By David Ignatius
Drone attacks have become an addictive tool of U.S. national security policy, as illustrated by Thursday’s unfortunate announcement that President Obama has authorized their use in Libya.
Armed with Hellfire missiles, the Predator drone is a tool for assassination from 10,000 feet. It has been used by the CIA, with a paper-thin veneer of deniability, to attack al-Qaeda operatives and related targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where other weapons do not reach. One would like to think that’s a special case, born of the extreme threat posed on Sept. 11, 2001, and the remoteness of the tribal areas where the attackers are hiding.
But now we have Defense Secretary Robert Gates, accompanied by Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating at a news conference that Obama “has approved the use of armed Predators” over Libya—and, indeed, that the first mission was launched Thursday but aborted because of bad weather.
They did not state what targets the Predator had been assigned to strike. But surely it’s likely that the goal was to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi or other members of his inner circle.
My quick reaction, as a journalist who has chronicled the growing use of drones, is that this extension to the Libyan theater is a mistake.
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