foust recently discussed the use of drone strikes and what they can and cannot achieve:

This, then, is the lesson about how drones can be effective: they must serve a strategy. They cannot be the strategy, as they sometimes are. For too long, it seemed, the only possible response to a terrorism threat in Yemen was a drone strike (or cruise missile or air strike). U.S. intelligence agencies managed to unravel some plots if the Saudis or Brits gave them a heads up. But the only tool in the American arsenal seemed to be a drone strike: lobbing missiles at unknown people in the belief that it would lessen the threat.

What seems to have really lessened the threat, though, is ground combat: the difficult, dangerous, and expensive work of clearing towns and areas of militants and restoring legitimate government control.

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