Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Drones, Afghanistan, and Military Intervention

by Micah Zenko
July 28, 2012

An MQ-1B Predator from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq (Courtesy Reuters). An MQ-1B Predator from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq (Courtesy Reuters).

Department of Defense News Briefing with General Norton Schwartz, July 24, 2012.

Q:  I just had a question about [remotely piloted aircraft].  There was statements recently that in the next year or so the military estimates that there will be more unmanned pilots than pilots in the air.  Is that possible?

GENERAL SCHWARTZ:  Ultimately, it is conceivable that the majority of aviators in our Air Force will be remotely piloted aircraft operators. I think that we’re building to 65 orbits, and we’ll have that by May of 2014. And as we build the crew force out, the crew force for those 65 orbits is 10 per orbit, 10 crews per orbit.

And that includes sensor operators.  It includes pilot-to-crew ratio for aircraft, actually, so it’s 4 times 10 times 65.  In any case, so we don’t do math in public here, at some point, we will cross paths.

But, Elizabeth, let me just make this point, please, that certainly for your and my — you know, as long as we’ll be able to read and write, that manned aviation will be a part of the chemistry here, because at least for the near term, the remotely piloted aircraft capability is not for contested air space.  It is a benign air space capability.

When and if we’re challenged, in the [anti-access/area denial] environment that you referred to earlier, this is why manned aviation — F-35s are a case in point, B-2s another — where they will be a part of our force structure.  I would estimate at least for a generation-and-a-half, 30 years probably, maybe more, probably not less.

I would just point out that — would you put your grandchildren on a remotely piloted passenger-carrying aircraft?

Q:  No. But I don’t have grandchildren.

GENERAL SCHWARTZ:  If you did, I think the point is that — that there are some things we’re not yet prepared to do, and it’s not that it might not happen at some point, but it’s not a near-term eventuality.


Government Accountability Office, “Longstanding Challenges May Affect Progress and Sustainment of Afghan National Security Forces,” July 24, 2012.


John Kaag and Sarah Kreps, “The Moral Hazard of Drones,” New York Times, July 22, 2012.

(3PA: This excellent essay responds to the earlier article by Scott Shane, “The Moral Case for Drones.”)


Frank Rich, “Mayberry R.I.P.New York Magazine, July 22, 2012.

A more revealing question raised by our declinist panic is why it has been accompanied by a strange parallel infatuation with American exceptionalism. This once little-heard term, sometimes wrongly attributed to Tocqueville, was coined by Joseph Stalin in a 1929 anti-American sneer. Now it is flung about as the ubiquitous, defensive measure of America’s global standing. And it’s often used, Joe McCarthy style, as a cudgel to bash those who are judged to have hastened our decline by being insufficiently jingoistic—notably the president, who came in for a fresh and particularly cartoonish barrage of slurs on his bona fides as an American from Romney partisans last week. How much our declinist panic has to do with the actual facts of America’s case and how much it has to do with the fact of Obama is not always clear.


UN Security Council, Letter Pursuant to Resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) Concerning Somalia and Eritrea, July 13, 2012.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

The number of reports concerning the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Somalia in 2011-12 has increased in comparison with previous mandates. Several independent investigations have documented the deployment of US operated UAVs in Somalia, and other countries of the region, mostly for surveillance purposes. On at least two occasions, UAVs have reportedly been employed in targeted assassination of Al-Shabaab leaders and commanders during the course of the Monitoring Group mandate.

The Monitoring Group currently considers UAVs to be of an exclusively military; their importation to and use in Somalia therefore represents as potential violation of the arms embargo. In addition, according to article 8 of the Chicago Convention, “no aircraft capable of being flown without a pilot shall be flown without a pilot over the territory of a contracting State without special authorization by that State,” placing UAV operators in Somalia under an additional obligation to obtain approval from the TFG.

On 19 August 2011, an Associated Press reporter saw pieces of a surveillance drone that had crashed on a house in central Mogadishu, before being recovered by AMISOM soldiers.

On 13 November 2011 at 1130 local time, a UAV corresponding to the technical description of a RAVEN overflew the Medina district of Mogadishu, passing overhead the UNCC and UNSOA bulk fuel installations, where AMISOM strategic fuel reserves are currently stored. The drone was later collected at the north end of the Mogadishu International Airport runway by an individual driving a white pick-up truck. According to an incident report sent to AMISOM by one of its contractors, the UAV’s trajectory represented a serious security threat to AMISOM, because of the risk of a crash into its main fuel depot.

On 9 January 2012 at 0910 local time, a Boeing 737 passenger aircraft, operated on behalf of AMISOM for troop rotations between Mogadishu and Entebbe, Uganda, with 112 persons on board, almost collided with an UAV after departure from Mogadishu International Airport (MIA). The pilot, alerted by his Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), was obliged to take avoidance measures and altered his course. In a letter dated 21 February 2012, the AMISOM Force Commander raised this and other incidents with his main partners, calling upon an urgent meeting to prevent further incidents, in view of the threat UAV’s potentially represent to AMISOM air operations and to aviation safety in general.

On 3 February 2012 at 1000 local time, an US-manufactured drone crashed in Badbaado IDP camp, located in the Hodan district of Mogadishu. The remains of the aircraft were quickly recovered by AMISOM and TFG security forces. No casualties were reported.


Department of the Army, Civilian Casualty Mitigation, July 2012.

Protection of civilians is at the heart of the profession of arms. It is founded in law and in principles of humanity. In addition, protection of civilians supports strategic and operational objectives. Army units are expected to uphold the highest standards of conduct regarding protection of civilians; adherence to the law of armed conflict is the minimum standard.

During armed conflict, Army forces protect civilians through civilian casualty (CIVCAS) mitigation. CIVCAS mitigation is all measures to avoid or minimize CIVCASs and reduce the adverse impact of those that occur. In the context of CIVCAS mitigation, a civilian is any person who is not a combatant. In other words, a civilian is a person not engaged in hostilities during an armed conflict, regardless of the groups or organizations to which the person belongs. If there is any doubt, Army forces consider a person to be a civilian. In the context of CIVCAS mitigation, a CIVCAS refers to any civilian wounded or dead as a result of armed conflict.

In most cases, CIVCASs are a type of collateral damage—unintentional or incidental injury or damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time. Such damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack (JP 3-60). Military forces conduct operations among civilian populations; CIVCASs have always been a tragic consequence of armed conflict. In some instances, civilians are deliberately targeted by various actors. To mitigate CIVCASs, Army activities include a range of protection efforts for civilians, as appropriate for the operational environment and the mission. CIVCAS mitigation efforts from command to squad level contribute to the success of any mission. Army units seek to mitigate CIVCASs in all missions. Protecting civilians sometimes is the objective of a mission.


Time Capsule:

(3PA: This week, a group of foreign policy conservatives submitted a letter to President Obama calling for U.S. intervention in Syria. Compare the list of signatories with other public letters demanding military intervention in Iraq and Libya.)

Letter to President Clinton on Iraq, January 26, 1998.

Foreign Policy Experts Urge President to Take Action to Halt Violence in Libya, February 25, 2011.

Foreign Policy Experts Urge President Obama to Take Immediate Action to Establish Safe Zones in Syria, July 24, 2012.

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