The effectiveness of U.S. drone attacks in killing their targets vs. missing their targets and killing innocent human beings is analyzed in fine detail in this report. It looks at multiple attempts to kill a given person. For example, there were 3 U.S. drone attacks on the now-dead Mullah Nazir. These killed 24 innocent civilians. There were 3 U.S. drone attacks on the now-dead Mullah Sangeen Zadran; these killed 108 innocent civilians. Five attacks on the still-living Sirrajudin Haqqani have killed 82 civilians.
In multiple attempts to kill 41 men, the number of people killed in “collateral damage” is 1,147. That is, 28 innocent people have died for every attempt by the CIA or other U.S. forces to kill a target by drone.
Contrast the statements made by U.S. officials. Obama (2012) said
“Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates.”
“There’s this perception that we’re just sending a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans. … It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”
Obama is dead wrong. The truth about drones is the opposite.
Drone attacks are not precise, not accurate, and not narrowly targeted against isolated elements of al Qaeda. The targets are often not present during an attack. Whether the targets are or are not present when the bombs are dropped, there are many innocent persons in the vicinity who are slaughtered.
In the Damadola airstrike aimed at kingpin Ayman al-Zawahiri, at least 18 innocent people were killed but not him. There have been 2 attempts on his life by drones, and they have killed 105 people, but not him.
In drone attacks, the U.S. has not found an easy way to wipe out targeted single individuals while avoiding the killing of innocent human beings. Far from it.
Drones terrorize the population. They are hated. They encourage recruits to the anti-American cause.
The strategy of killing terrorist leaders doesn’t succeed anyway at ending whatever it is they’re trying to end, or achieving security or stability in some region. There are always replacements waiting in the wings. Bombs delivered by drone do not make those on the receiving end lay down their arms. It doesn’t make them embrace their killers. It doesn’t make them change their philosophies to that of their killers and enemies. It doesn’t scare them. It hardens their resolve. They search for new ways to avoid being killed and killing their killers.
In truth, the U.S. can’t win its war on terror by means of drones. Period. It can’t win without someone’s ground forces entering many regions. Air power and drone power can’t do it. And ground forces are necessary but not sufficient to achieve any kind of victory. Numerous other important conditions affect the possibility of success. These conditions vary from country to country.
War is the worst possible way to diminish terrorism or to achieve greater security. Conventional means fail. Insurgencies require other means. This has long been known. See, for example, this 1972 RAND study of the British-Malayan Emergency back in 1948.
The U.S. commissions studies on how to conduct operations against insurgents but then either ignores them or seems unable to implement them because of defects in the American system of government and military.
The U.S. government and military, allied with the military-industrial complex, simply is grossly deficient in learning and in creating administrative and operational systems that achieve the aims of exporting stability and security in foreign regions and quelling insurgencies. It either doesn’t know how to conduct operations or can’t bring proper systems into being. Probably both of these explain U.S. incompetence.
The U.S. war on terror has coincided with the spread of terrorist groups through new territories where they previously had little or no presence or foothold. The U.S. war on terror has widened both the numbers of armed bands and the regions in which they are challenging other powers. This is the case in Libya and countries south of Libya, in Iraq, in Syria, in Somalia and neighboring lands like Kenya and Ethiopia, and in Yemen.
The U.S. war on terror is a complete failure even domestically, where huge expenditures and surveillance accomplish nothing and where ISIS is able to lure Americans into its ranks and cause.
Every U.S. president confronted with systems of politics and military organizations that he could not control or alter has been frustrated when it comes to applying power. Obama fastened upon drone attacks as a way out and as an effective means of countering insurgents at low cost and without committing ground forces, but they are not. Drones haven’t won the war on terror, and they can’t.
Bush resorted to conventional warfare while ignoring important social and political realities. Kennedy had ideas about special forces and agile units, but they didn’t succeed either. Johnson utilized them and conventional forces in great numbers in Vietnam to no avail. Again, they ignored or downplayed critical social and political realities. This is a constant U.S. failing.
Nixon relied on massive air attacks, and that failed in Vietnam. Obama and NATO relied on air power in Libya, and that has failed to do anything but create a highly unstable political and military situation.
Obama is still relying on a failed set of systems in both Syria and Ukraine.
The U.S. government has shown itself time and again to be using political, military and intelligence organizations that fail to achieve the purposes aimed at. They simply do not work. They have large problems and defects that have not been fixed for a very long time, even when they have been recognized; and many people within these organizations recognize the issues and recommend changes to little or no avail.8:17 am on May 9, 2015 Email Michael S. Rozeff