The United States should pursue strategies in Afghanistan that focus on reducing civilian deaths and enhancing stability. However, a report today by Julian Barnes at the LA Times shows that the U.S. is shifting drones from hunting al-Qaida to attacking suspected Taliban in Afghanistan, a shift likely to cause more civilian deaths and further destabilization.
This actual policy of escalating drone strikes runs exactly counter to the “official policy” of reducing airstrikes and civilian casualties in Afghanistan under McChrystal’s much ballyhooed new orders. We know from experience in Pakistan that drone strikes kill far, far more civilians than they do suspected militants, and that drone operators in other branches of the U.S. government are firing their weapons even when they lack intelligence to back them up. Ratcheting up their use in Afghanistan will mean more dead civilians, and a higher ratio of civilian-to-militant death.
While the rationale offered for increasing drone attacks against the Taliban is to “prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy,” their use could very likely have the opposite effect. Again, as we’ve seen in Pakistan, rampant drone attacks were used against targets under the rationale of preventing the country from ‘falling into anarchy.’ However, their use helped contribute to one of the largest human migrations in recent history, actually pushing the country closer to anarchy. Drones will not help stabilize Afghanistan.
If the U.S. wants to reduce civilian casualties and enhance stability in Afghanistan, we should decrease, not increase, the number of drone-based airstrikes.