Drone Blowback: Much Ado about Nothing?

Editor’s Note: One of the most common, and seemingly convincing, critiques of the drone program is that it produces “blowback”—each miss that kills civilians, or even each hit that kills a militant, angers locals near the blast zone and inflames national sentiment against the United States in ways that aid militant recruitment. Such arguments are difficult to evaluate, but Aqil Shah of the University of Oklahoma did extensive survey and interview research on this question. He argues that support for the Taliban and other groups is not a result of drones but rather a host of other grievances, most of which concern the Pakistani state.

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Targeted killings of suspected Islamist militants by armed drones have become the mainstay of U.S. counterterrorism campaigns in non-traditional conflicts in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Analysts, human rights organizations, and former U.S. officials claim that drone strikes produce blowback: Rather than

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