In a rare admission of defeat, an Al-Qaida leader in Pakistan conceded that drones are costing fighters and denying the terror network safe havens. This speaks to the continued success of the “drone war”, and will undoubtedly spur proponents of the F-35.
According to Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, “There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost,” he said. “We are the ones that are losing people, we are the ones facing shortages of resources. Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.”
Since 2004, the U.S. has conducted a “drone war” against terrorists operating in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. The drone strikes (or “extrajudicial executions”, according to Amnesty International) have been highly-controversial, but also extraordinarily effective—in 2010, drones killed up to 939 militants. And Farooq’s statement speaks for itself.
President Obama has dramatically escalated the “drone war”—more drone strikes were carried out during Obama’s first year (about 48) than Bush’s entire presidency (about 44). Not only have the dividends improved (103 militants waxed from ’04-’07, 939 in 2010), but the strikes have become more surgical—according to the New America Foundation, collateral damage since 2004 was approximately 21 percent, while in 2010, it dropped to just six percent.
This hasn’t stopped human rights groups like Amnesty International and the ACLU from decrying what they believe to be “extrajudicial executions.” In an April 2010 letter to President Obama, ACLU director Anthony D. Romero claims the program, “violates international law and, at least insofar as it affects U.S. citizens, it is also unconstitutional.” But this isn’t an explicitly political blog, so I’ll leave such debates to Washington (and readers).
In a strange twist, Farooq’s admission could vindicate F-35 proponents. Robert Gates capped the F-22 Raptor at 187 planes, assuming that future conflict will portend further asymmetrical warfare (similar to the “drone war” over Pakistan). If not UAVs, the F-35 would be more than sufficient for the wars of the future.
It could be argued that air superiority gives us the tactical and strategic advantage in any armed conflict. Conceding this advantage is extremely dangerous, especially with adversaries unveiling their own 5th-generation fighters.