It’s been almost two years since President Obama said that the rules about CIA’s drone strikes will change.
The new standard said that before any drone attack was launched on suspected terrorists in Yemen, Pakistan, or other countries, concerned authorities had to be nearly certain no civilians will be in killing or injuring range of the attack.
It is true that, following the president’s announcement, the number of civilian casualties experienced a significant drop, and independent monitoring groups were able to attest to that. For example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported 4 civilian deaths in Pakistan since the end of 2013 – a dramatic fall from then 197 deaths associated with U.S. attacks in 2010.
But on January 15, Obama’s higher standard couldn’t prevent the unintended killing of two civilian hostages – one American and one Italian – during a drone strike launched in Pakistan.
According to an official White House announcement, the CIA did not have knowledge of the fact Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were hostages at the location of the drone attack.
The same week, the same rules have failed to protect two American citizens who had recently joined Al Qaeda. Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq were not the CIA’s specific target, as the agency did not even know about their presence in the crosshairs.
According to another military reform adopted during the Obama administration, when individuals are targeted, high-level background checks and reviews must be performed. In the case of Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq, such documents are non-existent.
The attack in which they were killed was actually a “signature strike,” a nickname given to attacks aimed at locations where suspicious terrorist activity goes on. These strikes are ordered based on worrying patterns that point to potential Al Qaeda presence in the area.
Such disclosures lead to a troubling conclusion, supported by Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations: on many occasions, the United States has no clue about who it is killing during drone strikes.
Drone strikes: is it making more enemies?
If finding this out has made you extremely uneasy, it’s you and me both. Back in 2013, Obama’s counselors urged the president to make sure that signature strikes are eventually coming to an end – but to this day, they still happen.
U.S. drones are still dropping in Yemen and Pakistan alike, killing people who the CIA only suspects are Al Qaeda members or associates. In fact, they usually don’t know exactly who they are aiming at.
In this invisible drone war – going on its eight year now – we have another major issue: after all this time fighting, the U.S. is no closer to knowing whether we’re losing or winning. And in order to settle this dilemma once and for all, the Obama administration should review its drone policies – a matter that has been neglected in the past two years.
Back in 2008, when U.S. first began the drone wars, they were supposedly trying to eliminate approximately 300 Al Qaeda members, most of whom were located in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a short while, official reports said that drone strikes “succeeded in reducing that number and making Al Qaeda largely ineffective.”
However, the troubles went on – the terrorist group grew to more than 1,000 members based in Yemen, in spite of the U.S. drone campaign of sustained attacks lasting six years.
To make matters even worse, U.S. managed to make even more enemies during these drone wars. Due to an enthusiast support of the American anti-terrorist effort that came from the Yemen government of Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, Obama has announced last year that attacks on Yemen have proved to be a success.
Less effective and dropping without enough intelligence
However, not all Yemenis agreed with the official stance, and thus the Houthi rebels have made it their main complaint – even though they are also against the terrorist activity of AL Qaeda. They say they don’t want to see Yemen transformed into a target range for foreign military forces.
Following the civil war that divided the country, American bases down in Yemen had to be evacuated. Because U.S. intelligence was deeply disrupted due to absence on the field, the drone strikes that happened ever since have been less effective, according to officials.
Even so, CIA Director John O. Brennan, who talked at a Harvard event this month, said that the war terrorism is a success, in general. He added that people would be horrified to live in a world where major counter-terrorism campaigns (including drone attacks) would not exist.
Lethal drones are definitely an advantage for those who own them. Their precision and agility makes attacks more likely to succeed, and they have the upper hand when it comes to cost – considering that the alternatives are manned bombers and ground troops.
Obama announced a thorough and focused investigation on what happened in the January strike – but it will mostly try to determine the reason why the CIA didn’t know about the presence of the two civilian hostages at the target site.
However, the Obama administration could really use a top-to-bottom review, in which benefits and costs of using drone strikes are put in balance.
Image Source: Pakistan Today
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