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 187.

    173 LucyJ
    Recent ability of Cdn Magnotta to flit between Canada,US,UK & rest of Europe under a string of aliases with ready media access,despite advertising his penchant for barbarism to where media warned Police incl Scotland Yard to no avail, is proof that Trillions on Security are still trumped by racial-profiling.Cashing in on every expensive Security gadget is an Ex US Govt official.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    179. Entropic man
    "There have been several such arrests and at least one put neighbours at risk."
    Those arrests still need to be made just as the drone strikes are necessary to deal with those beyond our shores.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    WHAT are we to do when mass-produced drones start killing us back? Every precedent has been set by us,and Disposable is the way to go. Does inability to compete in Manufacturing ring any bells? Unlike UK, US has no inkling of Stepping Aside Gracefully, will insist on Kicking & Screaming, and there will always be someone willing to oblige as op presents itself. Never fails.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Obama has to have more EGO than sense,insisting on Personally aprooving drone assassinations which by all accounts are Illegal.Don't be surprised to see him indicted for Innocents if nothing else.Regime-Change Libya will be significant in History for Failed re-election of all concerned.Not for love of Kadhafi, but staining their Nations with worse barbarism than we habitually Condemn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    181"you are making the naive presumption that a democratic China would be less of a threat than the current regime. When the opposite could be true."

    Point well taken.We might be better off dealing with a monarch ruling Britain than the "democracy" it has now such as it is. A monarch might not have been so quick to let Megrahi go home to die in peace in Libya in return for drilling rights

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    176 I think it takes a little more than that to get someone detained under that act. There are mistakes in every judicial system. That's the price we pay for having one. Ours is better than most. I would not trade for the British system which is excellent at shooting Brazilian electricians on subways without so much as stopping him to ask him even what language he speaks or his name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    you are making the naive presumption that a democratic China would be less of a threat than the current regime. When the opposite could be true. jingoistic politicians looking to gain votes, etc. the arab spring being a case in example, US compliant dictatorships replaced with anti US democracys

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    176. Entropic man
    #170 Suilerua
    "Your neighbour reports that they think you support terrorism. The Army arrests you"
    Sounds similar to Christians being arrested for blasphemy in Pakistan. Define the problem correctly and we wouldn't need all these catch-all laws as the UK equally suffers from several vague laws relating to hate speech!

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    #177 Geoff

    In the UK your suspected terrorist neighbour would be apprehended by MI5 and a police Armed Response Unit.
    There have been several such arrests and at least one put neighbours at risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    154,161"The US Army can arrest you and hold you indefinately without trial."

    Its just plain wrong

    One day if a very corrupt person is elected
    could they use this law to jail people indefinitely
    who speak out against their politics?

    I truly believe that this law will lead to bad things

    But almost every law Congress has made the last 10 years
    has been a bad law for the American people

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    171. Entropic man
    Homeland security - don't know how they operate as I'm in UK.
    My comment should have said "known terrorists" as it's difficult to avoid those you don't know about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    #170 Suilerua

    Your neighbour reports that they think you support terrorism. The Army arrests you.How long would you sit in jail while your lawyer tries to sort it out, even if you are innocent?
    Of such bricks the road to hell is paved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Seeing how resentful so many people in other countries especially in Western Europe are about what America's govt is doing to protect us is very encouraging and makes me sense that it is doing something right. It's comforting to know that America's enemies including those who are citizens of nations supposedly allied to the US are so enraged by US policy. Would Romney be as dilligent?I'd hope so

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    ref #154

    I look in the mirror and I see the leader of the free world, the moral counter to the corruption in the U.N and the leader in the fight against ilsamic terrorism

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Geoff: airport security procedures

    But yet doesn't it make you feel safer?

    I was just at several airports across USA
    this last weekend+ I will say the people working there
    are very serious+very throrough

    Every single airport in USA
    should be required
    to have those body scanners+
    no one should be allowed to opt out of them
    except people w/ pacemakers
    who must be searched

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Someone please help us.......SOS sos

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    #169 Geoff
    "Responsibility for any children in the vicinity of terrorists lies w/ their parents"

    Homeland Security comes to arrest your neighbour. Your children are killed in the shootout. Your fault?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    154,161"The US Army can arrest you and hold you indefinately without trial."

    Partially true.True only if;"any person (including U.S. citizens)"who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities ..."

    Not surprising during a time of war.Only mistake, Congress didn't but should have declared war....many times in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    122. Entropic man

    Responsibility for any children in the vicinity of terrorists lies w/ their parents not us. If we took your stance, we would have never bombed Nazis in WWII nor launch any weapon just in case children were in the area. War is a nasty business as airport security procedures remind us all every time we travel by air!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Sui: They will not return to China as the same people

    They will return with having the same knowledge
    such as our kids learn

    Personally I think we should only allow our allies to attend our colleges

    Why teach our enemies how to harm us?

    I never understood why 9/11 terrorists w/ expired Visas
    were allowed to learn how to fly planes in USA
    before they committed the crime?


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