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The White House document and war policies

There is much debate about drones’ military role and the threat they pose to civilians

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Published: Updated:

On Sept. 30, 2011, a US drone headed to north Yemen to target a vehicle crossing a desert road and carrying six people. The most significant was Anwar al-Awlaqi, a young man born in New Mexico, raised in the United States and described by the FBI as al-Qaeda’s spiritual advisor.

The passengers perished. Drones put terrorists under much pressure by limiting their movement and making them feel like potential targets.

On Aug. 5, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published an 18-page White House document entitled “The Presidential Policy Guidance.” The document stipulates that measures related to specific terrorist targets must be as selective and accurate as possible.

There is much debate about drones’ military role and the threat they pose to civilians. The controversy includes ways in which terrorism can be confronted. The United States says drones are the most successful and safest way to pursue extremists.

In his article - “The Costs and Consequences of Drone Warfare” - terrorism expert Michael Boyle discusses drones’ efficiency in the war on terror. For example, they have made federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan unsafe, thus decreasing the number of terrorists fleeing to these areas.

Boyle says during US President Barack Obama’s second term, there was a chance to adopt a new drone policy that decreases costs and avoids long-term consequences. He urges the use of drones against leadership figures and operatives, while decreasing or stopping attacks against infantry.

The debate over drones focuses on their accuracy, the number of civilians killed, and the need to set rules for attacks against certain targets

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Improving technology

There is no debate over the need to murder terrorists via specific means that do not harm civilians. The basic idea is how the United States can improve its use of drone technology, which other countries compete to possess.

Some writers discuss the possibility of terrorists attaining this technology. In his book “Drones, American-Israeli domination and Rising Power,” Rabih Yahia writes: “Terrorists look forward to possessing drones to target densely populated areas or popular gatherings, especially in cities and during rush hours. This helps extremist organizations achieve two aims. The first one is to murder more people, and the second one is to spread fear and chaos.”

In the war on terror, drones are more effective than other machines. The United States is said to have used them in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and the Gaza Strip. It invested more than $1.4 billion in developing Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, from which it launches drones. Some 3,000 people have reportedly been killed by drones in the past decade.

Reconnaissance, and tracking and pursuing wanted men who flee to unstable and densely populated areas, are the bases on which European countries, Israel and the United States develop drones. As their military and technical development continues, discussion emerges about borders, ethics and rules of engagement. The expansion of drones worldwide means terrorists could one day attain them.

The debate over drones focuses on their accuracy, the number of civilians killed, and the need to set rules for attacks against certain targets. Drones play a role in making the world safer, and laws relating to them will develop. They are terrorists’ worst enemy worldwide.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 11, 2016.
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Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.