Stanley McChrystal terms drones as covert fix for complex problem


Retired US general Stanley McChrystal has termed drone operations a “covert fix for a complex problem,” and warned against over-dependence on the use of technology in the fight against militants on foreign soils.
He also told Foreign Affairs magazine in an extensive interview that as 2014 NATO drawdown approaches, Pakistan is rolling up the welcome mat for Afghan militants, who fuelled insurgency in Afghanistan. McChrystal, who resigned after a Rolling Stone article in 2010 and served as top commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, said al-Qaeda militant organization “is very much weakened, although clearly not gone.”
“The greatest al Qaeda threat, arguably, may not be from western Pakistan in the next few years, as it has been, but it might be from places such as Mali and elsewhere that are struggling to maintain control of their terrain.”
Asked how US could fight al-Qaeda in places like Mali and Yemen, McChrystal called drone strikes as problematic since their use is not a strategy in itself but a short-term tactic.
“Well, you can’t solve all of them. You certainly don’t want to put Western forces in all of these countries. The initial reaction that says, “We will simply operate by drone strikes” is also problematic, because the inhabitants of that area and the world have significant problems watching Western forces, particularly Americans, conduct drone strikes inside the terrain of another country. So that’s got to be done very carefully, on occasion. It’s not a strategy in itself; it’s a short-term tactic.”
He opposed application of small-scale warfare universally and said a successful counterinsurgency campaign needed a comprehensive approach.
While use of drone strikes may not carry much risk for the U.S., at the receiving end such operations feel like war.
“I question its universal validity. If you go back to the British tactics on the North-West Frontier, the “butcher and bolt” tactics, where they would burn an area and punish the people and say, “Don’t do that anymore,” and simultaneously offer a stipend to the leader while saying, “If you will remain friendly for a period of time, we’ll pay you” — that approach worked for a fair amount of time. It managed problems on their periphery. But it certainly didn’t solve the problems.
“The tactics that we developed do work, but they don’t produce decisive effects absent other, complementary activities. We did an awful lot of capturing and killing in Iraq for several years before it started to have a real effect, and that came only when we were partnered with an effective counterinsurgency approach.
“Just the strike part of it can never do more than keep an enemy at bay. And although to the United States, a drone strike seems to have very little risk and very little pain, at the receiving end, it feels like war.
Americans have got to understand that. If we were to use our technological capabilities carelessly — I don’t think we do, but there’s always the danger that you will — then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with.”
When suggested that the success of his efforts in Iraq led to an overemphasis on the use of direct action by Special Forces, raids and drone attacks and targeted killings, rather than indirect action, such as training and building local capacity, McChrystal argued using such actions in all situations is dangerous. He compared use of such operations in all situations like a golfer’s dependence on a particular driver club throughout the golf course.
“That’s the danger of special operating forces. You get this sense that it is satisfying, it’s clean, it’s low risk, it’s the cure for most ills. That’s why many new presidents are initially enamored with the Central Intelligence Agency, because they are offered a covert fix for a complex problem. But if you go back in history, I can’t find a covert fix that solved a problem long term. There were some necessary covert actions, but there’s no “easy button” for some of these problems. That’s the danger of interpreting what we did in Iraq as being the panacea for future war. It’s not.”