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We Can't Drone Our Way to Victory in Afghanistan

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
March 27, 2012
Foreign Policy

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Marc Thiessen wrote a column in the Washington Post last week warning of "five disasters" waiting to happen if the Obama administration accelerates the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Topping his list of terribles: "The drone war against al-Qaeda in Pakistan would likely cease." Thiessen notes correctly that given the distances to Pakistan's tribal areas from naval platforms in the Arabian Sea or the Kabul airport, "If we want to continue the drone war against al-Qaeda, we must have a U.S. military presence in the Pashtun heartland."

Thiessen raises an obvious but often overlooked issue when considering what the U.S. military's role will be in Afghanistan beyond 2014: The sovereign Afghan government holds the decisive veto power -- and any U.S. officials who believe that President Hamid Karzai or his successor will give the United States carte blanche to use Afghanistan as a platform for CIA drone strikes or Special Forces raids into Pakistan will be sorely disappointed.

Across the globe, foreign governments have adopted a range of positions when faced with a request to host U.S. military forces. Some host nations openly embrace U.S. military forces -- and the accompanying U.S. overt and covert aid -- and allow military aircraft to use their territory with few limits. For example, a leaked State Department cable described a meeting that took place on Aug. 19, 2009, where Seychelles President James Michel requested -- twice -- that the inaugural launch of U.S. drones be documented with a photo-op or celebration.

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