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The Downside of Discrete Military Operations

Interviewee: Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
September 1, 2010

From mounting drone strikes in Yemen to cruise missile strikes in Iraq, U.S. authorities have long relied on subtle forms of force to achieve political objectives abroad. But Micah Zenko, a CFR Fellow for Conflict Prevention, says in a new book that of thirty-six discrete military operations (DMOs) launched by the United States since 1991, the vast majority have failed to achieve their stated aim.

Zenko says drone strikes in Pakistan, intended to reduce al-Qaeda's operational capacity, are a case in point. "After 155 strikes in a six-year period [stretching from the Bush administration to present], have they coerced al-Qaeda and their affiliates from using the Pakistan safe-haven to plan overseas terrorist plots? The answer is no."

Zenko's book, Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World, examines the efficacy of these small-scale operations. Zenko says in the future, the United States must consider a more comprehensive approach to employing DMOs, particularly drone strikes. Recent reports that the CIA may expand covert operations in Yemen (WashPost), for instance, may prove a sound tactic in efforts to eliminate an al-Qaeda safe-haven. But Zenko says success there, as elsewhere, will be dependent on "comprehensive, coordinated, prioritized" strategies that effectively marry U.S. and local priorities.



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