For a little historical context, the use of drones in Pakistan peaked in 2010 with a total of 122 attacks (an average of over 10/month). Last year there were 48. So far this year there have been 9. Six of those occurred in January and 3 in the month and a half since then (with 2 disputed). Similarly, their use in Yemen peaked in 2012 with a total of 84 strikes (an average of 7/month). This year there have been a total of 6 strikes with all of those occurring in January. Since February 1st this year - there have been none.
Not being privy to the intelligence reports our Commander-in-Chief receives, it is hard to predict whether this pattern of the last month and a half will be sustained. But lets plug a couple of events here on the home front into this timeline and I think the picture starts to get a little more clear.
First of all, on November 31, 2012, General Counselor to the Department of Defense Jeh Johnson talked - for the first time - about ending the war on al-Qaeda.
"There will come a tipping point," he said in the speech, "a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States," that al Qaeda will be "effectively destroyed."Then on January 7, 2013, President Obama announced the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Due to his ties to the Bush/Cheney administration, that got many on the left pretty riled up about his position on the use of drones. But as I noted previously, Ben Emmerson - who heads the UN inquiry into the use of drones and targeted killing - supported his nomination.
"At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an 'armed conflict' against al Qaeda and its associated forces."
“Warts and all” conversations with current and former Obama administration officials convince Emmerson that Brennan tried to steer the drone program from a “technology-driven process” to one that attempted to balance the interests of the law, counterterrorism, and the agencies involved in implementing it. “There are significant elements within the CIA who are unhappy about Brennan’s appointment,” Emmerson says. “These are the hawkish elements inside the CIA who would rather have as a director someone who reflected their agenda, rather than someone who is there to impose the president’s agenda.”But what really got the ball rolling on all this talk about drones was the release of the white paper on the legal rationale for their use. It was published by Michael Isikoff on February 4th.
Many people assume the release of that paper came from a whistleblower in the White House. But I have always maintained that it probably happened with the President's blessing. The fact that it coincides with the time that the actual use of drones has come to a practical standstill leads me to think that President Obama believes we might have reached that "tipping point" Johnson referred to in which our efforts should no longer be considered an 'armed conflict.'
Establishing a "drone court" with oversight from the judicial and/or legislative branches of government would essentially usurp the powers granted to the President via the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and end the indefinite war.
That's just the discussion the release of the white paper sparked in Congress with an assist from President Obama's critics on both the right and left. Imagine what the reaction would have been - especially on the right - if the President had simply proposed to repleal the AUMF and/or an end to the war on al Qaeda. OH MY!!!! This way he gets many of them to use their contempt for him to accomplish what has always been his goal.
My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda...UPDATE: I see that as the result of a link to this article by Andrew Sullivan, commenters on another blog are suggesting that perhaps I "cooked the books" on the number of drone strikes lately by comparing annual data to the last month and a half. The suggestion is that perhaps there are seasonal factors that affect their use and a better comparison would be over the same time frame in years past. Here you go:
This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.
- President Barack Obama, May 1, 2012
Number of strikes in Pakistan Feb 1st to March 17 in -
2010 - 14
2011 - 13
2012 - 8
2013 - 3
Number of strikes in Yemen Feb 1st to March 17th in -
2012 - 6
2013 - 0
No matter how you look at these numbers - there is a very clear pattern.