Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nek Muhammad and the Origins of US Drone Policy

Mark Mazzetti has an article in this morning's Times (here) about the switch in U.S. policy from capturing terrorists to killing them.

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Mazzetti dates the change in policy to 2004.  He says that a major impetus was CIA Inspector General John Helgerson's report about the abuse of detainees in the CIA's secret prisons.  The report provoked such a political backlash (and concern among CIA operatives about potential legal liability) that policy makers turned to drones to provide a "cleaner" solution.

575. Does Mazzetti think the move towards assassinations-by-drone (rather than detention) was a conscious political decision, or does he think Bush, and then Obama, convinced themselves it was a tactical/military change?

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The article breaks the story of a deal between Pakistan and the United States in which we agreed to kill Nek Muhammad in exchange for Pervez Musharraf's permission to conduct drone operations in Pakistani airspace.

Muhammad was a Pashtun tribesman from Waziristan.  He harbored some al Qaeda terrorists, but he was more concerned with attacking Pakistani interests than with opposing/attacking the US ("the CIA had been monitoring the rise of Mr. Muhammad, but officials considered him to be more Pakistan's problem than America's").

Muhammad was killed by a drone strike. Moving forward, the US was allowed to conduct drone strikes as pre-approved by Pakistan, and ISI and CIA agreed that Pakistan would either take credit for all killings or remain silent as to their source.

576. This article highlights the incredible entanglement and complexity of US and Pakistani interests.  After the death of Richard Holbrooke, who are the key US figures/diplomats in unwinding us from Afghanistan and Pakistan?  Will Chuck Hagel have any success in that part of the world?  Is he respected there?

577. What is Obama's primary justification for so many drone strikes?  The policy continues to confound me (particularly the expansion of it into other parts of the world).  Is the reliance on drones coming more from Obama himself (and if so, why?), or are his advisors convincing him that drones are the "least bad" option?

This picture is by Kamran Wazir/Reuters and is from this morning's Times.  Nek Muhammad is the man in the center-front.  This is an incredibly dramatic photo, in particular Muhammad's stance and the way that his pink/orange cloth sets him off from the rest of the group.

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