Drone Strikes: Short-term Tactic or Long-term Strategy?

November 2, 2011
7:30 pm -

Event Description

On November 3, FDD hosted a stimulating panel discussion examining how aerial drones have transformed the way America fights wars and combats global terrorist networks, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The panel included three top experts on the U.S. drone campaign who have closely tracked and reported on the issue: FDD Senior Fellow Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s The Long War Journal, Eric Schmitt, a senior military and national security writer for The New York Times, and Robert Barnidge, a leading lecturer of international law and terrorism at the University of Reading School of Law in the U.K.

The audience included members of the diplomatic corps, the defense and intelligence community, Hill staff, think tank experts, visiting military personnel, and press.

Drones have been in the news lately with the recent killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and other al Qaeda members and affiliates. The Obama administration has greatly expanded the drone campaign, to the extent that there were more drone strikes in 2009 alone than in all eight years of the previous administration.

While the panelists explored several tactical and legal issues surrounding drones, there was general agreement that they are still a short-term tactic, but not a comprehensive strategy.

Some highlights from the conversation:

Eric Schmitt: “The expansion of the use of armed Reapers really underscores a failure in American policies in many ways. [Drones] have become a tool of last resort … What we’ve seen especially in Pakistan and increasingly in Somalia and Yemen, underscores the failure of the U.S. of a policy begun during the Bush administration and continued under the Obama administration to train indigenous forces to take on the terrorist threats themselves or persuade local forces – such as the Pakistanis -that they must go in on the ground themselves [to root out terror].

Robert Barnidge spoke on the legality of drone strikes under international law…

“The two issues in international law according to war are ‘distinction’ and ‘proportionality.’ It’s not a requirement of law to have zero casualties. Quite frankly I think President Obama wants to increase drone strikes because he’s scared of capturing [terrorists] and then having to deal with the controversy of putting them in Guantonomo bay.”

Bill Roggio: “Drones can keep the enemy off balance and make it harder for them to plot attacks against the U.S., but they don’t address the issue of these groups continuing to operate unfettered….

One problem I have with the administration’s view on this is that it seems to think that just killing some of al Qaeda’s top leaders will cause al Qaeda to collapse. But the organization just isn’t going away – it’s evolved over time to include other terrorist groups … Look at the Israelis in their attempt to defeat Hamas. Airstrike after airstrike after airstrike, Hamas still controls Gaza.

The real issue here isn’t the actual hardware of the drones – It’s how we’re using them – the policy behind them.”

For breaking news and analysis of this and other counterterrorism issues, visit FDD’s The Long War Journal.


Afghanistan Jihadism Military and Political Power Pakistan The Long War