Twitter Facebook Google RSS
 
National Defense > Blog > Posts > Lack of Evidence May Hinder Long-Term Drone Strategy
Lack of Evidence May Hinder Long-Term Drone Strategy
By Eric Beidel



Opinions and emotions abound when it comes to the United States’ use of armed drones, but what’s missing in the debate is evidence, experts said.
 
Do drone strikes — such as those handled covertly by the CIA in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — reduce the threat posed by terrorists?
 
It’s anyone’s guess, experts said during an Aug. 20 panel discussion hosted by the American Security Project at its Washington, D.C., office.
 
“We think that they kind of work but don’t really have the data to say exactly what effects they have,” said Joshua Foust, a senior fellow for asymmetric operations at the American Security Project.
 
“A lot of academic studies about drones try really hard to get at this, but they’re ultimately not sufficient for making strategic judgments,” he said. “From a broad perspective, we know that in several places around the world, drones offer quick tactical victories but dubious strategic benefits.”
 
He offered as an example Yemen, where strikes have killed several suspected terrorists but also have sparked a political backlash in the countryside.
 
“That backlash might be worth the effect of drones, but at the strategic level, the question of how you balance those costs and benefits is not happening,” Foust said.
 
It is extremely difficult to accurately study the effects and consequences of the U.S. drone campaign, said C. Christine Fair, an assistant professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. Though she advocates for the use of armed drones in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, she acknowledged that even she recently conducted a questionable survey there, where there are several impediments to gathering accurate information on the ground.
 
“People are afraid to answer questions about this,” she said.
 
Obfuscation by Pakistan's military and intelligence agency — as well as the CIA — make it difficult to determine who was being targeted by the United  States and who actually was killed in the aftermath of a strike, Fair said. In addition, statistics about collateral damage often lack credibility, she said.
 
Sometimes innocent victims are made up out of the blue in Pakistan, where records of births and deaths are sporadic at best and non-existent in some areas. Also, civilian injuries blamed on drone strikes could just as easily be the result of terrorist attacks, Fair said.
 
The Taliban doesn’t always speak the truth about its operations, especially when things go wrong, she said. “They don’t want to admit they killed a bunch of innocent children for the same reason that we don’t,” Fair said.
 
More accurate statistics could be compiled if Pakistan officials allowed the United Nations to set up a unit to monitor civilian casualties inside its borders and grant access to journalists. The Senate Intelligence Committee also should have more oversight on the drone program, Fair said.
 
It also is unclear as to whether these strikes create more anti-American terrorists as many opponents have argued. Al-Qaida and the Taliban have been mum on the tactic in their propaganda, and there haven’t been any terrorist plots in retaliation for the drone campaign, said Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
 
The precision strikes do seem to be disrupting terrorist training, he said. Bomb-makers used to take months-long courses to learn their craft, but now are resorting to cram sessions over a few days, Zelin said.
 
CNA research analyst Will McCants said the United States may be at the very top of the “bad guy list” because of its drone policy, which he described as “a reaction to the overreaction” of the deployment of large numbers of ground forces. U.S. leaders now are trying to accomplish their goals with less violence and without committing a lot of human and other resources, he said.
 
“Yemen is a laboratory for whether this new approach can work,” McCants said.
 
But experts can only make educated guesses about what these drone strikes will accomplish in the long run without hard empirical data, Foust said.
 
“Highlighting the challenges in being able to collect that information should be inspiring a certain amount of humility about our ability to draw conclusions about drones, how they function and the effects that they have,” he said.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

Comments

There are no comments yet for this post.
Items on this list require content approval. Your submission will not appear in public views until approved by someone with proper rights. More information on content approval.

Name: *

eMail *

Comment *

Title

Attachments

Name: *


eMail *


Comment *


 

Refresh
Please enter the text displayed in the image.
The picture contains 6 characters.

Characters *

  

Legal Notice *

NDIA is not responsible for screening, policing, editing, or monitoring your or another user's postings and encourages all of its users to use reasonable discretion and caution in evaluating or reviewing any posting. Moreover, and except as provided below with respect to NDIA's right and ability to delete or remove a posting (or any part thereof), NDIA does not endorse, oppose, or edit any opinion or information provided by you or another user and does not make any representation with respect to, nor does it endorse the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement, or other material displayed, uploaded, or distributed by you or any other user. Nevertheless, NDIA reserves the right to delete or take other action with respect to postings (or parts thereof) that NDIA believes in good faith violate this Legal Notice and/or are potentially harmful or unlawful. If you violate this Legal Notice, NDIA may, in its sole discretion, delete the unacceptable content from your posting, remove or delete the posting in its entirety, issue you a warning, and/or terminate your use of the NDIA site. Moreover, it is a policy of NDIA to take appropriate actions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other applicable intellectual property laws. If you become aware of postings that violate these rules regarding acceptable behavior or content, you may contact NDIA at 703.522.1820.

 

 

Bookmark and Share