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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Showing posts for "Drones and Targeted Killing"

Guest Post: What Happens if the Battlefield ‘Goes Dark’?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters) A U.S. soldier smokes next to an armoured vehicle before a night operation in southeast Baghdad on September 12, 2007. The image below the soldier's face is a reflection of a GPS unit's screen, as seen from inside a vehicle. (Barria/Reuters)

Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The United States has recently enjoyed the tactical benefit of fighting enemies incapable of matching the technological prowess of the U.S. military. The use of modern weaponry against relatively antiquated forces has led to successful operations on the battlefield, particularly against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The U.S. military’s high-tech upper hand relies upon the leverage of these technological disparities, and in turn, has fostered an inflated level of combat supremacy. This problem resonates from foot soldiers to the highest level commanders and planners. Read more »

Obama’s Drone Warfare Legacy

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement at the National Counterterrorism Center in Mclean, Virginia, on December 17, 2015. (Barria/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement at the National Counterterrorism Center in Mclean, Virginia, on December 17, 2015. (Barria/Reuters)

Today, I have a short piece in the New York Times’ “Room for Debate,” accurately summarized by its title, “Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy.” The piece shows how President Barack Obama institutionalized and normalized the use of drones to target various militant and terrorist suspects. It also includes the most updated data of post-9/11 non-battlefield drone strikes, updating our estimates from the five-hundredth such operation conducted in November 2014. As of today, there have been approximately 550 strikes—50 under George W. Bush, 500 under Obama, which have cumulatively killed an estimated 3,405 militants and 470 civilians. This information is fully presented in the chart below with the sources used. Read more »

How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2015?

by Micah Zenko
Smoke and flames rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. (Pfaffenbach/Reuters) Smoke and flames rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. (Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

The primary focus—meaning the commitment of personnel, resources, and senior leaders’ attention—of U.S. counterterrorism policies is the capture or killing (though, overwhelmingly killing) of existing terrorists. Far less money and programmatic attention is dedicated to preventing the emergence of new terrorists. As an anecdotal example of this, I often ask U.S. government officials and mid-level staffers, “what are you doing to prevent a neutral person from becoming a terrorist?” They always claim this this is not their responsibility, and point toward other agencies, usually the Department of State (DOS) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where this is purportedly their obligation internationally or domestically, respectively. DOS and DHS officials then refer generally to “countering violent extremism” policies, while acknowledging that U.S. government efforts on this front have been wholly ineffective. Read more »

Presidential Candidates Use of Force Tracker

by Micah Zenko and Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich (OH), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), former governor Jeb Bush (FL), Governor Chris Christie (NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15, 2015. (Becker/Reuters) Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich (OH), former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), former governor Jeb Bush (FL), Governor Chris Christie (NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pose before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 15, 2015. (Becker/Reuters)

This blog post was coauthored with my research associate, Amelia M. Wolf.

Presidential campaigns are largely consequence-free environments unburdened by the pressures and responsibilities that come with actually sitting in the White House. A candidate can say or pledge to do anything no matter how troubling, costly, or unlikely. The one policy recommendation that every presidential candidate has strongly endorsed during this election cycle—with differing degrees of scope and intensity— is the use of military power. With the sixteen-month war against the self-declared Islamic State stalemated and the percentage of Americans naming “national security and terrorism” the top federal government priority having nearly doubled since April, appeals to force have played an unusually significant role this presidential campaign. This is unsurprising, since military force remains the most responsive, fungible, and destructive foreign-policy tool that a candidate can propose. Unfortunately, the military options put forth may sound tough, but they are rarely articulated in a concrete and actionable manner, which makes it difficult to evaluate the wisdom of the proposals. Read more »

Is Incirlik a “Game-changer” in Destroying the Islamic State?

by Micah Zenko
An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on August 12, 2015. (Ardrey/U.S. Air Force ) An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve on August 12, 2015. (Ardrey/U.S. Air Force )

On July 22, after months of negotiations, Turkey finally agreed to allow the United States to use its bases, most importantly Incirlik Air Base, for manned and unmanned strike sorties against the self-declared Islamic State. Prior to this, Turkey had only permitted that its sovereign territory be used for unarmed surveillance drone flights and (apparently) a combat search and rescue element. This latest development was characterized as a “game-changer” by a senior Obama administration official, in particular for more intensive bombing of the Islamic State in northern Syria. Read more »

Guest Post: Reevaluating U.S. Targeting Assistance to the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A man stands in front of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's western city of Mokha on July 26, 2015. The strike killed at least fifty-five people and left tens injured. (Stringer/Reuters) A man stands in front of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's western city of Mokha on July 26, 2015. The strike killed at least fifty-five people and left tens injured. (Stringer/Reuters)

Samantha Andrews is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the United States provides targeting assistance to the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council in Yemen, it should consider that its allies’ standards for target selection may be less rigorous. However, the United States is still partially responsible for airstrikes enabled with its intelligence. Contrary to the official U.S. position that it remains in a “non-combat advisory and coordinating role to the Saudi-led campaign,” this enabling support makes the United States a combatant in the Yemen air campaign. Even if the United States is not pulling the trigger, the “live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen” that “help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb” are indispensable for the launch of airstrikes against Houthi rebels. Read more »

Guest Post: The Rise of the Islamic State in Yemen

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
People stand next to wreckage at the site of a June 29, 2015, car bomb attack in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, that was claimed by Islamic State and killed twenty-eight people. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters) People stand next to wreckage at the site of a June 29, 2015, car bomb attack in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, that was claimed by Islamic State and killed twenty-eight people. (Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

Samantha Andrews is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Today’s reported car bombing in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, is further evidence that, while the self-declared Islamic State may currently be the underdog in the jihadi rivalry unfolding in Yemen, it is steadily becoming stronger. Political instability resulting from the Houthi uprising, and subsequent Saudi-led intervention, has created a power vacuum in which the Islamic State is exerting its influence. Combined with its recent string of deadly attacks in Yemen and increase in affiliate groups, the group poses a direct challenge to Yemen’s largest jihadist group—al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Terrorism Furniture, Nuclear Reviews, and Drones

by Micah Zenko

U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2014, “Terrorism Deaths, Injuries and Kidnappings of Private U.S. Citizens Overseas in 2014,” released June 19, 2015; and Adam Suchy, “Product Instability or Tip-Over Injuries and Fatalities Associated with Televisions, Furniture, and Appliances: 2014 Report,” U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, August 2014. Read more »

Top Ten Findings of the CIA Inspector General’s Report on 9/11

by Micah Zenko
An aerial view of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Reed/Reuters) An aerial view of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Reed/Reuters)

Last week, in response to long-standing FOIA requests, the CIA declassified—with significant redactions—five documents related to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The most notable was a June 2005 Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report into CIA accountability regarding the findings of the Report of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, which was produced by the House and Senate intelligence committees. That joint inquiry was published in December 2002—long before the 9/11 Commission report—and served as the most comprehensive public investigation into Intelligence Community (IC) shortcomings. The 2005 OIG report reviewed the joint inquiry’s central findings to determine if senior CIA officials should be reprimanded for their actions. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Assassination Plots, Drone Strikes, and Women Special Operators

by Micah Zenko
Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie with an Afghan child while under the security of Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission in Farah Province in 2009. (Burton/Reuters) Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie with an Afghan child while under the security of Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission in Farah Province in 2009. (Burton/Reuters)

Memorandum From the President’s Counselor (Marsh) to President Ford, Foreign Relations of the United States 1917-1972, Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, Document 55, U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, October 29, 1975. Read more »