The Drone Debate

This past weekend in the New York Times, David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum wrote an op-ed questioning the use of Predator Drones in the war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan. While acknowledging that the use of the predator drones have three clear advantages (effects are measurable, militant networks have been disrupted, no American loss of life), Kilcullen and Exum argue that the costs outweigh the benefits for three reasons.

First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. This is similar to what happened in Somalia in 2005 and 2006, when similar strikes were employed against the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts. While the strikes did kill individual militants who were the targets, public anger over the American show of force solidified the power of extremists. The Islamists' popularity rose and the group became more extreme, leading eventually to a messy Ethiopian military intervention, the rise of a new regional insurgency and an increase in offshore piracy.

Second, public outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place -- areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate. Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation's two most populous provinces. Covered extensively by the news media, drone attacks are popularly believed to have caused even more civilian casualties than is actually the case. The persistence of these attacks on Pakistani territory offends people's deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan's instability.

Third, the use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic -- or, more accurately, a piece of technology -- substituting for a strategy. These attacks are now being carried out without a concerted information campaign directed at the Pakistani public or a real effort to understand the tribal dynamics of the local population, efforts that might make such attacks more effective.

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