Al-Qaida's commanders sent the message that in their war on America and its allies, they possessed a key advantage: surprise. Al-Qaida's smart weapons -- violent zealots willing to die in order to kill thousands -- would penetrate our cities and towns and, at the moment of their choosing, a moment of surprise, turn them into killing fields. America would not be able to stop these unpredictable "asymmetric" attacks. Al-Qaida's commanders, however, would be able to disappear in the global haystack. Difficult terrain (e.g., the Himalayas), anarchic hells (e.g., Somalia) or friendly governments riddled with corrupt officials would provide safe havens.
Then, in Afghanistan, a decade ago, the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surprised al-Qaida's grossly ill-informed elites. Armed with the "smart" Hellfire missile and digitally linked to America's vast "symmetric" technical intelligence system, the Predator was an omnipresent sniper exposing al-Qaida's leaders to deadly fire from "out of nowhere." Al-Qaida learned that asymmetry lies in the eye of the beholder.
In fall 2002, a Predator flying over Yemen's Marib province spotted Qaed Senyan al-Harthi, a senior operative involved in 9-11 and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. A Hellfire killed al-Harthi. In mid-2008, Predator attacks on terrorist targets in Pakistan began to increase. The U.S. demonstrated that even isolated, tribal locales where everyone's a cousin aren't hermetically sealed.
America's armed UAVs are an extraordinary military, intelligence, psychological and political weapon in the Global War on Terror. To restrict their use, or to deny the U.S. the ability to use them, for whatever the claimed goal or legal theory, only benefits the mass murderers who wage a borderless war on America and Americans. Al-Qaida targets its enemies globally, from Bali to Mumbai to Fort Hood, Texas.
Enter the American Civil Liberties Union. For months, the ACLU has bemoaned Anwar al-Awlaki's inclusion on President Barack Obama's list of terrorists that may be killed when identified. Awlaki was born in New Mexico, so the ACLU contends that the president targeted an American citizen for assassination and denied Awlaki legal due process.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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