On May 7, American media boasted of a dead terrorist in Yemen: Nasr bin Ali al-Ansi, the purported mastermind of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Back home, the United States celebrated the counter insurgency tactic of using unmanned aerial vehicles to do the dirty work.
But does al-Ansi’s death put an end to terrorism? No.
Actually, ever since America’s drone campaign reached Yemen, al-Qaeda’s presence in the Arabian Peninsula has intensified, which has sparked debate concerning the counter productivity of drone warfare. The Washington Post reported a doubling of AQAP core insurgents in Yemen since the first strike in 2009. Theorists argue the reason for the amplification of terrorism in drone-affected regions stems predominately from exacerbated anti-Americanism, which the counterinsurgency tactic ultimately spurs on.
It’s a vicious cycle, and there’s even an expression for it: Insurgent Math.
General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, coined the phrase as a response to such attacks. He holds that the act of killing civilians actually breeds insurgents, thus making enemy-centric counterinsurgency tactics counterproductive. During a speech delivered at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, McChrystal posed a likely scenario: If 10 operatives are targeted and two are killed, many people would assume eight terrorists remain. According to the mathematics of insurgency, however, the answer is actually unlikely.
“There are more likely to be as many as 20, because each [insurgent] you killed has a brother, father, son and friends, who do not necessarily think that they were killed because they were doing something wrong,” he said. “It does not matter — you killed them. Suddenly, then, there may be 20, making the calculus of military operations very different.”
Essentially, the tricky tradeoff of insurgent math furthers the notion that the hard power, search-and-destroy approach of drone warfare will eventually create more enemies than it had initially eliminated.
Aside from growing the terrorist movement, drone warfare also claims far too many innocent lives. Despite the CIA’s claims, drones are far from surgical in their application and do not retain the capacity to successfully differentiate between noncombatants and combatants.
In its 2013 publication entitled “Will I Be Next?”, Amnesty International reported case studies of the civilians negatively impacted by drone warfare in Pakistan. One case tells the story of the impoverished Zowi Sidgi Village in North Waziristan, “an important corridor for Afghan Taliban fighters transiting to and from Pakistan.” In the summer of 2010, 18 Chromite minors and laborers were murdered by two drone strikes in the region; the first strike claimed eight lives and the secondary strike claimed the lives of 10 additional people who had run to assist the first batch of victims. The youngest victim was a 14-year-old boy. An additional 22 people were injured, including an 8-year-old girl named Sherbano who “sustained shrapnel injuries to her leg.”
AI also delineated the account of 68-year-old Mamana Bibi, who was killed by a Hellfire missile in a double strike in front of her grandchildren in 2012. Bibi was working the fields of her family’s compound in Pakistan’s Ghundi Kala village when she “was blown into pieces by at least two Hellfire missiles fired concurrently from a US drone aircraft.” Her grandchildren, who were all in close proximity, managed to survive but faced life-threatening shrapnel injuries and are now left with the painful awareness that another drone strike could occur at any given time.Like most families of drone victims, Bibi’s family has yet to receive some form of legal remedy from either Pakistani or American authorities.
Similar stories of civilian causalities echo from the Arabian Peninsula as well, as Yemen continues to face drone strikes. Human Rights Watch reported of one attack in 2009 and five attacks between 2012 and 2013, which in total killed 82 people — at least 57 of them were noncombatants. In its 2013 publication of “Between a Drone and al-Qaeda,” HRW investigated an attack in central Yemen’s Sarar province that struck a vehicle carrying 12 civilians, including three children and a pregnant woman; all passengers were killed.
But the topic of dead foreign civilians seldom reaches our national, mainstream agenda. Chances are (unless conducting your own, independent research) you won’t be hearing much of drone warfare, as it is operated by the CIA and deemed classified — unless the media’s intent is to highlight only its success. This furthers blind patriotism, which boosts the morale of a nation that should really be questioning such a tactic.
And when an innocent victim is killed, what happens? A virtual media blackout. Their stories aren’t shared; their plight isn’t highlighted.
The age-old adage that we often heard during time-outs in grade school still applies: Two wrongs never make a right.
The Poly Post, Vol. 30