Foreign and Defense Policy

Obama ‘exposes’ a covert action program

During an online question and answer session on Monday, President Obama “exposed” a covert action program when, for the first time, he acknowledged the existence of the CIA’s drone campaign against al Qaeda. The drone program is, of course, an “open secret” in Washington. U.S. officials routinely discuss it on deep background, and Obama has referred to it obliquely in the past. But this was the first time an American president had openly acknowledged that the United States was using unmanned drones to kill al Qaeda terrorists.

The president made his remarks in the context of defending the program against charges from critics on the left that it has led to the deaths of a large number of civilians. “Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” the president declared. “There’s a perception that we’re just sending a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans … It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a tight leash.”

He added that, far from a source of tension with countries where strikes occur (he judiciously avoided mentioning Pakistan by name), relations would be further frayed if drones were not available to go after al Qaeda and the United States had to use manned missions to kill the terrorists instead. “We have to be judicious in how we use drones,” the president said, “but we have to understand that probably our ability … to limit our incursions into somebody else’s territory is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint-strike an al Qaeda operative in a place where the capacity of that military in that country may not be able to get them.”

At almost the same time the president spoke, eleven terrorists, including four local commanders, are reported to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike in a southern Yemeni province where al Qaeda’s affiliate controls significant ground. And earlier this month, the United States resumed drone strikes in Pakistan after a nearly two month pause following an American air strike in November that killed two dozen Pakistani troops. According to the Long War Journal, this was the longest pause in strikes since the program was ramped up in the summer of 2008 by President George W. Bush. Here is LWJ’s list of the pauses in drone attacks:

Number of days between Predator/Reaper strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, eight days or greater

2011:

•    33 days, Nov. 16 to Dec. 19

•    11 days, Nov. 3 to Nov. 15

•    11 days, Oct. 15 to Oct. 27

•    12 days, Sept. 30 to Oct. 13

•    11 days, Sept. 11 to Sept. 23

•    17 days, Aug. 22 to Sept. 11

•    9 days, May 23 to June 3

•    19 days, April 21 to May 6

•    25 days, March 17 to April 13

•    14 days, Feb. 21 to March 8

•    27 days, Jan. 23 to Feb. 20

2010:

•    9 days, Dec. 17 to Dec. 27

•    19 days, July 25 to Aug. 14

•    15 days, June 29 to July 15

•    12 days, May 28 to June 10

•    12 days, March 30 to April 12

•    10 days, Feb. 24 to March 8

•    11 days, Feb. 2 to Feb. 14

2009:

•    19 days, Nov. 18 to Dec. 8

•    13 days, Sept. 30 to Oct. 14

•    9 days, Sept. 14 to Sept. 24

•    10 days, Aug. 27 to Sept. 7

•    8 days, Aug. 11 to Aug. 20

•    9 days, June 23 to July 3

•    28 days, May 16 to June 14

•    9 days, April 19 to April 29

•    10 days, April 8 to April 19

•    9 days, March 15 to March 25

•    11 days, March 1 to March 12

•    12 days, Feb. 16 to March 1

•    21 days, Jan. 23 to Feb. 14

•    20 days, Jan. 2 to Jan. 23

2008:

•    11 days, Nov. 29 to Dec. 11

•    13 days, Sept. 17 to Oct. 1

2 thoughts on “Obama ‘exposes’ a covert action program

  1. Can somebody tell me who the “critics on the left” are. Do they have names? How many are there? Is it a million, a thousand, a hundred… two?

    I voted for McCain in the last prior election, but I’m an independent voter.

    I’ve yet to meet anybody — independent, Democrat or Republican — who believes we should not attack known terrorists wherever they may be. It’s either that or continue (as we did up to 9-11) to take hits from terrorists who are trained in other nations and who strike from concealment among non-combatants. If other nations’ internal security agents or military cannot, or will not, neutralize the terrorists who strike us, then we are forced to respond. All we can do in that scenario is minimize collateral damage to innocents and to the property of innocents. The best we can do is the best we can do.

    However, it is not transparent news to simply allude vaguely to “critics on the left” or “critics on the right,” or critics who are independent.

    If such critics are real people (instead of a propaganda pseudo-community), shouldn’t they or their spokespersons have names and faces worthy of mention? Phrases such as “critics on the left” comes off as b——t.

    Some citizens want to hear the facts, and let the facts fall where they may. Vague references to “critics” do not help to clarify, and instead ring as unsupportable generalizations.

    But, if these critics do have names or organizations for whom they speak, it would be “news” to know who they are.

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