Making the rounds today is a piece up at the Guardian in which a former top CIA terrorism official admits the obvious: that the drone war if overly broad, kills too many civilians, provokes anti-American hatred, and could inadvertently create terrorist safe havens.
Now Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006 and was previously a CIA station chief in Pakistan, has told the Guardian that the drone programme is targeted too broadly. “It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences,” Grenier said in an interview.
“We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said.
Grenier said the strikes were too indiscriminate and causing outrage among the civilian population in the country, lending support to Islamists and seeing a growth in anti-US sentiment.
“That brings you to a place where young men, who are typically armed, are in the same area and may hold these militants in a certain form of high regard. If you strike them indiscriminately you are running the risk of creating a terrific amount of popular anger. They have tribes and clans and large families. Now all of a sudden you have a big problem … I am very concerned about the creation of a larger terrorist safe haven in Yemen,” Grenier said.
I guess this is a follow-up to what I called a “belated revelation” last month when James Traub at ForeignPolicy.com wrote “The danger of producing more militants than we kill in Yemen hardly seems hypothetical.” Way to get on the bandwagon, was my general message. Experts in the area have been singing this tune for a very long time. Grenier was based in Pakistan, but now that the news is very much focused on the expanded campaign in Yemen, I’ll reprint a compiled list of expert opinion on this blowback question:
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University (who Traub actually quotes), recently wrote, “Body bags are not a good barometer for success in a war like this. I would argue that U.S. missile strike[s] are actually one of the major — not the only, but a major — factor in AQAP’s growing strength.”
Jeremy Scahill, reporting for Nation, exposed in February after visiting Yemen how U.S. airstrikes that kill civilians and those ill-defined as militants – along with support for the brutal Yemeni government – foments anti-Americanism and fuels international terrorism.
As Charles Schmitz, a Yemen expert at Towson University in Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times, “The more the U.S. applies its current policy, the stronger Al Qaeda seems to get.”
“U.S. involvement is far more than ever in Yemen. We have no evidence that all those being killed are terrorists,” Abdul Salam Mohammed, director of Abaad Strategic Center, told CNN. “With every U.S. attack that is conducted in Yemen al Qaeda is only growing in power and we have to ask ourselves why that is happening.”
“Drones are a weapon of terror in many ways, and the kind of hostility this is going to breed may not be worth the counter-terrorism gains,” says Barbara Bodine, who was U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001.
It’s notable that Grenier was a top CIA “counter-terrorism” official under the Bush administration. Most Bush officials have come out as stalwart defenders of Obama’s foreign policy, but this one notably is concerned he has gone too far. We’re at a point now where Obama is counting “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” as administration officials told the New York Times, “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” If anyone thinks we won’t be garnering any new enemies with that kind of policy, maybe its time they applied for a gig at the CIA.