Since taking office, the Obama administration has relentlessly pursued a drone campaign against terrorist targets throughout the world. That targeted killing campaign has come at the expense of missions that attempt to capture individual terrorists, Jeremy Scahill reports for The Intercept citing Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Drone operations allow US to launch attacks overseas while leaving a low operational footprint with relatively little risk to US personnel. The operations are officially intended to result in either the capture or killing of targets. But in practice, the targets are rarely if ever actually captured.
“The drone campaign right now really is only about killing. When you hear the phrase ‘capture/kill,’ capture is actually a misnomer. In the drone strategy that we have, ‘capture’ is a lower case ‘c.’ We don’t capture people anymore,” Flynn told The Intercept.
“Our entire Middle East policy seems to be based on firing drones,” sid Flynn. “That’s what this administration decided to do in its counterterrorism campaign. They’re enamoured by the ability of special operations and the CIA to find a guy in the middle of the desert in some sh—y little village and drop a bomb on his head and kill him.”
Since the start of the War on Terror following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US has engaged in drone warfare in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The administration of George W. Bush first started utilising unmanned attack aircraft, and it conducted 51 drone strikes in Pakistan alone.
Under Obama, the pace and number of drone strikes increased rapidly. As of August, the administration oversaw 419 drone strikes just in Pakistan with a total of 4,500 strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 2009.
This surge in targeted killings under the Obama administration reflects a belief that drones are the quickest and most efficient method of dealing with potential targets and threats. Flynn believes the White House’s enthuasiasm for unmanned attacks is badly misplaced.
“We’ve tended to say, drop another bomb via a drone and put out a headline that ‘we killed Abu Bag of Doughnuts’ and it makes us all feel good for 24 hours,” Flynn told The Intercept. “And you know what? It doesn’t matter. It just made them a martyr, it just created a new reason to fight us even harder.”
Drone strikes are often not as accurate as proponents often claim. Drone operations often lead to collateral damage which may convince civilians that terrorist operations against the US are justified.
In addition, US forces are not always completely sure who they’re actually targeting. In the past, US officials have criticised the target selection criteria as being too lax.
But drone strikes still have few political repercussions in the US, and policy is unlikely to change in the future.
“It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no US casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” Adm. Dennis Blair, the former director of national intelligence under Obama, told The New York Times in May 2012.
“It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term,” said Blair.
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