Tracking the Predators: Evaluating the US Drone Campaign in Pakistan



This article examines the strategic wisdom of the US Predator drone campaign in Pakistan, particularly in light of the dramatic expansion in the number of strikes that has occurred under the Obama administration. First, it examines whether there is a compelling rationale for any drone strikes in Pakistan by evaluating the justification advanced by US authorities and the three main criticisms that have been leveled against the campaign. With the help of an original database of drone strikes and their effects compiled by the authors of the article, it shows that the criticisms lack merit and that some strikes may be justified in principle. Second, it turns to the reasons explaining the dramatic increase in strikes over the past 2 years. On examination, it finds that the arguments supporting the expansion of the campaign are forceful but not necessarily decisive. In the third section it considers some objections to an expanded campaign. Finally, in the closing section, it weighs these considerations against the points favoring the expansion of the drone strikes. The article ends with the conclusion that on balance it would be prudent to shift back towards a more narrowly focused campaign concentrating on al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and only leaders of the Pakistani Taliban.