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 "Military Operations"

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 »

Reviewing the Pentagon’s ISIS Body Counts

by Micah Zenko
Strike Eagles Iraq Syria A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in September 2014.

Four months after President Obama pledged to the nation in September 2014 “we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” reporters challenged Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby about his assertion that “We know that we’ve killed hundreds of their forces.” One reporter asked directly, “can you be more specific on that number?” Kirby replied tersely: Read more »

How the U.S. Military Can Battle Zika

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
A Cuban military reservist fumigates inside a home as part of the preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Havana on the outskirts of Cuba, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino A Cuban military reservist fumigates inside a home as part of the preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Havana on the outskirts of Cuba, March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Gabriella Meltzer is a research associate in the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Aaron Picozzi is the research associate for the military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Coast Guard veteran, and currently serves in the Army National Guard. Read more »

Guest Post: Preventing a Strategic Reversal in Afghanistan

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Marines Helmand Afghanistan U.S. Marines prepare to depart upon the end of operations for Marines and British combat troops in Helmand October 27, 2014. (Sobhani/Reuters)

Jared Wright is an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan at the end of his administration, nearly 3,000 more troops than his previous timeline, reflects the tenuous stability that Afghanistan has achieved after nearly fifteen years of U.S. involvement. A resurgent Taliban and the appearance of self-proclaimed Islamic State forces have tested the ability of the increasingly fragile central government to provide security and political stability and demonstrated the limits of U.S. training and support. Meanwhile, economic and political frustrations across all levels of Afghan society have gone largely unaddressed by the National Unity Government (NUG). The security situation in Afghanistan could worsen, which would threaten U.S. interests in the region. 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 »

New Commander, New Rules

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
AfghanistanPOE Incoming Commander of Resolute Support forces and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General John Nicholson attends a change of command ceremony in Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, March 2, 2016. (Rahmat Gu/Reuters)

Harry Oppenheimer is a research associate for national security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan has been subject to restrictive rules of engagement that prohibited targeting the Taliban directly unless they posed a threat to U.S. personnel, or an extreme threat to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Reportedly, this has changed. The recent news was the first major policy change for the Afghan War since General John Nicholson took over command exactly one hundred days before the announcement on March 2, 2016. Combined with today’s story that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases will remain open in Afghanistan into 2017, Nicholson has latitude that would be the envy of his predecessors. Read more »

Responding to Coast Guard Expansion in the South China Sea

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
RTR3U05T A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam June 13, 2014. (Nguyen Minh/Reuters)

Aaron Picozzi is the research associate for the military fellows and Lincoln Davidson (@dvdsndvdsn) is a research associate for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. 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 »