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Obama's Armed Drones in Iraq Reek of Mission Creep

Why the administration’s muddy logic for intervention on behalf of a deeply unpopular central government will get America engaged in a Middle Eastern civil war.

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
June 30, 2014
Foreign Policy

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Don't worry if you missed it. I mean, what do you buy for the drone war that has everything? Yes, the 10-year anniversary of the CIA's drone strikecampaign in northwest Pakistan unsurprisingly passed without mention in Washington, but it has potential lessons for the unfolding deterioration of security in Iraq, as the Islamic State (formerly ISIS or ISIL) continues to seize territory, declaring an Islamic caliphate over portions of Iraq and Syria.

The CIA armed drones program was initially deployed on behalf of one mission -- killing senior members of al Qaeda. But over time, the drones were repurposed for new missions for which they were not originally intended. As McClatchy's Jonathan Landay revealed last year, in May 2007, based upon his reporting from classified CIA documents, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) requested a drone strike "against an insurgent training camp in the North Waziristan agency after a Pakistani army assault on the compound was repulsed. The Pakistani army sought the strike even though it had been told that drones wouldn't be used to support Pakistani troops in combat." More than one former senior official from the CIA's operations side of the house has told me that the situation presented in Landay's reporting was not the only time that the CIA conducted strikes on behalf of Pakistani security forces.

This mission creep went even further, providing "force protection" by targeting low-level militants who posed a threat to U.S. service members deployed in Afghanistan. Indeed, of the CIA's estimated 372 drone strikes in Pakistan, which killed some 2,800 people, a vast majority were not an effort to eliminate senior al Qaeda members who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland -- which was the very reason armed drones were sent there in the first place.

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