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, Threat Deflation, and Signature Strikes

by Micah Zenko
November 22, 2013

Students gather at the site of a suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Hangu district, bordering North Waziristan, November 21, 2013 (Syed Shah/Courtesy Reuters). Students gather at the site of a suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Hangu district, bordering North Waziristan, November 21, 2013 (Syed Shah/Courtesy Reuters).

The Uses of Force,” Economist, November 23, 2013.

It’s too easy to use force,” says Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It’s almost the first choice.”


Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 20, 2013.

Desiring to continue to foster close cooperation concerning defense and security arrangements in order to strengthen security and stability in Afghanistan, contribute to regional and international peace and stability, combat terrorism, achieve a region which is no longer a safe haven for al-Qaida and its affiliates, and enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter threats against its sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity; and noting that the United States does not seek permanent military facilities in Afghanistan, or a presence that is a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbors, and has pledged not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries.

(3PA: Revisit my blog post, from earlier this week, on the bilateral agreement: “Will Afghanistan Allow U.S. Drone Strikes into Pakistan?”)


Haq Nawaz Khan and Greg Miller, “Suspected U.S. Drone Kills Six; U.S. Denies Pakistan’s Claim That Seminary Was Target,” Washington Post, November 21, 2013.

According to Pakistani officials, three missiles were fired into a compound in Khyber ­Pakhtunkhwa province about 5 a.m. local time Thursday, a rare strike outside the Pakistani tribal areas near the Afghan border that are usually targeted by U.S drones.

Pakistani officials say the drone hit a madrassa, or Islamic seminary, killing six people, including two teachers. The dead included Maulvi Ahmad Jan and Maulvi Hameedullah, who were top surrogates for Sirajuddin Haqqani, the second in command of the Haqqani militant group, which has ties to al-Qaeda.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a madrassa was in the vicinity but said it was not damaged. U.S. officials have seen no indication of civilian casualties, he said.

(3PA: This drone strike had several characteristics of a signature strike. What was remarkable is how quickly an anonymous U.S. official came forward to deny there were any civilian casualties.)


John Kerry, Remarks at the Overseas Security Advisory Council’s 28th Annual Briefing, U.S. Department of State, November 20, 2013.

Believe it or not, notwithstanding the prominence of these events and the way that they do exactly what they’re meant to do, send terror down the spines of people everywhere, the fact remains we lose far less lives today to conflict and there is far less loss of life in war or violence anywhere in the world today than there was in the last century, even in the last half century. That’s a fact. We’re not seeing the kinds of wars and confrontations where millions of people are thrown at each other across the trenches or there’s firebombing of whole cities and we’re engaged in these larger kinds of conflicts. That doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous, obviously, but it means that there’s a transformation taking place. More and more countries are gaining middle class populations, more and more people are traveling, more and more tourists, more and more people going to school, more and more people engaged.

(3PA: This is a rare and laudable example of threat deflation by a U.S. official.)


Kate Parrish, “Socom Planning Ahead for Future Missions, McRaven Says,” American Forces Press Service, November 18, 2013.

He pointed out that 12 years of war have exacted a high price from his troops. “We have had more suicides this year than [at] any point … in the history of special operations forces,” Admiral William H. McRaven said. While that “single data point” can’t capture the overall health of his force, the admiral said, it is important.


Awad Mustafa, “With Adcom Drone, UAE Makes Big Export Push,” Defense News, November 18, 2013.

But the biggest deal yet to be struck by a UAE weapons manufacturer is the sale of two Yabhon United 40 medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs to the Russian military, made by Adcom Systems.

According to Ali al Dhaheri, the chief designer of the drone and chairman of Adcom Systems, the Yabhon United 40 can carry up to 10 air-to-ground missiles with a delivery range of 60 kilometers each, while flying for up to 120 hours.


Jim Garamone, “Dempsey: Military Battles Against Fiscal Uncertainty,” American Forces Press Service, November 16, 2013.

“There is hubris in the belief that war can be controlled,” Gen. Martin Dempsey said. “War punishes hubris and that is worth remembering.”

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