War On Terrorism

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Are drone strikes an effective counterterrorism tool?

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Drone strikes have become an increasingly common tool in the fight against international terrorism. They have played a particularly important role in the United States' war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet some have questioned the effectiveness of drone strikes, claiming among other things that they are unreliable and lead to an unacceptably high number of civilian casualties.

As this is a very contentious issue, let's look briefly at the arguments put forward on both sides of the debate.

For the use of drone strikes:

  • Supporters of drone strikes argue that they have decimated several terrorist networks across the world. They point to the killing of thousands of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban terrorists as evidence of drone strikes' effectiveness. Had it not been for drone strikes, these terrorists would, in all likelihood, still be alive and causing serious harm.
  • Extensive research has shown that drone strikes cause fewer civilian casualties than any other military weapon. While all civilian casualties are regrettable, they cannot be avoided. All one can do is to minimize them, and that's precisely what drone strikes do.
  • As drones are operated remotely, they make US military personnel safer. This greatly minimizes the risk that would occur if soldiers and airplane pilots were used against terrorists instead.

Against the use of drone strikes.

  • Drone strikes create more terrorists than they kill. If people see their loved ones killed in drone strikes, they're more likely to want to carry out revenge against the United States. Thus drone strikes, so the argument runs, act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorist organizations.
  • Drone strikes target those who may not actually be terrorists or enemy combatants. So long as they fit a very broad profile of what a terrorist is, or even if they've only consorted with terrorists, such individuals are considered fair game. This means, among other things, that many intended targets, the most senior terrorists, are missed by drone strikes, the very people that they are supposed to take out in the first place.
  • Drone strikes kill large numbers of civilians and can traumatize entire populations. As well as the enormous physical and psychological damage this can do, it also generates widespread resentment against the United States, hampering efforts to win hearts and minds. Drone attacks can also drive civilians into the arms of terrorists, who can then pose as national liberators.
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