I have written some about the drone wars a few months back when I responded to a series of posts by a fellow SIN blogger who believes the drone wars are both necessary and effective. I later followed up with a third post, an extensive expose about why the drone wars are not effective, legal, or moral. No Cross No Crescent never responded to this post, or the others in any meaningful way.
He is at it again with another post, attempting to counter the charge that U.S. actions around the globe contribute to the growing terrorist threat. In the first and third posts of my series I listed a handful of terrorists who cited explicitly their motivations for their attacks: U.S. actions abroad, along with the killing of innocent men, women, and children. I had supposed that this would be a knock-down counter-argument to the effectiveness of the drone wars but to NCNC, I guess not. Who knows why. All I can do is continue to hammer home the facts and hope at least some of them get through. NCNC begins his post by saying,
I have written about the drone war a number of times. My views on this matter, which have brought me disagreement and frustration from some of my fellow SIN bloggers, are quite explicit. I am not content with this war, and I wish that I can be stopped through agreements between US and nations where Islamist militant groups are active. And this cannot happen soon enough. In the meantime, though, aside from the issue of unintended casualties, for which I blame the extremists as well as the US military, I consider this war to be both moral and legal. Hence, I won’t reopen that subject here.
I agree that agreements must be struck between governments, but this cannot happen while the U.S. is breaking international law by violating the sovereignty of those countries where the U.S. drones carry out their attacks and kill that countries’ civilian population. I’m hard pressed to see how these illegal and violent acts can lead to peaceful resolutions and mutual agreements between nations.
But the one point that still needs to be addressed is the argument that the drone strikes will backfire by helping the extremist groups recruit. As the argument goes, family member of those killed or injured in the attacks will join the extremists, and make up for any lost members due to the strikes, because now they have a new grievance against the US. This objection has also been brought up recently in the literature by journalists and authors.
My first counterargument to this claim is that, while it may be true that new people join extremist groups as a result of the drone war, terrorist recruitment is a complex phenomenon, and it is very hard to tell how much of their recruitment success may be attributable to US actions. Look at Iraq, for example. Death tolls in that country are still extremely high (and sadly are reaching levels comparable to 2005-2006) even though there are no more US troops there. While some have attributed the violence in that country to the persistence of a US embassy, the reality is that ethno-religious divides in Iraq are extremely deep, and that prime minister Al-Malaki, a Shiite, won’t stop harassing minority Sunnis and treating them like second-class citizens. And this is a dream recruitment opportunity for Al-Qaeda, having nothing to do with drones.
It is true that there is a lot of sectarian violence in Iraq at the moment, which is fueling much of the violence that currently exists. However, NCNC has chosen a very narrow example. Currently, the Iraq war has been phased out by the Obama administration, and late last year Obama has officially called an end to the war, unfortunately, there are a number of U.S. troops, private contractors, and officials who remain in the country. The U.S. presence in Iraq has dramatically shrunk, and the Obama administration has been focused on other countries, which will be my focus because they should be the real focus here, not a country that the U.S. has pretty much abandoned after destroying it. For example, what about in Yemen where Yemeni activist Ibrahim Mothana reported how in his village “drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants.” He emphasizes how “they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.” Even a former CIA station chief, Robert Grenier, has noted this in an article published by Al Jazeera. He wrote,
One wonders how many Yemenis may be moved in future to violent extremism in reaction to carelessly targeted missile strikes, and how many Yemeni militants with strictly local agendas will become dedicated enemies of the West in response to US military actions against them. AQAP and those whom it trains and motivates to strike against civilian targets must continue to be resisted by the joint efforts of the civilised world. But the US would be wise to calibrate its actions in Yemen in such a way as to avoid making that obscure and relatively limited and containable threat into the Arabian equivalent of Waziristan.
Why are they saying these things? Because of the hatred that drone strikes often breed, the hatred which NCNC has continually denied or attempted to minimize. And I could easily continue with such quotes. For instance, prior to U.S. involvement in Somalia al Qaeda barely had any presence in the country at all. After the U.S. began using drones in the country and making use of their “targeted killing” strategy (an oxymoron if there ever was one) al Qaeda’s membership greatly expanded there. To quote Jeremy Scahill,
But, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, this strategy appear[s] to fuel the movements that created those “bad guys” in the first place. “If you use the drone, and the selected killings, and do nothing else on the other side, then you get rid of individuals. But the root causes are still there,” observed the former Somali foreign minister, Ismail Mahmoud “Buubaa” Hurre. “The root causes are not security. The root causes are political and economic.”
In Afghanistan, as well, we see the same pattern emerging. In a much publicized case of the murder of a pro-government Afghan police commander named Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin and several members of his family in 2010 by U.S. special forces, the surviving family members pledged their hatred for the U.S. and their desire to kill Americans. When being interviewed by British investigative journalist Jerome Starkey the surviving members of the family told him, ”All our family, we now don’t care about our lives. We will all do suicide attacks and [the whole province] will support us.”  It must be kept in mind that this is the family of a pro-government and anti-Taliban Afghan police commander who was being trained by the U.S. military. Now, their allegiance with the U.S. has been shattered because of Daoud’s murder at the hands of the American military.
The same rationale was used by the so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, when he said, “I had an agreement with at least one person to attack the United States in retaliation for US support of Israel and in retaliation of the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Palestine, especially in the blockade of Gaza, and in retaliation for the killing of innocent and civilian Muslim populations in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond, most of them women, children, and noncombatants.” [emphasis mine]
NCNC makes his second attempt at a counter-argument by saying,
The second counterargument against the “drones help recruitment” claim is that bringing in new members is not the only thing extremists have to do. Before new members are useful to them, they need to be trained and equipped. And let’s not forget what happened when they had a free hand to do so.
This argument is about as ridiculous as the first. It doesn’t take much training – if any – to learn how to pull a trigger or explode a suicide vest, maybe a few days at most.
As in the last few posts I examined of NCNC’s he fails to back up much of what he says with facts, and this second argument is a perfect testament to this.
At this time, however, evidence clearly suggests that drone strikes have disrupted their training efforts and other logistical activities, and made the planning of their attacks a lot harder. It is very hard to argue, under the circumstances, that having new, untrained members somehow benefits these groups, as they keep losing more experienced members and their logistical infrastructure.
Hence, those who argue that the drone war needs to end because it helps the militants’ recruitment effort need to answer two questions. How do they know how much of extremist recruitment is due to the drone war, despite all the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, etc. in which the US is not involved, or got involved only after the fact? And how can they tell us that we should be worried about terrorist recruitment, while we haven’t forgotten the consequences of their having a free hand to train, and those look a lot scarier?
Here, NCNC completely ignores the fact that I’ve already responded to this, which misses the point entirely. A change of tactics does not imply success. Anyone who believes this doesn’t understand combat.
I’ve already answered his first question with direct quotes of several individuals and groups who stated explicitly their desire to attack the U.S. or civilians overseas because of the loss of loved ones at the hands of the U.S. I also demonstrated how in Somalia, prior to U.S. involvement, there was very little support for al Qaeda but now there is an abundance. As for the second question, no one is arguing that we should not replace the drone strikes with another method of combating terrorism. This is a strawman. This is not an either/or argument made by opponents of the drone war. What I am saying, and others too, is that we should replace the drone strikes with good police work that has been successful in numerous occasions against many terrorists over the years, from Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, and yes, even Osama bin Laden. These methods did not cause hundreds of civilian casualties and they did not turn those who used to be our allies against us.
Finally, NCNC quotes the Pakistani government stating that civilian causalities are actually low when it comes to drone strikes. He writes,
The Pakistani military also has spoken about the drone war casualties in that country. As it happens, despite claims by some on the political left in the US that many of the casualties are civilians and that this helps extremist recruiting, few of the casualties are civilians; according to the Pakistanis at least, the majority are hard core militants, including many third-country nationals, whose presence on Pakistani soil has no explanation other than jihadi activities, and whose death are not likely to bring many to the extremist fold who weren’t there already:
General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood said in a briefing here: “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.
“Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.”
The Military’s 7-Dvision’s official paper on the attacks till Monday said that between 2007 and 2011 about 164 predator strikes had been carried out and over 964 terrorists had been killed.
Of those killed, 793 were locals and 171 foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans.
And he also said this:
Maj-Gen Ghayur, who is in-charge of troops in North Waziristan, admitted that the drone attacks had negative fallout, scaring the local population and causing their migration to other places.
Sad and real, but why aren’t the militants blamed for this? They are the ones turning the living area of local population into training camps and hiding behind civilians.
I am glad that NCNC has finally learned to do at least a little research since his last two posts. However, the fact is that the Pakistani government is now known to have lied about the numbers of civilian causalities so this argument is moot. I cannot fault NCNC for this, however, since these revelations came out one day after he published his post.
In a just released report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, they have published internal documents showing that the numbers of civilian casualties are much higher than was previously reported.
As for his final sentence, arguing that the terrorists are to blame because they are “turning the living area of local population into training camps and hiding behind civilians.” In a previous post I showed how many terrorists actually stay away from the towns. His other ad hoc argument about terrorists turning their living spaces into terrorist training grounds is also unsupported without any evidence.
Even if it were true that terrorists purposefully base training camps near civilian targets I think it’s horribly illogical and immoral to blame the terrorists for the killing of civilians. This is no different than the following type of scenario. Let’s take a bank robber who then takes a hostage. What do police and SWAT teams usually do in this situation? Kill the hostage in order to more easily target the bad guy, and afterward, shrug their shoulders and blame the gunman for the hostage’s death?! Of course not! That’s insane and I think most people would agree. Rather than this foolish tactic they instead try to negotiate and use some form of precision strikes, like a sniper, to take the bank robber out if there is an opportunity because to harm the innocent hostage would be immoral. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many supporters of the drone war, they have been bamboozled by the government’s propaganda to accept exactly this insane proposal. This is precisely the rationale that NCNC and others use when they try to blame terrorists for the U.S.’s use of Hell Fire missiles that kill thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Not only is this immoral, but it also violates international law in the case of drone strikes.
In actuality, I think the blame ought to be squarely placed on the U.S. because their choice of tactics terrorize and kill hundreds of innocent people, when a much more prudent law-enforcement strategy would cause many, many less deaths and destruction, while capturing terror suspects, as has been done in Pakistan numerous times in the past, as I’ve explained in previous posts about the drone wars.
This argument is so absurd, it’s akin to blaming a robber for the death of a family, who has broken into said family’s home and when police arrive to arrest him, he barricades himself inside. The cops, rather than try to coax the man out, or use tactical teams to rescue the family by sneaking inside, instead drop a bomb on the home, killing everyone inside. There is no real difference between drones firing upon or near a civilian zone and my story. When placed in context, this strategy in insane and counterproductive.
Since the publishing of my first response to NCNC I do not believe that he has successfully responded to a single argument against the drone wars. In his first two posts every single one of his cited evidence and so-called facts were wrong, and his subsequent responses in the comment section I felt weren’t much better. However, in this post at least he read his sources and didn’t misconstrue them as he did previously. Despite this small improvement, his arguments ignored mountains of contradictory evidence and he failed to support some of his claims.
I firmly stand by what I’ve said before. I believe all of the facts point to the conclusion that the drone wars are counter-productive, they violate international law, and they are immoral. Thus far, no one has successfully responded to the points I’ve made.
1. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, by Jeremy Scahill, Nation Books, 2013; 342