The Drone Campaign

Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarionproject.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at ryanmauro1986@gmail.com.


The Obama Administration, to its credit, has been very tough on Pakistan. The drones strikes are being used as anti-American propaganda in the Islamic world and are highly unpopular in Pakistan, but the administration is not buying into the line that we’re creating more terrorists than we’re killing and is actually expanding their use.

President Obama has continued a policy begun in 2008 by the Bush Administration to allow the CIA to attack terrorists in Pakistan even when their names are unknown. This is extremely important, as it means that low-level operatives who are undergoing training to become a future bomber, such as Faisal Shahzad, can be killed just as much as the top officials can be. If the CIA focuses only on known leadership figures, it is ignoring the conveyer belt of terrorists that those figures are producing, and action is stalled as the agency tries to figure out who exactly the person is and whether they belong on the list of people it is permitted to kill.

Since coming to power, the Obama Administration has increased the number of drone strikes by three times over its predecessor. Three strikes, on average, are carried out each and every week in Pakistan. This number is probably going to increase very soon as more information comes to light about Shahzad’s involvement with the Taliban and the Pakistanis refuse to send its military to take control of North Waziristan.

There are other lawless places like Somalia or Yemen where the government is unable or unwilling to take the fight to the terrorists. The increase in terrorist plots on U.S. soil brings home the fact that the U.S. can not always wait to train security forces until they can stabilize their countries. The expansion of the drone war to include other countries is inevitable, and a public defense of this strategy needs to be waged so that our elected officials do not buckle in the face of criticism from overseas and from anti-war forces at home who oppose virtually any act of violence.

The effectiveness of these strikes needs to be explained. A U.S. review found that over the past two years, 500 terrorists, including 14 top leaders and 24 high and mid-level leaders, have been killed by them. Reuters estimates that the number is actually much higher with at least 850 being killed.

These strikes make it more difficult for the terrorists to organize and maintain their networks. Some members of the Pakistani Taliban have admitted that they now have to operate underground and this is creating splits in their ranks. In July 2009, a book published by Al-Qaeda on the Internet blamed spies for the success of the drone strikes, showing that the terrorist group is fearful and becoming paranoid because of them. Daniel Lev of the Middle East Media Research Institute said he had never seen senior members of Al-Qaeda express “such an admission of distress” before.

Critics of the strikes argue that they are wreaking havoc and causing large numbers of civilian casualties. They point to local press reports of high casualties, and overall estimates in the Pakistani media of over 600 civilians being killed.

The U.S. review found that the actual number of civilians that have been killed in the past two years was less than 30, and some of these civilians aren’t exactly innocent. That count includes “civilians” who were alongside the terrorists being targeted, such as the second wife of the Taliban’s top leader. Reliable casualty numbers are very difficult to obtain, but whereas the local press has to rely upon numbers coming out of inaccessible areas controlled by the Taliban, the U.S. can use advanced surveillance in their post-attack reports. The U.S. total may not be exact, but it’s more reliable than relying upon local reports and it shows a dramatically more humane picture of the drone campaign.

The general line against the drones is that they will push Pakistanis to support the enemy. This is patently false. Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal refuted this argument by showing that the percentage of Pakistanis opposed to U.S. action inside Pakistan and the overall favorability rating of the U.S. remained the same between 2007 and August 2009 after the increase in drone strikes was well underway. The favorability rating of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda actually decreased dramatically during this period as more and more Pakistanis were victimized by them.

This does not mean that the Pakistani public looks favorably upon the strikes. A Gallup poll last August found that only 9 percent of Pakistanis support them, and 67 percent opposed them. The majority saw the U.S. as a bigger threat than the Taliban. On the other hand, the statistics from the areas under extremist control that actually are targeted by the drones have a different outlook.

The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy asked 550 people in Parachinar and North and South Waziristan their opinion on the matter. They found that just under two-thirds wanted the U.S. strikes to continue, 52 percent felt the strikes were accurate, 58 percent did not believe they increased anti-Americanism, and over two-thirds saw the Al-Qaeda and Taliban as their top enemy. As I’ve always said, to live under radical Islam is to hate radical Islam.

In fairness, some things must be noted about that poll. They targeted “professional people,” who are more likely to be well-off and educated. This may skew the results. Wired Magazine also says that the group has taken part in anti-Taliban rallies. This does not disqualify the poll, as the areas of greatest resentment against the Taliban are the very areas that they control, but a fair analysis must include these concerns.

A public defense of the drone strikes must include the fact that over 3,000 Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks in 2009 alone. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Pakistan has suffered an attack every ten days on average. Over 5,700 have been killed in all. The drone attacks have nothing to do with the terrorist groups’ establishment of vicious Sharia Law where they take hold and nothing to do with their attacks on civilians, soldiers, and government targets. These facts need to be reiterated as much as possible.

The only valid criticism of the drone strikes is that if they replace snatch operations and detainments by the Pakistani government, vital intelligence is lost. These strikes should not be seen as an equal alternative to Pakistani military offensives or special operations raids, but as the next best option. Politically, the use of drone strikes is appealing to the U.S. government as dead terrorists don’t need to be housed and can’t be questioned, thereby avoiding the issues of Guantanamo Bay, what forms of interrogation count as torture, and putting terrorists on trial. The drones shouldn’t be seen as the be-all solution, but their effectiveness cannot be doubted and the Obama administration needs to do a better job of countering false charges against their use.

The information about Faisal Shahzad having a relationship with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed means the campaign in Pakistan must again be expanded to include terrorist groups besides Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is inevitable that the U.S. will have to build more drones and use them regularly in places besides Pakistan, and we must be prepared to defend their use against the myths perpetrated by hostile audiences overseas and unrealistic pacifists at home.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ddUS ddUS

    The drone noise levels need to be reduced similar to the successful effort with the Seawolf. It's propulsion system makes it ten times more quiet over its full range of operating speeds.

  • badaboo

    Drones are the best thing since sliced bread , effective , they make the enemy pay , and newer and better technology is on the way .Unveiled a day or two ago , the new weapon should be operational this fall .

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

      One can agree with just about anybody on some things, and I agree with you so far on drones. I don't think we should be willingly unveiling anything militarily though, let them figure it out the hard way.

      • badaboo

        Psychological indeed , check the USAF's new X45A .

  • logdon

    It'll make them think twice about associating with and abetting terrorism. Imagine, any moment you could hear that shriek as the rocket with your name on it removes you from this earth.

    Fear is all these primitives understand, they use it as a normative discourse of life and its the only deterrent which will work with them.

    They cower and plot the killing of innocents with sadistic glee. Time for payback.

  • USMCSniper

    Field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Air Force is in charge of the Predators, say their ability to linger over an area for hours, streaming instant video warnings of insurgent activity, has been crucial to reducing threats from roadside bombs and identifying terrorist compounds. The C.I.A. is in charge of drone flights in Pakistan, where more than three dozen missiles strikes have been launched against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in recent months.

    Considered a novelty a few years ago, the Air Force’s fleet has grown to 195 Predators and 28 Reapers, a new and more heavily armed cousin of the Predator. Both models are made by General Atomics, a contractor based in San Diego. Including drones that the Army has used to counter roadside bombs and tiny hand-launched models that can help soldiers to peer past the next hill or building, the total number of military drones has soared to 5,500, from 167 in 2001.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/darkmorrow darkmorrow

    Don't get me wrong, I love the drones, and thier ability to reach out and change someones day. But…have you noticed that every single strike kills terrorists or insurgents? Amazing how Obama has focused the accuracy of the drones, the intel recieved as well as its dissemination and that ONLY terrorists and insurgents are killed. That is truly stunning, to defy the odds in such a manner. hehehehehehe

    • JustMax

      every week I see an article about civilians killed by drone strikes, I am not sure what planet you people live on but it isn't based on reality.

  • charlie

    You are all naive screwed up fools who have crried out a planned genocide in Iraq and many other places…put simply War criminals, just you wait till the judgement comes…bye bye hypocrites!

  • badaboo

    Cry me a river , and buy a one way ticket to Iraq chump .

  • badaboo

    This cult of barbarians called islam will not prevail , so leave now charlie and join their ranks .

    • charlie

      Wow with an attitude like yours …..well hurry on the rapture then we can have the peaceful earth back……I am no islamic sympathiser, I just detest your xenophobia and ignorance.

      • badaboo

        in the meantime charlie , while you're waiting for your rapture , these barbarians are running amuck , slaughtering , mutilating , raping , burning , innocents , yea , christians included .
        wanna bear your neck to these savages go ahead ,
        As for any "judgement "? I'll wait on God 's…NOT yours . I detest your self-righteous arrogance and absurd naivety

        • charlie

          I think that is the American military doing all the murdering, raping, burning, killing the innocent children. Wow you are such a wicked human being. I am not a christian either . I am not the naive one or arrogant , why its you who has the bad attitude……….go play with your silly bombs and guns, i was only joking about the rapture, what utter nonsense, everything you stand for is about to end.
          Get yourself some education stop being a twat, your kind of people have had their day. Your just a bully and a coward. , oh and a worthless faggot.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

            How is it about to end, charlie? Sounds awful arrogant and naive to me.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

            Opps, I guess you wouldn't want to let that slip.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

        Yet here you are, sympathizing with jihadis and falsely accusing us of genocide.

        • charlie

          You are in denial, inhuman,unrealistic and crass. I am not a christian,jew,catholic,muslim or any other tag you like to attach to explain your weakness.

          • badaboo

            charlie , you are duped , most muslims killed in this world are killed by muslims , the mosque bombings , the market place bombings , schools being blown up , you must be living in a cave charlie ….get informed before you attempt to make ludicrous accusations and estimations of what kind of person I may be . YOU are the one who mentioned rapture thus TAGGING YOURSELF as christian.
            YOU are the one who is weak , because you cannot bring yourself to face reality or the truth about these people [muslim] . Go join an islamic blog , they'll love you , as they do all DHIMMI sympathizers , who concurr with their "victimhood" .

          • badaboo

            oh …and genocide ? muslims top the list of perpetrators in modern times . get informed charlie , lest you make a fool of yourself again .

          • charlie

            See you all in hell you zionist scum sucking gun totting uneducated ignorant decievers….Any way sleep well ……watch out for the knock at the door soon!

          • Rifleman

            A knock? How polite, will you be along with them? Pack an extra lunch, 'cause I'll be eating yours.

            Oh, and don't wait up for me in h*ll, my soul's going somewhere else.

          • badaboo

            I knew you were a muslim charlie , your in for quite a surprise when you take your last breath . dress light , it's gonna be hot where your going and uh ….no virgins …

          • badaboo

            in fact charlie , given your views thusfar , I can conclude that you can be nothing but a muslim , disguising himself with a werstern innocuos name like "charlie " . For only a muslim , could accuse the west of genocide , an age old ploy of muslims , to deny their own behavior and attempt a tranfer to their victims . Grenocide indeed , perpetrated on42 MILLION hindus over the millenia , genocide against Armenians by muslim Turks , genocide of Kurds by sunni Iraqi muslims , genocide of Shia by Sunni muslims . There are many examples , glaring examples ,and they bcan be seen virtually every day in the headloines round the globe . The Crusades , the Inquisition , even the Holocaust , do not even come close in number to those slaughtered by muslim hoardes over the millenia . The very WORD "genocide " was first used , in describing ther m,uslim slaughter in Armenia .
            Who you trying to fool Charlie ?

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

            Don't forget the children's hospitals they blow up badaboo.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rifleman Rifleman

            Wow, you got all that from one sentence? I mentioned nothing of religion, but I suppose by your linking it to weakness, you were just fixated on throwing in an attack on religion, so had to imagine something. My observation ignored by you stands, your personal attack is silly.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/cheese_burger cheese_burger

    The article states: "If the CIA focuses only on known leadership figures, it is ignoring the conveyor belt of terrorists that those figures are producing, and action is stalled as the agency tries to figure out who exactly the person is and whether they belong on the list of people it is permitted to kill."

    Best Practice would be to target Imams, and other 'religious leaders'. They are, after all, the 'Generals' in the Army of Allah. Each Imam, preaching from its pulpit, is capable of creating thousands of foot-soldiers. Every dead Imam, murdered by a drone strike, amounts to thousands of potential jihadists, who never had a chance to be indoctrinated.

    Better still, the drones should be targeting Mosques, particularly during Friday prayers, and at other times when the Mosques are filled. Mosques are command-and-control bunkers, where the Generals/Imams and their foot-soldiers congregate, for purposes related to prosecuting war.

    Therefore, all Mosques are fair and just military targets.

    There is no such thing as an Innocent Muslim.