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: Iraq, Yemen, and Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
March 22, 2013

The lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters). The lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).


Government Accountability Office, “U.S. Assistance to Yemen: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Emergency Food Aid and Assess Security Assistance,” March 20, 2013.

Two DOD programs account for the vast majority of U.S. security assistance to Yemen; however, DOD has yet to evaluate their effectiveness in building Yemeni counterterrorism capacity. As noted earlier, of the $497 million in total security assistance allocated to Yemen between fiscal years 2007 and 2012, DOD allocated over 70 percent ($361 million) to its Section 1206 and 1207(n) programs….

DOD recognizes that assessing Section 1206 and 1207(n) assistance enables the U.S. government to make better decisions about the types of projects that bring the greatest return on investment in terms of accomplishing counterterrorism missions and achieving the capabilities and performance intended through the assistance. However, although Yemen has received more Section 1206 and 1207(n) assistance than any other country, DOD has yet to evaluate these programs to determine their effectiveness in developing the counterterrorism capacity of the Yemeni security forces receiving assistance.

Mike Baker, “Costs of U.S. Wars Linger for Over 100 Years,” Associated Press, March 19, 2013.

There are 10 living recipients of benefits tied to the 1898 Spanish-American War at a total cost of about $50,000 per year. The Civil War payments are going to two children of veterans , one in North Carolina and one in Tennessee, each for $876 per year.

Amy Butler, “Spotty Comms,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 18, 2013.

Today, commercial services provide about 40% of the Defense Department ‘s communications; that is expected to increase to 68% with the focus on Asia, as the U.S. Navy puts more resources in patrolling and protecting sea lanes of transit and increased activity on anti-drug operations, according to a Jan. 24 Defense Business Board report on making the most of commercial satcom services….

Because WGS [Wideband Global Satcom] had not been fielded as the Air Force rushed Predator and Reaper UAS into service at the beginning of the 2000s, engineers were forced to equip them with commercial Ku-band terminals. Air Force officials hope to shift them over to using Ka-terminals that can operate with WGS, according to Chris Pehrson, director of strategic business development for General Atomics, which manufactures the UAS systems. Air Force officials confirm this and also note a possible plan to enlarge the wings of the UAS and make them more robust in bad weather, though they say this could be cost-prohibitive in the current tight budget environment.

Tabassum Zakaria, “U.S. Drone Policy: Obama Seeking to Influence Global Guidelines,” Reuters, March 17, 2013.

One focus of U.S. officials’ internal debate is whether to shift drone operations to the Pentagon from the CIA. That would allow the CIA to return to more traditional operations of espionage and intelligence analysis, and put the killing of terrorism targets in the hands of the military. It would probably be a “phased approach” that would account for differences in the threat and political sensitivities, said a second U.S. official. “There would have to be some tailoring.”

In Pakistan, where the U.S. military is not in ground combat, the Obama administration would probably not want drone strikes to appear as being conducted by the military. In Yemen, there may not be the same sensitivities. U.S. military personnel are on the ground working with Yemenis in counterterrorism operations. The United States has also carried out drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Somalia.

“I think if they moved it, not as a covert action program, but one of the tools of the warfighter, then the result of it is probably going to be more public exposure about what they are doing,” Stephen Hadley, national security adviser under Bush, said.

Megan Smith and James Igoe Walsh, ”Do Drone Strikes Degrade Al Qaeda?  Evidence From Propaganda Output,” Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 25, 2013.

The United States has used unmanned aerial vehicles –drones—to launch attacks on militants associated with Al Qaeda and other violent groups based in Pakistan.  The goal is to degrade the target’s capacity to undertake political and violent action. We assesses the effectiveness of drone strikes in achieving this goal, measuring degradation as the capacity of Al Qaeda to generate and disseminate propaganda. Proganda is a key output of many terrorist organizations and a long-standing priority for Al Qaeda. Unlike other potential measures of terrorist group activity and capacity, propaganda output can be observed and measured. If drone strikes have degraded Al Qaeda, their occurance should be correlated with a reduction in the organization’s propaganda output. The analysis presented here finds little evidence that this is the case. Drone strikes have not impaired Al Qaeda’s ability to generate propaganda.


Micah Zenko, “Firing Blanks at the Iraqi Military,” Chicago Tribune, March 29, 2001.

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