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 "Terrorism"

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 »

Podcast: Anxious Politics: A Conversation with Shana Kushner Gadarian

by Micah Zenko
Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World  by Shana Kushner Gadarian and Bethany Albertson (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World by Shana Kushner Gadarian and Bethany Albertson (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

How do threats portrayed in the media imprint on the human mind? Why do people seek out threatening information in the news? How do they perceive of these threats and what protective policies do they expect from politicians? I discuss these questions, social science methodologies, and career advice with Shana Kushner Gadarian, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Read more »

Guest Post: Is American Fear of Islamic Terrorism Grounded in Evidence?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
Members of the New York City Police Department's newly formed Critical Response Command anti-terrorism unit stand in formation as they gather for their first deployment outside their headquarters on Randall's Island in New York City on November 16, 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters) Members of the New York City Police Department's newly formed Critical Response Command anti-terrorism unit stand in formation as they gather for their first deployment outside their headquarters on Randall's Island in New York City on November 16, 2015. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Tina Huang in an intern in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Five months, three countries, one hundred and seventy-six dead. The self-proclaimed Islamic State has left a trail of carnage in the Western hemisphere (as well as tens of thousands of victims in the Middle East and North Africa). Subsequently, 51 percent of Americans fear that they or a family member will be killed in a terror attack. This level of fear among Americans is nearly equivalent to that experienced after 9/11, when 2,699 Americans died. The tragedy of 9/11 and more recent Islamic extremism attacks are also correlated with a rise of anti-Islamic hate crimes, which have more than doubled since 2008. 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 »

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 »

From No Boots to Nightmare Fuel in Syria

by Micah Zenko
President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Orly airport near Paris, France, on December 1, 2015. (Gaillard/Reuters) President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Orly airport near Paris, France, on December 1, 2015. (Gaillard/Reuters)

Yesterday, while being interviewed by Norah O’Donnell of CBS News, President Barack Obama made a revealing statement about the careful manner in which U.S. military interventions are made. O’Donnell asked Obama if he was going back on his word by authorizing an expansion of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria with the deployment of what the Pentagon calls a “specialized expeditionary targeting force.” The president earnestly replied, “You know, when I said no boots on the ground, I think the American people understood generally that we’re not going to do an Iraq-style invasion of Iraq or Syria with battalions that are moving across the desert.” Read more »

Guest Post: The Islamic State – Where is it now?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko
An armed motorcade belonging to members of the Islamic Youth Council in Libya drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Stringer/Reuters) An armed motorcade belonging to members of the Islamic Youth Council in Libya drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya, after the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Stringer/Reuters)

Helia Ighani is the assistant director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action.

Since the self-proclaimed Islamic State captured territory in Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014, their network of affiliated groups has grown significantly. The Islamic State—known previously as al-Qaeda in Iraq—was disavowed from al-Qaeda in 2014 for its divergent philosophy and brutal tactics. Pre-existing terrorist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State, increasing the number of fighters to anywhere from twenty thousand to two hundred thousand in Iraq and Syria alone. Now, nearly thirty-five terrorist groups have declared their allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Read more »