In The Hunt For Al-Qaida, Drone Program Expands The U.S. military has had great success with drones in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now the U.S. is planning to use them to track al-Qaida figures in places that include Somalia and Yemen.
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In The Hunt For Al-Qaida, Drone Program Expands

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In The Hunt For Al-Qaida, Drone Program Expands

In The Hunt For Al-Qaida, Drone Program Expands

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with an effort by the Obama administration to expand the military's controversial drone program. The U.S. is setting up secret bases for the unmanned aircraft in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Officials say they want to keep watch on terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, and maybe even use armed drones to kill them before they can strike. Drones have been effective in killing much of al-Qaida's core leadership in Pakistan.

But as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, the decision to rely on drones elsewhere in the world brings new problems.

DINA TEMPLE: The decision to expand the drone program is the clearest sign yet that the Obama administration is more concerned about al-Qaida's affiliates than its core founders.

BRUCE HOFFMAN: In some respects, we're, in the United States, a victim of our own counterterrorism success.

That's Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and professor at Georgetown University.

We've been so effective at weakening al-Qaida's core that the threat has now migrated to the periphery. And it wasn't surprising that as it migrates the periphery, we would adopt the same tactics that we've used in South Asia to address that threat.

TEMPLE: In other words, the drone attacks in Pakistan have been so effective at attacking al-Qaida's core leadership, the U.S. is going to try the same tactic elsewhere, where the threat from al-Qaida is greater.

BRIAN FISHMAN: My name is Brian Fishman. I'm a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation and a fellow with the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

TEMPLE: Fishman says that this new broader drone program could have some blowback.

FISHMAN: I worry that the expansion of drone strikes outside of the South Asian context is going to have unintended repercussions. We've reduced the ability of al-Qaida to do major attacks, but I think we've increased their ability to inspire folks in the West to take up arms on their behalf.

HOFFMAN: This is, I think, one of the problems of just having a kinetic outlook in countering terrorism.

TEMPLE: Again, that was Georgetown's Bruce Hoffman. He says those kinetic operations, like killing al-Qaida's founders and leaders, address only part of the challenge.

HOFFMAN: You're solving the supply problem. In other words, the supply of terrorist leaders, but you're doing nothing to interdict the demand side. In other words, the flow of recruits and supporters into the movement that constantly enables the movement to regroup, reorganize and regenerate itself.

TEMPLE: Over the past two years, drones have been responsible for the death of most of al-Qaida's top leaders and nearly all of its midlevel operatives. That's the good news. The bad news is that we could end up seeing more of a different kind of attack, something we saw just last year. You'll probably remember this case.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: New developments in the Time Square car bomb investigation. Police have new clues as they...

TEMPLE: The Time Square bombing of May 2010 was essentially the work of one man, a Pakistani-American named Faisal Shahzad. Shahzad traveled to Pakistan to get the training he needed to attack the U.S. And here's one detail from the case that is sometimes overlooked. He told investigators that the drone attacks in Pakistan were a huge motivation for his car bombing attempt. The question now is whether expanding the drone attacks will inspire others like Faisal Shahzad, not just from Pakistan, but now from Yemen and Somalia and other places the drones are used.

Again, Brian Fishman.

FISHMAN: You cannot defeat al-Qaida's ideology while we are directly engaged in military action in many places around the world, because that is going to feed al-Qaida's ability to recruit in other locations.

TEMPLE: So you can't defeat an ideology with a missile.

FISHMAN: And you can't defeat ideology with a missile in Pakistan. You can't defeat an ideology with a missile in Yemen or Somalia.

TEMPLE: Still, while the U.S. tries to figure out how to tailor its counterterrorism strategy to target al-Qaida around the world, drones might be the best they can do for now.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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