Obama Knew Drone Strikes Were Counter-Productive, But Did It Anyway

Previously-leaked documents showed that the CIA warned Obama that funding rebels doesn’t work … but Obama decided to fund the Syrian rebels anyway for cynical political gain.

Top CIA officers say that drone strikes increase terrorism (and see this). Indeed, virtually all aspects of the American “war on terror” strategy creates more terrorists and weakens our national security. And see this.

Now, a leaked internal CIA memo shows that the Agency told Obama that drone strikes might be counter-productive.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports today:

According to a leaked document by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, “high value targeting” (HVT) involving air strikes and special forces operations against insurgent leaders can be effective, but can also have negative effects including increasing violence and greater popular support for extremist groups.

The leaked document is classified secret and “NoForn” (meaning not to be distributed to non-US nationals) and reviews attacks by the United States and other countries engaged in counter-insurgency operations over the past 50 years.

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The 2009 CIA study lends support to critics of US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen by warning that such operations “may increase support for the insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders’ lore, if non-combatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi-legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is already seen as overly repressive or violent”.

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The CIA also warns that targeting insurgent leaders “may, by eroding the rules of the game between the government and insurgents, escalate the level of violence in a conflict, which may or may not be in a government’s interest.”

“Israeli HVT efforts from 2000 to 2002 strengthened solidarity between terrorist groups and bolstered popular support for hard-line militant leaders, according to US Embassy officials in Jerusalem and clandestine reporting,” the study says.

Common Dreams notes:

Here’s a link to the document, titled Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Toolocument (pdf).

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Wikileaks points out that this internal prediction “has been proven right” in the years since the internal review was conducted near the outset of President Obama’s first term. And despite those internal warnings—which have been loudly shared by human rights and foreign policy experts critical of the CIA’s drone and assassination programs—Wikileaks also notes that after the internal review was prepared, “US drone strike killings rose to an all-time high.”

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According to a statement released by Wikileaks:

The report discusses assassination operations (by various states) against the Taliban, al-Qa’ida, the FARC, Hizbullah, the PLO, HAMAS, Peru’s Shining Path, the Tamil’s LTTE, the IRA and Algeria’s FLN. Case studies are drawn from Chechnya, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand.

The assessment was prepared by the CIA’s Office of Transnational Issues (OTI). Its role is to provide “the most senior US policymakers, military planners, and law enforcement with analysis, warning, and crisis support”. The report is dated 7 July 2009, six months into Leon Panetta’s term as CIA chief ….


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