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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Drone War

The drone war against Al Qaeda's leaders--and, increasingly, their Pakistani-based Taliban allies--has been waged with little public discussion or congressional investigation of its legality or efficacy, even though the offensive is essentially a program of assassination that kills not only militant leaders, but also civilians in a country that is, at least nominally, a close ally of the United States. Nor has there been a substantive debate about whether the gains of winnowing the ranks of Al Qaeda's leadership outweigh the fact that the inevitable civilian casualties are a superb recruiting tool for the Pakistani Taliban. Indeed, the drone strikes have pushed militants deeper into Pakistan and given them an excuse to strike the heartland of the country, further destabilizing the already rickety government in Islamabad. All of which raises the question of whether the drone campaign, however useful in the short term, might fatally undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize the region and to win the long-term war against Al Qaeda and its allies.

In the face of the intense Pakistani opposition to American boots on the ground, the Bush administration chose to rely on drones to target suspected militants. Bush ordered the CIA to expand its attacks with Predator and Reaper drones, and, according to a former Bush administration official familiar with the program, the U.S. government stopped notifying Pakistani officials when strikes were imminent or obtaining their "concurrence" for the attacks. As a result, the time that it took for a target to be identified and engaged dropped from many hours to 45 minutes.

Forty-five minutes in combat is the equivalent of the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era - insurgents move and things change just like dinosaurs thrived in the beginning of the Era and were extinct by the era's final period. The time it takes to launch a drone attack is ridiculous. What could solve this time problem is artillery and delegating the authority to kinetic strikes to the battalion level. Division commanders, the senior raters of battalion commanders, should commend battalion commanders who effectively use drones and artillery to kill the bad guys as a part of their counterinsurgency campaign. That will be the only way to implement more frequent tactical use - otherwise everyone will continue to have to get so many approvals that by the time a strike is approved it is already based on old intelligence. Hopefully, LTG McChrystal will do something like this - afterall OCFI always had priority for drone strikes and somehow the JSOC did a good job in killing bad guys and the counterinsurgency campaign did not crumble.

The use of Guided Unitary Rockets, aka GMLRS, was very effective in Al Anbar in 2006, you know when the war was apparently "lost," but infantry and armor officers, who are usually the commanders of brigades, divisions, and corps, do not understand how to properly use artillery to quickly act on actionable intelligence. They are afraid of collateral damage and a career-ending artillery strike - despite artillery being more accurate than the mortars they frequently authorize the use of (because they probably had a second platoon command as a mortar PL) and even, dare I say it, drone strikes. They shouldn't be scared, afterall, plenty of mistakes have been made by the general officer corps of the Army and most survived and were promoted!

See: Airborne Intelligence Is Growing Component in Fight Against Insurgents

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