Obama's drone policy dilemma

Screengrab of Abu Yahya al-Libi, file image 25 March 2007 Pakistani officials say two missiles from unmanned aircraft killed 15 people

They came to bury senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, not praise him.

But American officials are so keen to trumpet their latest drone kill that it sounds like they are about to offer him a job rather than announce they have killed a bitter enemy.

They say he was "experienced", "versatile", played a "critical role" as a "longstanding member of the leadership" who had "gravitas" and "religious credentials".

Rather like some official announcement of the retirement of a colleague, they continue: "[Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-]Zawahiri will be hard-pressed to find any one person who can readily step into Abu Yahya's shoes."

"There is no-one who even comes close in terms of replacing the expertise AQ has just lost," they add.

This rather strange, gushing testimonial to a terrorist is all part of the Obama administration's new-found enthusiasm to open up about their drone wars.

Militants killed by drones in Pakistan

  • June 2012: Senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi
  • February 2012: Al-Qaeda commander Badar Mansoor
  • August 2011: Al-Qaeda commander Atiyah Abd al-Rahman
  • June 2011: Senior al-Qaeda figure Ilyas Kashmiri (according to reports)
  • August 2009: Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud

Indeed, it is part of their hard sell of a new way of warfare, which they believe has clear political advantages for President Barack Obama.

From their point of view, they have achieved a key military objective with no cost to American lives - and so no domestic political toll.

This was a successful operation, but even failures do not impose a heavy price within the US.

As one expert put it to me: "When a drone goes missing, no mothers weep."

But it is not true that there is no cost.

Pakistan has told the US that drones strikes must stop, they are a red line for the country, and are both against international law and a breach of national sovereignty.

For more on this subject, read my piece on President Obama's drone policy.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor


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  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    "Afghan officials said 18 civilians died, including women and children."

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Off topic:

    But the people of WI sent a message to special intrests by supporting Scott Walker!

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    "Islam isn't just religion"
    I think that Islam united the Arab nations, even though they don't seem united now. Also, if you're a Muslim living here, you'd be actually thankful to God. Look at the crimes the West is committing against Arabs. Look how they deprive us of our rights. Look how much they hate Islam & Muslims. Islam is a blessing from God to us and we are thankful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    BluesBerry: "Obama takes responsibility for each drone. What a man!"

    More of a man that a Canadian who choped his male lover to pieces and mailed them to parties' heaqdquarters and Canadian schools.

    Before he was finally caught in Berlin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    my devices have ARM chips not AMD Intel. I hope that doesnt mean the pesky Brits are spying on me as well..

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Islam isn't just religion, it's religion & politics entwined & packaged as religion. ECHR ruling in 2003 says how Sharia is incompatible with democracy & human rights.
    Islam is a religion so get over your paranoid spam and propaganda justifying western terrorism

    USA + Israel are biggest breaches of Human Rights killing Civilians

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    80.Entropic man
    n "The Patriot" Mel Gibson was heroically portrayed as fighting the British bcause a renegade British officer killed his family.
    In Pakistan a man is heroically preparing to fight the Americans because a renegade US President has killed his family.

    Mel Gibson personal problems/views aside can you name that renegade US president?

    Reagan? Clinton? Bush? Obama?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    "Al-Qaeda has pledged to kill every man, woman, and child in the US. Is it okay if we fight back?"
    The USA & Israel are killing every man, woman &child in Palestine &the Middle-East for whole decades.
    The drones' policy may be doing the job, but it doesn't mean the USA won't reap what they're sowing, not necessarily by humans.
    Perhaps USA wanted to tell AQ, "we've got all your c.v.s"

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Drones have killed few (very few) al Qaeda operatives or militants, but long-term strategic damage done to US - as well as nations like Pakistan & Yemen - far outweigh benefits. At strategic level US is paying a high reputational cost. US has destabilized regions that were teetering but not wholly destabilized before programs started…& I think they've killed a lot of innocent people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    In Pakistan a man is heroically preparing to fight the Americans because a renegade US President has killed his family.
    I find these two portrayals morally equivalent
    the farmer is what was a bad movie did not committ terrorism against the British before his family was attacked.
    Now go after the tribal court who convicted the heroic DR

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Obama's drone policy dilemma
    should read

    "Obama's coconut flavored donut dilemma"
    what a lazy bum

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    91. Voodoo Funk
    "World is full of Gods children not dissidents, different Religions are different aspects of beliefs..."
    Islam isn't just religion, it's religion & politics entwined & packaged as religion. ECHR ruling in 2003 says how Sharia is incompatible with democracy & human rights. It's largely an ideology & one that seems determined to impose itself on others by force (Boko Haram etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Did you know Drone-Authorizer, Obama has embraced disputed method of counting civilian deaths = horrid distortion? Number effectively brands ALL-military age men in strike zone as militants - unless evidence proves otherwise AFTER THE FACT. One senior intelligence official called it "guilt by association". So 100 militants killed could mean 50 militants, 5 militants…or not a single one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Abu Yahya al-Libi successful operation - 15 died: 15 in exchange for 1. Pakistan maintains drones are against international law, breach of national sovereignty. Obama's counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, called strikes "ethical," "legal" & "just." He argued right to SELF DEFENCE UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW & congressional approval. US' rationale begins to sound like another country we know...

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Jun 2012: Abu Yahya al-Libi
    Feb 2012: Badar Mansoor
    Aug 2011: Atiyah Abd al-Rahman
    Jun 2011: Ilyas Kashmiri (according to reports)
    Aug 2009: Baitullah Mehsud
    I make that five (5) in exchange for 138 Pakistani civilians. Does this seem right to you? Obama takes responsibility for each drone. What a man!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    re#71 Geoff "A few thousand Normans held England by putting down rebellions brutally e.g. the harrying of the North where the main weapon used was starvation.Leave machismo to the posers & use tactics that work!"

    The Patato Famine artificially created to subjugate the Irish?

    Or the one created by Kim Jong il's regime in N. Korea in the late 90s?

    Bot to mention Mao's Great Leap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    World is full of Gods children not dissidents, different Religions are different aspects of beliefs. Americans have to strive for Peace or get off World Stage, it's not Anti-American to call USA Murderers too. People repeatedly crying out bad Muslim Ideologies should check their own Actions & Ideologies. Freedom of Speech to question
    Government crimes on internet has been curtailed in USA & China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    #89 Bluesberry
    "They say"

    You define part of our problem. We are trying to make moral judgements about the behaviour of governments, organisations and individuals on the basis of incomplete, and often slanted, information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Pakistani officials say two missiles from unmanned aircraft killed 15 people, not militants, not Al Qaeda, not even soldiers - just people.
    They say - Whitehouse says - Abu Yahya al-Libi was "experienced", "versatile", had "gravitas" & "religious credentials". Zawahiri will be hard-pressed to replace him.
    There's no one like him. They say - Whitehouse says…Obama says...

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Re #74.Chryses

    I appreciate you efforts to teach Logics 101 here.

    But they are/will be totally wasted on irrational al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban, Quds supporters willing to ally themselves with the most disgusting terrorist outfits/rouge states as long as they are anti-US.

    Their pipe dreams (collapse of U$A) informing their views.


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