The former United States Director of National Intelligence speaks about the shortcomings of drone warfare in the New York Times.
OVER the past two years, America has narrowed its goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan to a single-minded focus on eliminating Al Qaeda. Public support for a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan has waned. American officials dealing with Pakistan now spend most of their time haggling over our military and intelligence activities, when they should instead be pursuing the sort of comprehensive social, diplomatic and economic reforms that Pakistan desperately needs and that would advance America’s long-term interests.
In Pakistan, no issue is more controversial than American drone attacks in Pakistani territory along the Afghan border. The Obama administration contends that using drones to kill 10 or 20 more Qaeda leaders would eliminate the organization. This is wishful thinking.
Drone strikes are no longer the most effective strategy for eliminating Al Qaeda’s ability to attack us. Past American drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan to a fearful, hunted cadre that did not have the time or space to plan, train and coordinate major terrorist acts against the United States.
But the important question today is whether continued unilateral drone attacks will substantially reduce Al Qaeda’s capabilities. They will not.
Instead, we must work with Pakistan’s government as an equal partner to achieve our common goals while ensuring that the country does not remain a refuge for Taliban fighters.
Qaeda officials who are killed by drones will be replaced. The group’s structure will survive and it will still be able to inspire, finance and train individuals and teams to kill Americans. Drone strikes hinder Qaeda fighters while they move and hide, but they can endure the attacks and continue to function.
Moreover, as the drone campaign wears on, hatred of America is increasing in Pakistan. American officials may praise the precision of the drone attacks. But in Pakistan, news media accounts of heavy civilian casualties are widely believed. Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk to our soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of warfare without cost to its own troops.
Our dogged persistence with the drone campaign is eroding our influence and damaging our ability to work with Pakistan to achieve other important security objectives like eliminating Taliban sanctuaries, encouraging Indian-Pakistani dialogue, and making Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal more secure.
Reducing Al Qaeda to a fringe group of scattered individuals without an organizational structure will only succeed if Pakistan asserts control over its full territory and brings government services to the regions bordering Afghanistan.
Washington should support a new security campaign that includes jointly controlled drone strikes and combines the capabilities of both countries. Together, the American and Pakistani governments can fashion a plan that meets the objectives of both without committing to broader joint campaigns that would not be politically viable at the moment.
We can help Pakistan with logistics, transport and intelligence; Pakistan can help us by deploying security forces and improving local government on the ground. Drone strikes targeting Qaeda leaders and other terrorists would be conducted by mutual agreement.
The raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May showed Pakistan that the United States would respect its sovereignty only so far. A cooperative campaign against common enemies offers them the best chance of controlling American actions in their country. And Pakistani participation in the targeting of drone strikes would remove a major source of anti-American resentment.
If we are ever to reduce Al Qaeda from a threat to a nuisance, it will be by working with Pakistan, not by continuing unilateral drone attacks.
Current Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, sees no need to stop the strikes.