Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Replacing Boots with 'Bots; let's not lose sight of strategy

The use of drones in the fight against the resurgent Taliban should be welcomed, but with caution as machines cannot replace man in realising strategic goals on the ground...

Logic would appear to dictate that any enemy killed in war is ‘one-up’.  Sometimes logic is misleading.  Drone attacks being employed by NATO forces along the AfPak border should be viewed with a cautious eye against the backdrop of NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The questions we have to ask ourselves include: what are we doing in Afghanistan?  What do we want to achieve?  How might we achieve it?  This is what should dictate our strategy; not an obsession with enemy forces and killed in action (KIA) stats.

And so, a further question arises; what utility do we actually get from drones?  Off the bat, it is safe to say that technological advances are crucial to success in 21st century warfare.  As our enemies increasingly conform to the profile of non-state, clandestine and unconventional entities, it is important that we use technology to our own advantage to ensure success.  By all means, use drones; but use them well.

Accordingly, we should end all talk of machines replacing man in war, right here.  If we want to shroud ourselves with the facade of alien invaders who are literally killing people from the skies, then we ought to go ahead and replace boots with ‘bots.  But that won’t achieve our goals.  If we actually want to achieve some political aims in war (a point which is unnervingly unobvious to some) then the boots have to stay as well. 

Effective use of drones necessarily means integration into broader counterinsurgency (COIN) operations including security, development and governance.  Otherwise, chasing insurgents from the sky across the unforgiving FATA terrain will turn counterinsurgency into counterterrorism; the two are quite different.  That is, of course, what NATO forces are currently doing; integrating drones within a COIN campaign.  But with NATO withdrawal seemingly ever nearing, the future may not conform to such a healthy balance.

‘Bots may kill efficiently, they may spare lives and they may not evoke the war-changing reaction from public opinion at home that losses to our brave troops inevitably do.  But equally, they cannot win us wars alone.  The war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda is proving tough, gruelling and long, but bringing troops home and giving drones a centre stage will turn war into an abstract numbers game; a game in which we would be destined to lose.

by Dane Vallejo

This blog was originally published by The Henry Jackson Society, 07/12/10, at http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/thescoop.asp?pageid=106&poid=1011

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