Opinion: U.S.-led drone war is self-defeating
September 30th, 2010
10:59 AM ET

Opinion: U.S.-led drone war is self-defeating

By Ken Ballen, Peter Bergen and Patrick Doherty, Special to CNN

Editor's note: CNN National Security analyst Peter Bergen and Patrick Doherty are members of the staff of the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank that looks for solutions across the political spectrum. Ken Ballen is president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonprofit institute that researches attitudes toward extremism.

For the United States there are few more strategically important places today than the tribal region of Pakistan, headquarters of al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, and also home to a syndicate of other militant jihadist groups from across Asia.

It is where Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up a car bomb in Times Square in May, was trained. So was Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American who plotted to explode bombs on Manhattan's subways in 2009. It is also the source of a good deal of the violence that is racking neighboring Afghanistan.

Yet this critical region is one of the most opaque places in the world; international journalists and aid organizations rarely venture there, there's little open dialogue because, until last year, most political parties were banned from operating there. As a result, the views of its inhabitants have largely been a mystery.

Read the full story

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Filed under: Civilian deaths • Drone strikes • Opinion
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Ron

    Well, the drones are killing high ranking terrorist leaders.

    October 5, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jd

    You've gotta be kidding me. This "think tank" is funded by OUR government with OUR tax dollars. Read the italics at the end. So we're paying people to go over there and ask the people whose region we're bombing if they like it. And you found out they don't? NO FRIGGIN WAY. You all should be fired and give me your salary. I could have told you that from my living room. Morons.

    October 5, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David

    Of cours, Ime an exelent spellar.

    October 5, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. sanjosemike

    There's nothing new about any of this. Ghandi himself decried the terrorism and attacks from (at that time) southern India (now Pakistan). it drove him to distraction and he even starved himself to try to stop it. (His hunger strike failed of course, and now Pakistan is a separate country from India).

    It is absurd to think that Pakistan can "control" the terrorists. Most Pakistanis are highly anti-Western and certainly conservative Islamics. That said, a number of Pakistani army people were killed in some of their own efforts.

    Drones are not perfect and sometimes they do kill civilians, but by and large they work. it is the only way we can keep terrorists under control in the area. There is no way to stop terrorism, only control it. Journalists always demand "perfection." Perfection in terms of national security is an oxymoron.

    The best we can do is just try to control terrorism. It will never be completely stopped. sanjosemike

    October 5, 2010 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jawz


    October 5, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jawz

    Because you took a poll from the people who are being bombed? These people see their death's as marytrdom, lets seen all of 'em straight to allah.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jawz

    What in this article is suppose to lead me to the conclusion that using drone's is self-defeating?

    October 5, 2010 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. paul

    the world needs to clean that destructive hell hole out once and for good , all they can teach thier children is to hate and kill, why on earth does western nations want these people liveing in our country,s if they were peacefull people we could learn to live with them, but they are not a people with truthfull intentions, the only thing they will accept is killings and destruction thier mentality does not accept anything other,

    October 5, 2010 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bill

    The whole purpose of the drone program is to be so successful it is no longer needed. Drones can attack where we have no troops. They come out of nowhere with no warning. We should fight the whole war this way.

    October 4, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Uga

      But with bigger bombs and missiles and more of them.

      October 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Canadian101

    #1, I am Canadian, My brothers and sisters of ALL faiths have been dying over there to help bring true freedom to the people.
    #2, Drones are great, They are our coalitions's partners answer to road side bombs. Both are cowardly attacks, however was is as war does. At least we can target drones with much higher effectiveness than a road side bomb, HOW MANY INNOCENT AFGANI people have I read that were killed during the killing of one or two canadian soldiers? we do not even here the reports of the road side bomb detonations that kill only civillians, Must by in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
    #3 Main Stream media (web acess included) is the best information we have, DO NOT shoot the messenger if he makes a minor grammatical mistake (but please poke fun at him so he only makes the mistake once).

    October 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. seppe


    October 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Manuel J.

    It took the input of three people for this weak piece?! Sad... I agree with the assessment that Cronkite was one of the last journalists!

    October 3, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. The Wolf of Leningrad

    The comments on this make me want to commit suicide. Seriously, I can't take living in a world with people that can spew such nonsense.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. GreenGlobe

    Unfortunately, this article is spreading the propaganda of Pakistani Army and ISI. You mention that only 20% support Taliban and only 10% support Al-Qaeda !!!! This seemingly small percentage of people are aggressive and influential enough to rule the land. Due to their ruthless behavior and terror, rest of the population will have to follow them unless they are defeated.
    Only someone who does not know the history of this region can write a article like that. You have to remember that there is no democracy in that part of the world. So you don't need majority support to rule. What you need is brutal power and fear which Taliban and Al-qaeda have in plenty. You also need to show you are on the side of Islam to get support of people who may not agree with you. Taliban has shown that they will appeal to Islamic sentiment in order to survive. So if U.S wants to win, they have to fight and defeat Al qaeda and Taliban

    October 3, 2010 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  15. obamaliar

    man, I love those drones. They keep the towel heads looking up.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Eduardo

    So carpetbomb tha pace.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  17. DurtOrange

    It Seems to me that the U.S led forces are in a 'containment war' right now. The battles are being waged for the most part in these Middle East deserts instead of the battles taking place in the heart of London, Paris, Berlin, New York...
    The terrorist are being pinned down where they come from....contained. It's not 100%...your going to have the occasional bombing in other parts of the world..but the war is draining quite a bit of the terrorists resources and manpower. I can only believe that the terrorists have figured this out, but haven't come up with a solution...yet.
    It's possible they will not find a solution because there might not be one... which would mean that this 'containment war' is working.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  18. Yakkobi

    Do you know that you are talking about two different religions here?
    Man how ignorant can people be...you deserve to be unemployed judging on your comments.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  19. dindy Sri lanka

    This is good news. THANKS TO CNN FOR THIS ARTICLE. .

    October 2, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  20. karnac the merciless

    great kaboookiee....we have winchesters....i have the 1886 with the 45/70...this is a take down.(hurts) and will shoot a camel off it's feet (dung) so far it has only won the west but we shall aim east (satellite) i have learned (well) in physics that lbs is same for feather as steel ball falling (grounded) this was asked by arab student (lbs) and the funnie was answers.

    October 1, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  21. DON OWEN

    We have only won wars in which we have been able to put the enemies leaders and their places of residence into harm's way. Old men NEVER go into battle. The drone attacks are slowly killing middle and upper management- it is working and will continue to work- the old men directING this war are dying as well as their sons. Obviously, Pakistan is one of those "allies" we wish we did not have. We need to treat them exactly for what they are– our enemies best friend. The tribal areas need to be declared as "un-governed", the actual border is on the eastern side of the tribal areas. This area is an open war zone. It is absurd for Pakistan to have armed observers ( they are not guards– they are not guarding anything) on a totally porous border shooting at American aircraft. That will get you dead. To be a taliban leader is literally becoming a death sentence- they are beginning to talk to Karzai for a reason and its spelled D-R-O-N-E.

    October 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Truth

    Drone attacks put the "terror" back on the extremists. They know that they could get waxed at any second if they choose to be a part of a terrorist group. Yes, you...the guy reading this via satelite internet in a cave in the middle of nowhere....say cheese.

    October 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  23. patch vader

    The entire region is a third world dung heap. Are all of those with their hands up trying to get work visas for the US, or are they shouting the famous "death to america"? Hard to tell. Personally, i like the idea of an unannounced death from the sky. Give ups Bin Laden and we will happily go our way.

    October 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  24. No Apology

    Precision strikes with drone aircraft is in effective. We should use B52s and carpet bombing.

    October 1, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Uga

      I think it's time to drop something more potent than a hellfire missile. The Pakistanis need to learn that we mean business.

      October 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  25. vincent

    Drone attacks are effecting the moral of Al-quaeda leadership. The fact that it does not put any of our personnel in imminent danger could make our foes angry , that I agree. But I don't care about our Foes.

    October 1, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Grammar Nazi

      I think you mean "affecting."

      October 3, 2010 at 2:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric P

      Drone attacks keep coalition forces out of imminent danger? Tell me, what's the body count up to now? Do you consider civilians "foes"?

      October 5, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Roy

    The poll results were misinterpreted. The locals are not opposed to drone strikes they are opposed to America. The reports states: "Our poll found that opposition to the drones dropped dramatically if they were operated by Pakistanis". This part of the world hated America before 9-11 and before the drone attacks begin. Why? That is what you need to answer and resolve.
    Putting this weapon in the hands of Pakistan would be a major mistake. One that would haunt us for decades.

    October 1, 2010 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  27. Rick Cox

    When I hear that these towel heads don't like the drone attacks, it just makes me want to do more of them. Perhaps they would like it better if we just carpet bombed the tribal areas until every soul there was sent to allah. The simple fact is, never going to give a hoot about these ignorant stinking muslims. How about we deplete our nuclear weapon stockpile by dumping all of them on this area!

    October 1, 2010 at 5:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Eric P

      Clearly, you're an expert on ignorance. You've obviously spent your whole life perfecting yours.

      October 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  28. dnsmith

    eck, do tine, haja mosum hai rangine

    September 30, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  29. dnsmith

    Drones good. Islamist terrorists bad. Only innocents killed by drones are the families behind which Islamist terrorists hide.

    September 30, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • USMC Forever

      dnsmith,your comment here is one of the most disgusting ones I've seen yet.You must be full of hate to post it.I really feel sorry for you.

      September 30, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Facefur

      Regardless of who the "innocents" are or are not, using standoff weapons that separate us fro mthe targets makes us look like unfeeling killers of whomever happens to be around. I recognize that we are targeting what intelligence suggests are actual insurgents (they aren't terrorists unless they actually engage in terrorism), but when the "collateral damage" includes people who might well be bystanders with no interest or who even oppose the insurgents, we breed resentment that makes combating the actual enemy even more difficult that before.

      Might I suggest you read "The Accidental Guerilla" by David Kilcullen, an actual expert in this type of warfare, to understand why this technique can have such negative effects.

      October 4, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Daniel-2

    What I find to be most sickening of all are these right-wing nutjobs blogging in here to brag about what a "good" job these cursed drones doing! Can anybody in their right mind imagine Jesus condoning this oscene butchery??? Well I can't!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest101

      Allah condones killing innocent civilians according to the extremists? Would Jesus not want us to defend ourselves?

      September 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • dnsmith

      Don't really give a popo about what you think Jesus, or Muhamed, Shiva, Vishnu or Buddha would or would not approve. Fact is we have never targeted Islam, only fanatics who are heretically claiming jihad as their right to kill indiscriminately.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      Obviously, you can't Daniel-2, because you're not in your right mind.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
      • Daniel-2

        I suppose that you are Phunnie boy,trying to make another sick joke out of this obscene war under Larry Valecia's name.

        September 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • SmokeyJoe

      Today a drone strike eliminated the threat to some German cities by killing persons with German citizenship who had travelled to the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region for terrorist training. Naturally, surviving jihadists will cry and squeal that those killed were innocent and were prospective candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, because they visualize themselves as coming up soon on the drone hit-list. If you jihadists are really afraid for your lives, turn yourselves in to NATO forces and give all the information you know on the locations of the jihadist leadership figures. If you don't, you are in real danger of losing your lives while those jihadist leaders who never go forward into battle hide to save their lives and don't believe in the lies that they will have eternal pleasure in heaven for their acts of indicriminate mass murder.

      October 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • mastadon2

      they didn't have drones when Jesus was alive...so It's hard to say...
      But I think they did have Laser guided anti tank weaponry.
      I know Jesus would have liked to blow stuff up with that....

      October 4, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Chas Whittlesey

    According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "rack" is perfectly acceptable.

    September 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Ray

    Oh bull.Self defeating my @$$.Yeah lets just let the terrorists run roughshod.Are we surprised Osama Bin Laden hasn't been captured or killed yet.US aid to Pakistan must be linked to cooperation.It is time to cut off the billions of dollars in aid if Pakistan doesn't stop their incessant whining.Come on Pakistan start shooting and we will hand you your @$$ on a platter.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      Get off of it,Ray! Will you cut out that right-wing bla-bla-bla? Of course the obscene butchery caused by those cursed drones are bound to make us look bad as anybody with half a brain would know!

      September 30, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

        Next I'll accuse you of being in the Tea Party, the MIC and flying black helicopters!

        Has anyone seen my tinfoil hat?

        September 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
      • TBT

        Anybody with half a brain? Obama is ordering those drone strikes, so are you accusing him of only having half a brain?

        October 5, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark

      bin laden is dead, he would have a video out showing his ugly ass/face if he were alive.

      October 4, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
      • Eric P

        Produce his body, otherwise it's speculation. Also, let's pretend he is dead. I highly doubt the U.S. military and intelligence networks succeeded in killing him. It's unlikely they ever got as close to him as they did when they had him cornered at Tora Bora...and he still got away. But none of us will ever know the whole story.

        October 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  33. bailoutsos

    Breaking news -"'Opium production down in Afghanistan, U.N. says"

    September 30, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Jeremy

    I have a very difficult time taking seriously an opinion piece from an ostensibly reliable news source when the authors and editors can't differentiate the proper use of rack/wrack. The violence would be 'wracking' Afghanistan, not 'racking'. This is just shameful.

    September 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      We should always strive to use proper spelling and grammar, but let's not miss the point of a story because we're too focused on being grammar police. Lighten up. You come off as snobby when your only comment is about a spelling mistake.

      It's like the people who clog message boards with comments like "it's bush's fault, or obama's fault. After 3 or 400 times the joke gets old.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
      • vincent

        Our English is important part of our culture and we take it seriously. Try to mess up a word in a different language like french or spanish and see how those people react. What does it is all George Bush fault or Obama fault have to do with our english?

        October 1, 2010 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
      • IMHO

        Lighten up, Joe. After all, the publishers of this website purports to be professional communicators. When they allow themselves to appear as less, it's fun to play "gotcha!"

        October 2, 2010 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
      • wcushman

        Vincent, why do you not capitalize French and Spanish along with English. Do you think they are inferior?

        October 4, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      rack seems to fir also: to torture on the rack
      : to cause to suffer torture, pain, anguish, or ruin
      a : to stretch or strain violently
      b : to raise (rents) oppressively
      c : to harass or oppress with high rents or extortions
      : to work or treat (material) on a rack

      September 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Agreed. Journalism degrees are a joke these days, and the media no longer holds credibility in my book. Walter Cronkite was the last of the honest media spokesmen.

      October 1, 2010 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • IMHO

      I guess, with all the downsizing and all, editors and proofreaders were the first to go. Or maybe it's that the online part of the network famiily is just the redheaded stepchild.

      October 2, 2010 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • The_Mick

      Jeremy, maybe YOU should do some research first. From dictionary.com: rack –verb (used with object) definitions [first 11 are noun defs.]: 12. to torture; distress acutely; torment: His body was racked with pain. 13.to strain in mental effort: to rack one's brains. 14. to strain by physical force or violence. 15. to strain beyond what is normal or usual. 16. to stretch the body of (a person) in torture by means of a rack. 17. Nautical . to seize (two ropes) together side by side.

      October 2, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Facefur

      Instead of playing word police and wasting bits and page space, you might look into the content of the article. Complaining about spelling does not contribute anything to the discussion of the overall issue.

      October 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
      • mark

        no kidding, idiots

        October 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • El Kababa

      I doubt these articles are edited. My CEO would say, "How does paying an editor increase corporate profits?"

      October 5, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Marnie

      I agree, however; we are making some progress. Pakistan needs to cooperate or give up its nuclear weapons. You can't leave adult toys with children.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |