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"

CFR Model Diplomacy: Students as Policymakers

by Micah Zenko
A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters) A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters)

When asked to recommend readings for international relations and foreign policy syllabi, I regularly send people to my summaries of important policy-relevant findings from academic journals. But for this fall, I wanted to recommend an immersive teaching tool that goes beyond reading lists and puts students in the policymaker hot seat, where they work in teams to make judgments and decisions based upon limited information and timelines. Read more »

The Pentagon Plans for Autonomous Systems

by Micah Zenko
An Intel AscTec Firefly drone during a flight demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington November 19, 2015 (Cameron/Reuters). An Intel AscTec Firefly drone during a flight demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington November 19, 2015 (Cameron/Reuters).

Today, the Defense Science Board (DSB) released a long-awaited study, simply titled Autonomy. Since the late 1950s, the DSB has consistently been at the forefront of investigating and providing policy guidance for cutting-edge scientific, technological, and manufacturing issues. Many of these reports are available in full online and are worth reading. Read more »

Questioning Obama’s Drone Deaths Data

by Micah Zenko
Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher  Griffin/Reuters). Pre-flight inspection of an MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft on September 3, 2008 (Christopher Griffin/Reuters).

Months after promising to release the number of civilians that have been killed in U.S. lethal counterterrorism operations outside of “areas of active hostilities,” the Obama Administration today released its count in a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. According to the numbers provided, there were 473 “strikes” [presumably this includes both manned and unmanned aircraft conducted by both the CIA and the U.S. military] which killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants, and between 64 and 116 civilians. Read more »

What Clinton’s E-mails Reveal About Her Support for CIA Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
Hillary-2011 U.S. Secretary of State Clinton talks before House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington (Larry Downing/Reuters)

A revelation today about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State may indicate her preference using military force over diplomatic considerations. It was known since January that the content of twenty-two emails that went through the private server were classified at the “top secret/SAP [special access programs]” level, referring to highly classified intelligence gathering or covert programs run by the Pentagon and CIA. At the time, Clinton told NPR, “the best we can determine” is that the emails in question consisted solely of a news article about drone strikes in Pakistan. As Clinton stated: “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.” Read more »

Will Killing Mullah Mansour Work?

by Micah Zenko
Mullah Mansour, Taliban militants' new leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban. (Handout via Reuters). Mullah Mansour, Taliban militants' new leader, is seen in this undated handout photograph by the Taliban. (Handout via Reuters).

On Saturday, the Pentagon released a remarkable statement: “Today, the Department of Defense conducted an airstrike that targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansur.” Soon after, a tweet from the Office of the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, read, “#Taliban leader #AkhtarMansoor was killed in a drone strike in Quetta, #Pakistan at 04:30 pm yesterday. His car was attacked in Dahl Bandin.” An anonymous U.S. official stated, “Mansour was the target and was likely killed,” while the Pentagon press release noted, “We are still assessing the results of the strike.” As of Monday afternoon, the Taliban had yet to release any statement. Read more »

Are Drones More Precise Than Manned Aircraft?

by Micah Zenko
A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters) A U.S. airman guides a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone as it taxis to the runway at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on March 9, 2016. (Josh Smith/Reuters)

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

In our latest piece at ForeignPolicy.com, we evaluate the Obama administration’s long-standing claim that drone strikes are more “precise” and cause fewer civilian fatalities than airstrikes by manned aircraft. We approach this challenge recognizing the limits of understanding who is being targeted and killed by all U.S. aerial operations. In addition, we admit that there are no wholly reliable or independently verifiable data sources, either from the U.S. government or research NGOs. Read more »

Obama’s Latest Admission on Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7, 2016. (Young/Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama was asked a revealing question at the end of an appearance at the University of Chicago defending the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  A student inquired about the president’s unilateral authority to authorize drone strikes outside of traditional battlefields, asking specifically:  “How are these killings morally and legally justified, and what kind of message does this drone program send about American values to the world, the American people, and to law students like myself who refuse to put trust in an opaque process.”  Naturally, Obama did not respond directly to the student’s question, but this twelve minute video segment (starting at 1:10:42) is worth reviewing in its entirety, as it is Obama’s longest unscripted reflection of the drone strikes that have come to define his approach to counterterrorism. Read more »

Evaluating Michael Hayden’s Defense of CIA Drone Strikes

by Micah Zenko
An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on December 5, 2015. (Cloys/U.S. Air Force) An MQ-9 Reaper takes off on Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan on December 5, 2015. (Cloys/U.S. Air Force)

Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Gen. Michael Hayden has an op-ed in today’s New York Times: “To Keep America Safe, Embrace Drone Warfare.” The two-thousand-word piece provides some unique insights into the process by which CIA directors authorize—including over the phone—individual drone strikes and even order the specific munition to be used. Moreover, Hayden provides a more plausible and granular defense than those offered by other former CIA chiefs, including George Tenet, Leon Panetta, and Michael Morrell. He even makes some effort to engage directly with certain prominent criticisms of these lethal operations. Read more »

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 »