Archive for the 'Drone Campaign' Category



Losing the Forest for the Trees: Drone Strike Kills al-Libi

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 2 months ago

Hat tip to Hot Air.

The New York Times as well as other media outlets are now confirming, along with the Obama Administration, that Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, has been killed by a drone strike in a remote, Pakistani village last week:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Central Intelligence Agency drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal belt killed Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, American officials said on Tuesday, dealing another blow to the group in a lawless area that has long been considered the global headquarters of international terrorism but the importance of which may now be slipping.

***

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said that as a result of Mr. Libi’s death, “there is no clear successor to take on the breadth of his responsibility, and that puts additional pressure” on Al Qaeda, “bringing it closer to its ultimate demise than ever.”

***

If his death is borne out this time, it would be a milestone in a covert eight-year airstrike campaign that has infuriated Pakistani officials but that has remained one of the United States’ most effective tools in combating militancy.

***

One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described Mr. Libi as one of Al Qaeda’s “most experienced and versatile leaders,” and said he had “played a critical role in the group’s planning against the West, providing oversight of the external operations efforts.”

As damaging as these “decapitation operations” may be to Al Qaeda, we seem to be losing the forest for the trees.

While the U.S. focuses on sending missiles through the windows of every, significant Al Qaeda leader that remains (and each, new one that sprouts up), the war against Militant Islam has long since moved on to other, more threatening venues.  Iran, for example, is a declared enemy of the United States, bent on developing nuclear weapons, but U.S. policy has never reflected anywhere near the seriousness accorded to Al Qaeda, despite the fact that Iran poses a threat that is orders of magnitude greater than Al Qaeda.  Islamists appear poised to take absolute control of the most populous Arab state in Egypt and are actively taking advantage of the civil war in Syria where U.S. intransigence has created a vacuum among the rebel forces.  Turkey is moving doggedly toward an Islamist state that will seek to dominate the region in direct conflict with U.S. national interests.   Pakistan seems to be increasingly in the grip of Islamists who occupy key positions in its military and intelligence services.   More ominously, Europe is increasingly subject to the influence and intimidation of Islamist immigrants who regularly resort to violence to undermine traditional, Western values.   In the U.S., any talk of Islamists or their ideology is forbidden throughout the federal government.

For all that George W. Bush may have gotten wrong during his eight years in office, and in particular with his war planning, he did understand that the United States (and the West at large) was not fighting only or even primarily against Al Qaeda, but against a broader ideology– islamofascism, if you will– that motivated not only Al Qaeda but an entire movement of muslims determined to impose fundamentalist Islam upon the world.

As a last, side note on the al-Libi assassination, we should be careful what we wish for.  The U.S. may succeed in debilitating Al Qaeda’s operation capabilities to such an extent that they will change tactics and resort to the sort of “lone wolf” terror tactics that traumatized Israeli society in the intifada days of a decade ago.  Anyone who lived as I did in the Washington, D.C. area in the Fall of 2002 well remembers how just two persons, acting on their own in seemingly random fashion, could seriously disrupt an entire region.  It is a wonder that the Islamists have not resorted to this tactic in any concerted way.  Let’s hope that they don’t.   But, considering how little strategic thinking seems to be going on in D.C., “hope” may be the only thing left.

Drones and the War Against Militant Islam: Useful Tool or Game Changer?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 10 months ago

One of my favorite historians and conservative thinkers, Victor Davis Hanson, published a provocative article over at NRO, “The Predator-in-Chief.”

In this article, Hanson basically observes the irony that President Obama, who roundly criticized Bush 43 for his resort to force of arms, has turned out to be the unquestioned champion of UAV/drone strikes against high-value targets in both Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and even Somalia.

But Hanson attempts to do far more than merely observe Obama’s unbridled use of drones.   He argues that the development, use and continuing refinement of drones has “turned the tide” in the war against militant Islam.

For example:

Even when [the United States] adjusted well to the 9/11 tactics, there were new threats, such as suicide bombers and roadside improvised explosive devices that seemed to nullify American technological and material advantages.

But America is once again getting the upper hand in this long war against Middle Eastern terrorists, with the use of Predator-drone targeted assassinations to which the terrorists have not yet developed an answer. In systematically deadly fashion, Predators are picking off the top echelon of al-Qaeda and its affiliates from the Hindu Kush to Yemen to the Horn of Africa.

New models of drones seem almost unstoppable. They are uncannily accurate in delivering missiles in a way even precision aircraft-bombing cannot. Compared to the cost of a new jet or infantry division, Predators are incredibly cheap. And they do not endanger American lives — at least as long as terrorists cannot get at hidden runaways abroad or video-control consoles at home.

The pilotless aircraft are nearly invisible and, without warning, can deliver instant death from thousands of feet away in the airspace above. Foreign governments often give us permission to cross borders with Predators in a way they would not with loud, manned aircraft.

Moreover, drones are constantly evolving. They now stay in the air far longer and are far more accurate and far more deadly than when they first appeared in force shortly after 9/11. Suddenly it is a lot harder for a terrorist to bomb a train station in the West than it is for a Predator to target that same would-be terrorist’s home in South Waziristan.

Notwithstanding my admiration for his work, I cannot sign onto this particular piece.  Perhaps I am once again blinded by my antipathy for the current Administration, leading me to reject anything that reflects well on Obama, a kind of cognitive dissonance that finds fault where there is none.  On the other hand, it may be that Herschel Smith (and other folks like Tim Lynch, Michael Ledeen and Michael Yon) educated me too well to fall into facile thinking about a war won with drone attacks.   I am surprised to hear Professor Hanson saying anything to this effect.

What support is there for Hanson’s statement that drones have facilitated “getting the upper hand in the long war against Middle Eastern terrorists” ?

I certainly do not deny that drones have proven to be exceedingly useful tools on the battlefield and adept at decapitation operations, but Hanson seems to make way too much out of the effect of drones.  Yes, many al-Qaeda and affiliated terror group leaders have been killed and their accumulated expertise, leadership and inspiration denied to their followers.   But, as we have seen again and again in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, Iran and Somalia, merely ridding terror groups of their top leadership provides at best a respite until new leadership fills in the vacated posts.   Capabilities can be blunted at times with this tactic but the larger struggle continues unabated.   In short, no one has yet proven that decapitation operations are winning the war.

And I posit that no one can prove this point because to argue this is to mistake the very nature of the war itself.

Has the killing of Bin Laden and others really “turned the tide” in our favor as Hanson claims?  It could be argued that Al Qaeda as an organization was already dead or dying, discredited by their humiliating defeat in Iraq and their failure to launch any new attacks against the U.S. homeland.  In this sense, Al Qaeda leadership has been sitting around waiting to be picked off.   Very simply put, the game has changed dramatically since 9-11 and Al Qaeda and its cohorts are no longer all that relevant.   The ball has been taken up by other larger forces and by events that no one could foresee in 2001 or even 2009.   The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the so-called Arab Spring.   These are all actors and events that are well beyond the reach of Drones and will have the most to say about winning or losing the war against militant Islam.

This is the problem with incorrectly identifying the enemy and the nature of our war.  It is far larger than any one terror group or 2,200 disembodied radicals.  The enemy is an ideology that is antithetical to Western civilization.  Like it or not, we are in a civlizational war with militant Islam.  If it makes us feel better to kill off 2,200 bad guys in Pakistan or Yemen or wherever, fine.

This explains, by the way, the strange attraction of Drones for Obama.  It is a cheap, easy and politically potent tool, giving him something concrete he can point to and say, “See what I’ve done to defeat terror?”

In the meantime, the ideology is not defeated.  To the contrary, it grows and metastasizes throughout the Middle East.  Iran.  The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Gaza (and Syria?).  Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Islamists in Libya.  The U.S. has done nothing to counter the Islamist ideology or strengthen the hands of those in the Middle East who share our values but need strong support to make their case to the people.  We blandly ignore the protests in Iran and Syria as internal matters, allowing the Islamists to gain the upper hand.  We have wasted 10 years in Afghanistan with futile attempts to impose an 18th century notion of democratic rule on a 9th century nation that sees little need to change.  But let’s celebrate those drone strikes.  The ground in the entire Middle East is shifting right under our feet, but, boy, did we blast those bad guys to bits in those remote villages and caves.

Drones are not the answer to any of this.   If only they were.   We cannot win this war with technology.   We have to defeat militant Islam the same way that we defeated fascism and communism:  by showing that they are bankrupt and evil ideologies.   Drones cannot save us.    Sorry Professor Hanson.

Drone Front and Other Recommended Reading

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

Loyal reader and blogger Rick Keyes has made a contribution for our education this weekend.  Rick has cataloged and analyzed the recent drone strikes in the tribal region of Pakistan.  Make sure to study his report Drone_Front.

Next, the Army has finally published an official historical analysis of the engagement at Wanat.  The study is from The Staff of the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  It is entitled Wanat: Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008.

On page 255 three of my articles are listed.  I am proud to have contributed in some small degree to this important work.  I had wanted for a long time to publish Douglas Cubbison’s preliminary work in full, but it was forwarded to me in confidence and I have held that confidence until today.  Now the study is complete, although not exactly in its original form or with all of its original content.


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