A former top terrorism official at the CIA has warned that President Barack Obama's controversial drone programme is far too indiscriminate in hitting targets and could lead to such political instability that it creates terrorist safe havens.
Obama's increased use of drones to attack suspected Islamic militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen has become one of the most controversial aspects of his national security policy. He has launched at least 275 strikes in Pakistan alone; a rate of attack that is far higher than his predecessor George W Bush.
Defenders of the policy say it provides a way of hitting high-profile targets, such as al-Qaida number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi. But critics say the definition of militant is used far too broadly and there are too many civilian casualties. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates up to 830 civilians, including many women and children, might have been killed by drone attacks in Pakistan, 138 in Yemen and 57 in Somalia. Hundreds more have been injured.
Now Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA's counter-terrorism center from 2004 to 2006 and was previously a CIA station chief in Pakistan, has told the Guardian that the drone programme is targeted too broadly. "It [the drone program] needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences," Grenier said in an interview.
Grenier emphasised that the use of drones was a valuable tool in tackling terrorism but only when used against specific identified targets, who have been tracked and monitored to a place where a strike is feasible. However, recent media revelations about Obama's programme have revealed a more widespread use of the strike capability, including the categorising of all military-age males in a strike zone of a target as militants. That sort of broad definition and the greater use of drones has outraged human rights organisations.
The BIJ has reported that drone strikes in Pakistan over the weekend hit a funeral gathering for a militant slain in a previous strike and also may have accidentally hit a mosque. That sort of action adds credence to the claims that the drone campaign is likely to cause more damage by creating anger at the US than it does in eliminating terrorist threats.
"We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said.