Whatever our respective views are on the subject of drone strikes, it is undeniably the case that they are an incredibly effective method of targeting terrorists in unfriendly, or uncontrolled territory.
Of the many successful drone strikes in 2012, the following are – according to CNN’s Security Clearance blog – the most pertinent. June 4th saw al Qaeda strategist Abu Yahya al-Libi meet the ‘business end of a drone‘ in Pakistan, an occurrence that I argued should both be celebrated and mourned. Fahd Mohammad Ahmed al-Quso, another senior al Qaeda operative (wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing), was killed in Yemen on May 6th. And lastly Badar Mansoor, considered the most senior Pakistani in al Qaeda, was assassinated on February 9th in Waziristan.
It can be argued that by removing known operatives we are simply inducing unknown individuals to take their position. When Israel assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in November there were those that argued that the IDF had acted with overwhelming short-sightedness: at least Jabari was a known quantity. If Sun Tzu was correct when he asserted that knowing one’s enemy is paramount to victory, perhaps there is some weight to these claims.
Last year we saw much debate on these pages on the subject of drones. Catherine Connolly’s piece back in June argued that the use of drones signalled a “failure in moral leadership by the United States”. Matt Wahnsiedler’s response sought to demonstrate that Connolly’s arguments had failed to take into account the realities of warfare. TRS Reviews Editor Jenny Holland, writing in The Guardian, took a different route, arguing that opposition to drone strikes is not so black-and-white ‘on the ground’ in Pakistan as is presented by Western peace activists and human rights groups. The real issue, she argued, is that the “debate over the drone campaign is a distraction from other, more important issues”: health, access to clean water, and the rule of law.
It is highly unlikely that Obama will cease to approve of the CIA’s programme. Whether it remains politically possible to persevere with it given the Arab Spring and the effect it could have on Arab sentiment towards the superpower is another matter altogether. 2013 will be telling.
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