Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan are openly calling for supporters to help develop methods (electronic or otherwise) to deal with the American UAVs that constantly patrol terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan (Waziristan) and Afghanistan (the Pakistani border area) and constantly find and kill Islamic terrorist leaders with missiles. This has led to the deaths of hundreds of key terrorist personnel and, despite the heavy use of civilians as human shields, few civilian deaths. The Taliban are increasingly frustrated at their inability to deal with this.
The Taliban recently put out an appeal for help via the first issue of “Azan”, an online magazine similar to the earlier (2010) Inspire magazine. Created by American born (and Yemen based) Islamic terrorist Anwar al Awlaqi, the ten issues of Inspire gave wannabe Islamic terrorists guidance on what the main targets should be (according to senior al Qaeda leadership) and practical advice on how to carry out attacks. The latest issue (published in February) advised going after prominent people, like retired politicians or those deemed to have insulted Islam, and kill them. Several articles provided more practical advice on various terrorist techniques. Anwar al Awlaqi was killed by a UAV launched missile in 2011, as have several other terrorists associated with Inspire. This is why it is published irregularly.
Azan’s first issue was devoted almost entirely to the UAV problem. The terrible suffering of the Holy Warriors because of the relentless UAVs is described in great detail. The implication is that many clever ideas to counter the UAVs have failed and new and more effective ideas are desperately needed.
For a long time the U.S. either denied these UAV missile attacks were going on or refused to comment. The impact of these attacks on terrorist operations and the morale of terrorist leadership have led to the United States now openly admitting the attacks and confirming that they would continue. They work and are a weapon unique in military history. Wars have always included attempts to gain victory, or at least an edge, by going after the enemy leaders and other key people. This has always been difficult because the enemy leaders know they are targets and take extensive precautions to protect themselves (the “royal guard”, food tasters, and all that). This no longer works and terrorist leaders are scrambling to find ways to avoid this lethal retribution for their wickedness.
Some people agree with the Taliban that UAV operations are somehow wrong. The increased use of UAVs to find, identify, and kill terrorists (or enemies in general) has led many people in the West and in the Moslem world to assert that this is not effective, fair, or whatever. Some call it murder. But war is murder, and for centuries those involved have recognized that going to war is a messy business, especially once you are in the midst of it. In war the survivors quickly learn two things. Those who kill first are less likely to be killed later and those who can kill more of the opponent's leaders will most likely win. Current terrorist leaders may be homicidal fanatics but they know how to count. If the Americans come after them, especially because their organization carried out an attack in the United States that generated a widespread demand from Americans for revenge, the terrorist leaders are dead men walking. The belief is that the Americans will eventually get you, and most terrorist leaders don’t want to be killed. Suicide attack duty is for the little people, not the leaders or their children. So the editors of Azan are going to bat for their bosses.
In the last two decades UAVs, and before that space satellites and high-flying, long endurance recon aircraft (like the U-2 and SR-71), made it possible to find and identify key enemy personnel. But until armed UAVs came along a decade ago, there was no way to quickly act on that information. Many opportunities to kill key enemy personnel were missed. Now, with Hellfire missiles (and several other similar weapons) on these UAVs, you can promptly kill what you find. Some pundits find this unsporting, morally indefensible, or otherwise wrong. For military personnel, risking their lives fighting a determined enemy, it's just another way to kill the enemy leadership before the enemy succeeds.
That civilians are also killed is nothing new. During the allied invasion of France in 1944, the several months of fighting required to destroy the German armies in France also left 15,000 French civilians dead in the invasion area and more than that in the rest of France. The Germans did not normally try and hide among French civilians, while Islamic terrorists do. The Germans knew they would be attacked no matter where they were. Islamic terrorists do sometimes get away because of the successful use of human shields (and because the order to fire is not given). This attitude ignores the civilians who die because terrorists escape to keep killing. Thus, in war, you can avoid killing civilians, but you do so at the cost of giving enemy personnel immunity that just gets more people killed down the road.
The U.S. CIA UAV campaign against Islamic terrorists in Pakistan (mainly North Waziristan) has led to al Qaeda being rendered impotent by all the losses to leadership and technical personnel (especially bomb builders). Because of this, in the last two years most of the UAV missile attacks were against Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The targets were located through various means, one of the most important being a network of informants on the ground, as well as the UAVs and satellites.
This “decapitation” tactic was successful in Iraq and earlier in Israel (where it was developed to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000). The Israelis were very successful with their decapitation program, which reduced Israeli civilian terrorist deaths from over 400 a year to less than ten. American troops have used similar tactics many times in the past (in World War II, 1960s Vietnam, the Philippines over a century ago, and in 18th century colonial America) but tend to forget after a generation or so.