Obama’s Drone Surge in Pakistan Doing More Damage Than Good

President Barack Obama’s recent announcement to drawdown troops in Afghanistan struck an aporetic chord in Pakistan due to fears the U.S. will offset this deescalation by intensifying its covert war across the border — a strategy which features a CIA drone program designed to execute high-value extremist targets sanctuaried in Pakistan’s borderlands. However, because the policy was derived from stale paradigms that lack adequate contextual inputs, it has yielded the unintended consequence of breeding more insurgents than it has eliminated.

The timing of the strategic shift seems right given the U.S.-Pakistani relationship’s all-time ebb triggered by the SEAL raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden in a safe house outside Pakistan’s capital. Pakistani recalcitrance at launching military excursions against insurgents ensconced within the northwest tribal belt and its recent dismissal of CIA personnel from Pakistani soil has prompted the U.S. to send worrisome overtures to Islamabad.

Word has surfaced the administration plans on withholding from Pakistan some $800 million in military aid, news which comes on the heels of U.S. military chief Adm. Mike Mullen accusing the Pakistani government of being complicit in the death of a prominent journalist.

A sure sign shadowy assets will play a larger role in Pakistan is General David Petraeus’s move to Langley as CIA director. After taking command in Afghanistan Petraeus doubled the number of airstrikes and dramatically increased night raids, leaving Pakistan to wonder the degree to which the drone program will burgeon during King David’s reign as intelligence chief.

The inclination towards covert drone strikes is not a new trend. Since 9/11 the U.S. drone fleet has grown from a few dozen to 7,000 and the air force now trains more drone “pilots” than those that actually fly jets and bombers.

What is shocking is that the bulk of the drone explosion has occurred under Obama — the very president who cast himself as the antithesis of George W. Bush who promised he would never condone un-American Bush era policies such as the unlawful detainment and waterboarding of enemy combatants.

But in just two years Obama authorized nearly four times as many drone strikes as Bush did during his entire two terms in office. This, despite the fact the former constitutional law professor is likely cognizant the drone attacks violate international law.

And what could be more morally reprehensible, not to mention cowardly, than death-from-the-sky extrajudicial target killings of suspected militants by remote unmanned aerial vehicles? Drones play cop, judge, jury and executioner in one fell swoop at the click of a button by an operator sitting in a safe undisclosed location in front of a Nintendo-like monitor screen.

According to a an Oxford Research Group report the U.S. has flouted international law by failing to identify drone casualties, violating universal human rights including freedom from being arbitrarily deprived of one’s life and not providing compensation for possible wrongful deaths. But American officials believe investigating casualties defeats the whole purpose of a groundless military campaign — a mindset that will defeat the purpose of the entire mission because innocent deaths galvanize the Islamist cause and spawn extremist converts.

According to Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann in Foreign Affairs, about 15 to 20 percent of those killed by drones are non-combatants. But Islamabad and Washington are at odds on casualty figures with Pakistani officials estimating 700 civilians were killed by drone strikes in 2009 alone while the U.S. has claimed responsibility for fewer than 30 civilian deaths between May 2008 and May 2010.

Bergen and Tiedemann also underline the program’s inefficacy at eliminating key insurgent leaders, reporting that less than two percent of those killed by drones in Pakistan are high-value targets. The data also clearly indicates the program, contrary to acting as a terrorist deterrent, has actually fueled the insurgency. Although drone strikes have eradicated more than 1,000 militants, levels of violence in Pakistan have spiked since the program’s inception from 150 terrorist incidents in 2004 to a peak of 1,916 in 2009.

The root cause of this uptick is the widespread contempt of the drone program found amongst the Pakistani population. According to a 2009 Gallup poll only 9 percent of Pakistanis supported the strikes, which correlates to the fact two-thirds of those residing in the tribal areas believe suicide attacks against U.S. targets are justifiable.

Drone strikes have also been unable to deter Western terrorist aspirants from making the pilgrimage to militant boot camps in Pakistan to train for global jihad, evidenced by the over 150 American and European recruits discovered in the tribal areas in 2009, just as the drone program was being accelerated.

In fact, drone strikes fly in the face of the entire U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine espoused by the likes of Petraeus which is premised on the philosophy that guerilla wars can only be won by winning the “hearts and minds” of the local populace.

Even former Petraeus adviser Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, a renowned counterinsurgency theorist, has called for a moratorium on strikes, asserting that while violent extremists may be unpopular, for a frightened population under siege they seem less ominous than a faceless enemy that wages war from afar and kills more civilians than militants.

Kilcullen believes drone strikes are counterproductive because countless man-hours of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are put into eliminating a few purported high-value insurgents, an obsessive short-sighted focus that comes at the expense of protecting the population. He believes building local partnerships, learning about tribal dynamics and empowering indigenous forces are more effective methods for defeating an insurgency.

The American foreign policy establishment needs an infusion of fresh thinking and must abandon building strategies upon broken single-variable models to address problems with ever-changing interrelationships; otherwise the U.S. will fail to grasp complexities such as how certain anti-terror tactics can end up manufacturing terrorists.

The facts unequivocally illustrate that the drone program is steering the U.S. away from achieving its national security objectives in the region. Yet the administration’s reaction to this reality is equivalent to a person driving down the road in the wrong direction who, instead of making any effort at course correction, decides to simply step on the gas.

Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes is also the Geopolitics Examiner and the Afghanistan Headlines Examiner for Examiner.com.

NOTE:This is a cross post from Huffington Post.


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  • Laila  On July 13, 2011 at 3:24 am

    Let me compliment you on an article that does not mince words.
    Till February 20th 2011,according to data available, 33213 civilians were killed in Pakistan.Civilians also bore the brunt of terrorist-related fatalities in Punjab, though fatalities even in this category fell from 293 in 2009 to 272 in 2010. Nevertheless, an index of the inherent instability of the system was provided by the assassination on January 4, 2011, of Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Province, by his own bodyguard, with the possible foreknowledge of his entire security detail.
    US drone attacks have more than tripled since January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama took over the Presidency. A BBC report of July 24, 2010, indicated that there were 25 drone strikes between January 2008 and January 2009, in which slightly fewer than 200 people were killed. In the year 2010, SATP data recorded at least 90 attacks by US drones, killing more than 831 persons, as against 46 such attacks killing 536 in 2009. The annual report of the Conflict Monitoring Centre released on January 1, 2011 revealed that, while a total of 2,043 people, mostly civilians, were killed in US drone attacks during the preceding five years, 929 of those causalities were reported in FATA alone in 2010.
    In reaction to the drone attacks as well as US backed military operations of Pakistan Army in tribal regions, the attacks on the NATO supply vehicles has increased from just eight in 2008 and 25 in 2009, to at least 99 in 2010. The most brazen among these was witnessed near the national capital, Islamabad, on June 8, 2010, when unidentified militants attacked and set ablaze a convoy of about 50 tankers and containers heading towards Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP, on the Motorway in the Sangjani area of Ternol. Four people were killed in the attack and another three were injured.
    The data is endless & can go on. My question to you is, does articles like your’s has any holding, or opinions expressed therein given any weight age by the powers in Washington? I hardly see policy opposing articles in your mainstream media!

    • Mike Hughes  On July 13, 2011 at 6:52 am

      I agree. What is interesting about this article is that Peter Bergen provides much of its firepower with key data. But Bergen is a pro-COIN pro-military intervention type of guy – which makes the case even stronger that the drone war is inefficient. Even the democratic think tanks and leaders do not want to read these types of articles. You will never find this article in the New York Times anymore. Being critical of Obama is what we used to call in the consulting business a “C.L.M.” OR “Career Limiting Move”

      • Laila  On July 13, 2011 at 8:15 am

        Interesting view Mike.
        In February 2010 the New America Foundation, a US think tank, published a paper based on press accounts of US drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2010. The report, by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, was not definitive because it was impossible to secure absolutely verifiable data about casualties in Pakistan’s north western tribal regions. But it was the best publicly available collection of data about UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) strikes in the area.
        A link is attached on Bergen’s views regarding drone attacks in 2009:

        In a paper on Afghanistan written in 2007 he says,”The outgoing commander of US troops in Afghanistan, Lieut. General Karl Eikenberry, has drawn aclear link between reconstruction and violence: “Wherever the roads end, that’s where the Talibanstarts”.
        He declares:
        1-The current counter-narcotics strategy that favours poppy eradication is by all accounts a failure.
        2-Rolling back the Taliban – More troops, better troops, fewer NATOcaveats, a successful amnesty programme, more reconstruction,transforming the tribal belt in Pakistan and building up the Afghan police.
        My question:How do you see this melodrama ending?

  • Ijaz Khan  On July 13, 2011 at 3:41 am

    I agree with Laila.

    Drone attacks increase the number of Pakistanis who support extremism, and that for every enemy killed, more are created.There’s another debate over whether the drone attacks are legal and moral. These attacks are often called “targeted killings” — of suspected terrorists, for example. The official U.S. position is that the strikes are permitted: “Al Qaeda seeks to bleed us financially by drawing us into long, costly wars that also inflame anti-American sentiment,” John Brennan, President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, said. The U.S. is at war with al-Qaida and has the right to defend itself. Others have raised questions, too.Brennan, a longtime former CIA officer, spoke at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, as the White House made public the new strategy on its website. The strategy codifies policies the administration has been pursuing for 2 ½ years, and much of it mirrors the practices of the Bush administration, Brennan said.
    A new U.N. report questioned that legal logic.
    In the long run, USA is the bigger loser in the war.

    • S U Turkman  On July 13, 2011 at 4:54 am

      Right Ijaz. Its okay for us to …
      * … infiltrate our Mercenaries in to a neighboring country to kill Soldiers of 47 countries in Afghanistan including Soldiers of 7 Moslim Countries.
      * … kill Soldiers of countries, on who’s Charity of Aid and Loans we have been living off since 1950’s.
      * … kill Moslim Soldiers, Police and Civilians of Afghanistan, …
      ….but its not okay for the neighboring country or its Defender, USA to even retaliate against it just by using Drone Attacks in Tribal Area to kill our Mercenaries called Taliban.
      We don’t have to think, what we have been doing is against international law and our own Islamic Shriyah Law because we are Satanic People and what we think is the law, Islam and nothing else matters. Allaho Akbar …!

  • Mohammad Chaudhry  On July 13, 2011 at 3:56 am

    Bravo Hughes,you’ve guts and nerves to call a spade a spade and depth of vision to gauge ground realities instead of indulging in rehtoric for befooling public.You’ve validly exposed the mind boggling contradiction in undertaking Coin and deciding for upsurge of covert war or droone attacks by Obama administation.It’s a pity that even an otherwise enlightened leader with positive traits,president Obama,got confused by the contadictory advices of his Democrat cohorts and some old protegee of Bush,still carried in the name of bipartisanship and political expediency. It can be disasterous for US and world at large until reviewed and restructured timely.

    • S U Turkman  On July 13, 2011 at 4:57 am

      That’s right Chaudhry,
      Its a disaster for the whole world to keep tolerating Pakistan that has been spreading Sneak Attack Terrorism all over the world but not for us until USA nukes us all or bombs the Mother of Taliban, the Pak Military to Stone Age.

    • Mike Hughes  On July 13, 2011 at 7:01 am

      I think Obama is a victim of the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s narrow and “single-variable” worldview, as I like to call it. The U.S. – and Western type of thought going back to Socrates – is very linear. A + B = C.

      (A) Al Qaeda/Taliban are the enemy + (b) Kill them with drone strikes = (C) Win war on terror.

      Not understanding the consequences of this simple math has been the bane of American policy since John Quincy Adams was secretary of state. I would say its a deeper issue – at a cultural level. The Western mind sees objects, not context. When we are focused on something, we are pretty damn good at it. Sometimes too good, especially when we don’t understand the environment within which our long-term goal is en-wrapped.

      It is time for a new American foreign policy based on empathy, mutual respect of state sovereignty, community and respect for self-determination while helping others without interfering within their domestic affairs.

      • Simon  On July 13, 2011 at 8:27 am

        They are wrong on all 3 accounts:
        1-The Al-Qaeda/Taliban are wrong in their tactics.Strategy. Unfortunately, it is US herself responsible for their creation & later abandoning them.USA needed to look into the genie created & how best to handle that genie.Obviously,they mishandled their creation:

        2-The problem is,drone strikes is killing more civilians than militants. This is boomeranging. IF this logic is to be accepted as the correct one, why then blame Al-Qaeda for 9/11?By this logic what they did & decided to put in motion a horrendous reaction is correct.How is US then different from Al-Qaeda?

        3-War on terror thereby becomes a failure in light of the above.There is no win.Force is no win. When you kill one you create ten in that stead of one.
        If I am wrong, why have the terrorist attacks in Pakistan increased? Has the “War on Terror” made America & Americans safe?
        Do find time to share views.
        Simon Fraser

      • Summaya  On July 13, 2011 at 8:38 am

        You may be right in surmising Obama to be a victim. However, most were so sure that his election would mark a dramatic departure from the Bush administration’s many missteps, they have been surprised and dismayed by Obama’s increased reliance on drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere, his decisions to escalate the war in Afghanistan (not just once but twice), the retreat on Guantanamo, the Justice Department’s use of dubious secrecy laws to shield torturers and deny victims the ability to sue them, the slow-motion reassessment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the timid retreat from the lofty principles enunciated in his 2009 Cairo speech, and the unwillingness to consider anything more than trivial redutions in the bloated national security apparatus.
        The first obstacle is America’s current global position. Over the past sixty years, the United States built up a vast array of global military facilities, security partnerships, and overseas commitments. In the process, the United States ended up with the responsibility of providing a lot of collective goods (freedom of the seas, regional stability in Europe and Asia, security of global oil supplies, etc.) and it also ended up with a flock of client states who depend on us for various forms of economic, military, and diplomatic support.
        The balance of political power inside Washington is heavily weighted towards the energetic use of American power — and especially military power — in virtually every corner of the world. Although think-tank denizens at Brookings, AEI, Heritage, and the Council on Foreign Relations sometimes disagree about specific policy initiatives, the vast majority are enthusiastic defenders of America’s dominant global role. Hardly anyone at these institutions strays outside a rather narrow spectrum of thought, or questions the inherent legitimacy of the United States intervening just about anywhere it wants, even if the predictable results are the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
        HAVING SAID THAT:Is not the President of the United States responsible? Does not the buck stop at his door?

  • S U Turkman  On July 13, 2011 at 4:34 am

    That’s right.
    Since Pak Military has gotten USA by its Balls, USA should bend over backwards or roll down on the floor or learn to play dead like Dog to make Pak Military happy or else. Stupid USA doesn’t even know, its bombing Pak Military’s beloved people, Taliban and more Taliban she kills, more Charity of Aid Pakistan needs to pay to the families of the Dead Taliban as Compensation Package. USA doesn’t know, its has been costing Pakistan a lot of money in paying Bounties to Taliban and under-cover Army Commandos every time they kill some Foreign Troops in Afghanistan.

    • Summaya  On July 13, 2011 at 8:42 am

      Nice to see RAW back on Forum!

  • Ubaid Akhtar  On July 13, 2011 at 8:57 am

    A lot has been said on drone attacks.For reasons better known to themselves US feels it is a key component of the War on Terror. Hughes,people like you must present an alternative!
    We can also see from the past that proxy wars using militia groups independent from the army has not had favorable results. It turns out to be a question of short-term gain versus a long-term problem. US did this in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Afghanistan and it has came back to haunt them in the end with the proxies going increasingly rogue and volatile. We are now experiencing the same results.

  • Ijaz Khan  On July 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Good debate.YAA throw off this RAW JERK TUrkman please!

    • S U Turkman  On July 14, 2011 at 5:53 am

      Yeah, yeah throw Turkman out of this Mosque, he is not a Moslim because our Islam is Pakistan and Pak Military is our God and begging is our profession …!
      We have every right to have our Mercenaries keep killing Soldiers of 47 countries including 7 Moslim Countries and our Moslim Brothers in Afghan Police, Army and innocent Afghans because all of them are Kaafir.
      Living off Charity of Aid and Loans of USA and Non Moslim rich countries is not a Sin and ‘nmak hraami’ of them is actually ‘kaaray tSwaab’. Their freeing of Afghans from our beloved Mercenaries, the Taliban’s tyrannical rule is a Sin, right?

      Death to Pakistani Enemies of Afghans and Afghanistan …!


  • Salim Ullah  On July 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

    The president Asif Bhutto Zardari is the only beneficiory

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