The news that a U.S. drone attack against an Al Qaeda target killed two hostages allows us to look at this strategy in a critical light. Favored by the Obama administration and meant to combat terrorism, the method has produced questionable results.
It is unusual to see the White House – and even the President – making public statements about a secret program which uses a President Obama-approved list of terrorists to be killed via planes controlled remotely from Nevada.
Waging a war like this, without human cost on one side, is controversial, as the absence of troops on the ground eliminates one of the reasons to prevent war. The extended use of these drones by the U.S. encourages other countries to follow suit.
To this, we should also add the large amount of collateral civilian victims. Supporters of using drones speak of the vehicle’s precision and intelligence application to determine targets. Reality, however, contradicts these assertions.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that nearly 486 drone attacks were carried out in Yemen and Pakistan, killing approximately 4,400 people, most of them innocent. An example of the lack of precision of these combat weapons is the case of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who survived an attack meant to kill him but which instead took the lives of 76 children and 29 adults. The drones’ poor aim is examined in a report by the Open Society Justice Initiative, which analyzed nine attacks launched over Yemen and found that they caused numerous civilian casualties.
Ironically, this strategy, far from eliminating terrorism, has become an incentive for more people to join the ranks of terrorist organizations. Drone attacks may eliminate key Al Qaeda leaders – and it has, – but the scores of innocent victims generate a strong resentment toward the U.S. among the population. In turn, extremists capitalize on this sentiment.
The death of two hostages during a drone attack is an embarrassment for the White House. This forces the U.S. to uncomfortably admit a reality that, officially, goes virtually unspoken. A combination of good aim and precise intelligence is little more than wishful thinking.