Learning and Adapting: al-Qaeda’s Attempts to Counter Drone Strikes

Over the past 15 years, the use of drones and drone strikes has become an integral part of U.S. counter-terrorism operations against overseas militant groups. The tactic has several clear benefits over larger, costlier and less discreet military operations employing conventional military aircraft.

As the use of armed drones continues, however, their targets — terrorists and terrorist organizations, particularly al-Qaeda — have grown accustomed to the threat. The increased deployment of Predators and Reapers, which militants often refer to as spy planes (الطائرات الجاسوسية), has played a direct role in changing the tactical and operational character of organizations like al-Qaeda. The constant threat of drone strikes has forced them to change their tactics from simply attempting to evade drone attacks to developing and employing active anti-drone measures.

Early Avoidance Efforts

Nearly a decade ago, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was already experimenting with simple camouflage measures to conceal their fighters from drone

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