Reports mention “Despite White House assurances that its lethal drone policy merely targets “senior operational leaders” of al Qaeda and its associates, a new McClatchy report finds that the majority of drone targets in Pakistan include a mix of unidentified ‘extremists’ and lower-level Afghan and Pakistani militants. The blockbuster report is based on copies of ‘top-secret U.S. intelligence reports’ obtained by reporter Jonathan Landay and includes data on drone strikes in Pakistan in a 12-month period ending in September 2011″.
With unabashed glee Micah Zenko writes in a separate, though related, article, “It turns out that the Obama administration has not been honest about who the CIA has been targeting with drones in Pakistan. Jonathan Landay, national security reporter at McClatchy Newspapers, has provided the first analysis of drone-strike victims that is based upon internal, top-secret U.S. intelligence reports. It is the most important reporting on U.S. drone strikes to date because Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides — that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland — is false”.
Zenko goes on to write “Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter’s right to self-defense. A Department of Justice white paper said that the United States can target a ‘senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force’ who ‘poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.’ Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration targets ‘specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces,’ and Harold Koh, the senior State Department legal adviser dubbed them ‘high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.’ Obama said during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012: ‘These strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after al-Qaeda suspects.’ Finally, Obama claimed in September: ‘Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.’”
Ultimately, this is unimportant. The fact that the drone strikes are being carried out on any al-Qaeda operatives whether high level or not, is what is important. America is facing a very dangerous enemy and to pretend otherwise would be reckless. As is well known Pakistan has done its utmost to hinder, slow and stop all US actions in Afghanistan out of a supposed, and ultimately warped “national interest”. Indeed what would be far more worrying is that if the administration was overly selective in picking targets to strike.
Zenko goes on to add “Landay’s reporting primarily covers the most intensive period of CIA drone strikes, from September 2010 to September 2011. ‘[T]he documents reveal estimates of deaths and injuries; locations of militant bases and compounds; the identities of some of those targeted or killed; the movements of targets from village to village or compound to compound; and, to a limited degree, the rationale for unleashing missiles,’ he writes”. Zenko then quotes directly from the report, “Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals”.
Surely this is the whole point of drones? Yes the administration “lied” which it never should have done but instead of praising it for weakening other groups that wish to destroy America Zenko is in effect, saying that drones are too effective and protecting America. This shows just how strange the position he is trying to argue really is.
He then writes “This scope of targeting complicates the Obama administration’s claim that only those al Qaeda members who are an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland can be killed. In reality, starting in the summer of 2008, when President Bush first authorized signature strikes in Pakistan, the vast majority of drone-strike victims were from groups focused on establishing some form of Sharia law, attacking Pakistani security forces, and destabilizing Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban and attacking U.S. servicemembers”.
He ends the article, “Landay also writes that “the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan.” This should finally demolish John Brennan’s claim in June 2011 that “For the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” As I noted previously, either Brennan did not receive the information in these top-secret documents (an implausible notion given his central role in managing the targeted killings program), or he was being dishonest”.
It is however Zenko that is being dishonest, or at the very least naive. Drone strikes are not perfect and sadly some innocent civilians have, obviously, died. However the question that must be asked is what is the alternative? Sending dozens, or hundreds of US troops into harm’s way with uncertain results?
The article closes ,”The Obama administration has a fundamental choice to make if it is serious about reforming its targeted-killing program: Either target who officials claim they are targeting, or change their justifications to match the actual practice. If they unable or unwilling to do this, then other White House efforts toward drone-strike reform or transparency will be met with skepticism”.