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: Afghanistan, Mali, and Chinese Drones

by Micah Zenko
February 22, 2013

Malian soldiers patrol the streets of Gao on February 20, 2013 (Joe Penney/Courtesy Reuters). Malian soldiers patrol the streets of Gao on February 20, 2013 (Joe Penney/Courtesy Reuters).

Steven Erlanger, “An Unexpected Mission for France’s Defense Minister,” New York Times, February 19, 2013.

One of the most shocking lessons for him from Mali, Mr. Le Drian said, was the lack of French surveillance drones, which he called “incomprehensible.” France has only two drones in theater, he said. “A country with aeronautical skills, that makes good airplanes and that did not anticipate what surveillance and intelligence will look like tomorrow—or even combat!” he said. France “did not anticipate and refused to make this choice—but this doesn’t date from today but from 5 or 10 years ago. I have asked that someone explain the story to me so I understand why we didn’t do it, since, really, we should have.”

Perhaps the problem was national pride and a refusal to buy American? “I’m trying to remedy this impasse and this pride,” he said. “It’s a real question for us.”


Ernest Kao, “China Considered Drone Strike on Foreign Soil in Hunt for Drug Lord,” South China Morning Post, February 19, 2013.

“One plan was to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to carry 20kg of TNT to bomb the area, but the plan was rejected because we were ordered to catch him alive,” Liu told the Global Times.

(3PA: Dennis Gormley, an expert in unmanned aerial vehicles at the University of Pittsburgh, remarked: “I think China’s still not ready for prime time using armed drones, but they surely will be with a few more years of determined practice,” he said. “And they surely will have America’s armed drone practice as a convenient cover for legitimating their own practice.”)


Gopal Ratnam, “Pentagon Budget Stuck in Last Century as Warfare Changes,” Bloomberg Businessweek, February 19, 2013.

The size of the Joint Chiefs of Staff office has more than tripled to 4,244 in 2012 from 1,313 in 2010, according to the Pentagon’s annual manpower report.

“The Pentagon’s leadership should set an example” by reducing their staffs, Punaro said in an interview. “If senior people in the Pentagon can’t cut the size of the staff and the size of office of the secretary of defense, then how can they expect the rest of the department to tighten its belt?”


Afghanistan Annual Report 2012: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, February 19, 2013.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 7,559 civilian casualties (2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 injuries) from armed conflict in 2012. While these numbers reflect a 12 percent reduction in civilian deaths and a minimal increase in civilians injured compared to 2011, they underscore the continuing high human cost of armed conflict in Afghanistan—which demands even greater commitment and redoubled efforts by all parties to reduce civilian casualties and improve protection of civilians in 2013. Over the past six years, 14,728 Afghan civilians have lost their lives in the armed conflict.

Aerial attacks conducted  by international military forces remained the cause of most civilian deaths and injuries by Pro-Government Forces. UNAMA documented 204 civilian casualties (126 deaths and 78 injuries) from aerial operations by international military forces, accounting for a 42 percent reduction in civilian casualties from such operations compared to 2011.

In 2012, UNAMA documented five incidents of drone strikes which resulted in 16 civilian deaths and three injuries, an increase from 2011 when UNAMA documented one incident.

(3PA: The increase in civilian casualties by drone strikes is commensurate with the overall growth in ISAF airstrikes in Afghanistan by drones: 2010: 5 percent; 2011: 5 percent; 2012: 12 percent; 2013: 23 percent.)


Pierre Tran, “IDEX: UAE to Buy Predator Version UAV,” Defense News, February 18, 2013.

(3PA: This follows years of requests from the UAE to buy armed Predators from the United States.)


Brian Bennett and Joel Rubin, “Drones Are Taking to the Skies in the United States,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2013.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it had issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007, far more than were previously known. Some 327 permits are still listed as active.

The FAA, which has a September 2015 deadline from Congress to open the nation’s airspace to drone traffic, has estimated 10,000 drones could be aloft five years later. The FAA this week solicited proposals to create six sites across the country to test drones, a crucial step before widespread government and commercial use is approved.


Christopher Church, “The Effectiveness of the Cyber Lobby: Determining the Influence of the Cyber Lobby on Congress in the Wake of a Growing Perception of Threat,” Air University.


Hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, “Framework for Building Partnership Capacity Programs and Authorities to Meet 21st Century Challenges,” February 14, 2011.

MR. SHEEHAN: I would agree that Mali is clearly our biggest failure. We spent tens of millions of dollars in Mali with that army, and they got their butts kicked in northern Mali by the Tuareg rebellion, which was subsequently hijacked by AQIM, creating a major problem for us.

(3PA: The current strategy is for the United States to again spend $50 million to try the same thing.)

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