Saturday, May 28, 2016

Terrorism and Drone Strikes

One of the frequently-heard objections to the policy of using drone strikes to take out terrorist targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere is that such strikes sometimes collaterally kill innocent civilians, a misfortune which only inspires hatred among the population and serves as an effective recruiting tool for terrorist organizations.

I always thought this argument, like it's cousin - the argument that keeping terrorists in Guantanamo Bay prison enrages Muslims around the world to the point where they want to blow themselves up - was ridiculous (how does Guantanamo Bay compare, for example, to the average prison in the Muslim world?).

Now there's confirmation of my suspicions, From The Daily Caller:
Surveys of a Pakistani population closely affected by U.S. drone strikes found overwhelming support for the strikes, along with a belief drones are accurate and rarely result in civilian casualties.

The findings stand in stark contrast to larger surveys that have found widespread opposition to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, and to the “blowback” theory that the strikes lead to further radicalization of local populations and too often result in civilian deaths.

Writing in The Washington Post, professor and scholar Aqil Shah explains how he conducted 147 interviews with adult residents of North Waziristan in 2015 in an effort to find out what the people located close to the strikes think about the program. Shah found a 79 percent of the tribal elders, reporters, lawyers, activists and others interviewed support U.S. drone strikes, and that 64 percent believe the strikes accurately target militants.

“Most respondents support drone strikes,” Shah wrote in The Washington Post. “This is not to say that America’s drone campaign is ‘winning hearts and minds,’ to borrow that imperious slogan of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. Instead, locals approve of drone attacks because they viscerally hate the militants and feel betrayed by their own government.”

As for non-militants caught in the crossfire, according to one key part of Shah’s write up, “Over two-thirds of respondents said that most of the non-militant civilians who die in drone attacks are known militant sympathizers or collaborators who may already be radicalized.”

The survey is not statistically representative of the whole population, but does represent the most comprehensive survey of a local population actually affected by the strikes, according to Shah. Most of the polling and information on Pakistanis opinions of the program are based on much broader surveys that disproportionately vocalize the opinions of urban residents largely unaffected [by drone attacks].
The article goes on to make another interesting point. If having one's family members killed moves one to be radicalized, why hasn't the population in Waziristan and elsewhere been radicalized against the militants who've probably killed more Muslims than has the Western coalition?

Anyway, the proponents of the "blowback" theory might well be asked to state their alternative to surgically decapitating the terrorist leadership from the air. There seem to be only three other options: 1. Seek to negotiate with the bad guys; 2. Do nothing; 3. Send in massive numbers of ground troops to root out the bad guys. Alternative 1. seems doomed to failure. Alternative 2. amounts to surrender to terrorism, and alternative 3. would be extremely costly in American blood and treasure, globally unpopular, and would probably result in far more innocent deaths than have coalition drone strikes.

MQ-9 Reaper
President Obama has dropped the ball on numerous occasions in his conduct of foreign policy, but his tactic of using drone strikes to kill the enemy seems to make more sense than any of the available alternatives.