At a time when the United States seems likely to rely heavily on targeted killing as an instrument of counter-terrorism, scholars, policymakers, and other analysts remain divided over its utility. These disagreements have been especially pronounced in scholarship and commentary regarding the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan. This systematic review of declassified Arabic-language correspondence among senior al-Qaeda leaders and operatives suggests that drone strikes eroded the quality of al-Qaeda’s personnel base, forced the group to reduce communications and other activities, and compelled it to flee its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Yet, the results were sometimes incomplete and took years of sustained pressure to achieve. U.S. policymakers should acknowledge these limitations and plan to supplement future lethal targeting campaigns with other complementary counter-terrorism instruments.
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Dr. Bryce Loidolt is a Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University.
The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.