Recent AQ Foreign Fighter Recruitment, Part 3

Continuing from posts #1 and #2 reference the Newsweek article “Inside Al Qaeda”, this article demonstrates how drones have disrupted AQ operations in Pakistan.  Hanif, the young Pakistani AQ recruit, explains in detail how the increasing intensity of the drone program disrupted their training and planning.

“The sound of the drones in the sky is so incessant you stop noticing it, like the buzzing of insects, Hanif says. “You don’t see or hear anything before the missile’s impact.” He says the aftermath of a drone attack can be particularly hard.”

The article later continues noting…

“in the past year, he estimates, drones have killed some 80 Qaeda members, many of them senior commanders.  (That figure sounds compatible with the number offered by a Pakistani intelligence source, who tells Newsweek he believes some 120 Qaeda militants have been eliminated by drones in the past two years.) Now the fighters have grown more careful even when visiting the bazaars in Miran Shah, the war-battered capital of North Waziristan.”

Hanif notes later that,

“Our leaders are afraid of spies,” Hanif says. A year ago the militants became convinced that CIA proxies were tagging their cars with magnetic locator devices, to guide Hellfire missiles to their target.”

Hanif’s account shows that the U.S. has made significant advances in counterterrorism.  The drone program has achieved far more against AQ (and Taliban) operations in Pakistan than any counterinsurgency effort on either side of the AFPAK border.  Drones have:

  1. Disrupted AQ’s strategic planning by eliminating AQ leaders or isolating them in protective positions.
  2. Caused AQ to exhaust additional resources to maintain operational security.
  3. Largely eliminated large-scale conventional training venues.  Hanif used to train formally at camps, but now he and his fellow recruits are confined to rooms in shacks.
  4. Forced AQ to use less experienced and poorly trained individuals.  These new recruits are less likely to be successful operationally and will also be unlikely to carry out terrorism for future generations.

I return to this article and the drone discussion as we once again reevaluate our Afghanistan strategy and our overall counterterrorism strategy.  Despite the fears of COIN advocates, the drone program has disrupted AQ operations and not caused the massive civilian populace backlash they forewarned.  The drone program unfortunately causes some civilian casualties during its operations.  However, I estimate the scale of civilian casualties from drones is likely equal to or less than the number of civilian casualties created through our COIN approach.

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