Work on a highly classified rule book regarding Predator drone strikes cycled into high gear about the same time national polls showed President Obama neck-and-neck with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
In the weeks leading up to the election, efforts accelerated on crafting “explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones,” so that Romney, if he won, would be handed clear standards and procedures for using the drones, according to a New York Times report published Saturday.
“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to the New York Times. President Obama would have chosen to rush the drone rule book to completion before Jan. 1, rather than leave an “amorphous” or unstructured program in the hands of his successor, the official said. Now, the guidelines for use of the Predator will be finished at a more leisurely pace.
While Obama is widely criticized for his abundant use of unmanned drones to take out Taliban and al Qaeda targets, the President seems to side with those in Washington who are calling for restraint with the weapons. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. have argued for greater latitude than what the Justice Department, State Department and the president’s counter-terrorism advisor want to allow, reports the New York Times.
President Obama has remarked that “creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come,” according to Mark Bowden’s new book “The Finish” about the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Deaths By The Numbers
Since Jan. 1, 2009 (just a few weeks before Obama took office), there have been 274 Predator air strikes in Pakistan. The unmanned drone strikes peaked at 117 in 2010 and decreased in frequency to 40 in 2012, according to data presented by The Long War Journal.
As far as casualties, drones have killed 1,950 Taliban and al Qaeda militants from 2009-2012. In addition, U.S. drone strikes reportedly killed 88 Pakistani civilians over the four-year period — a figure that, if correct, represents 4.3% of total reported deaths by drone in Pakistan. Civilian casualties, however, are notoriously hard to ascertain, given that one side tends to exaggerate them and the other tends to downplay them.
What is your opinion on use of unmanned Predator drones? Should they be used to take out high-value terrorist targets threatening the U.S.? Should they be used to defeat unknown members of militant groups that are suspected of threatening the stability of other governments? Comment below.