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  Strike Reflects U.S. Shift to Drones in Terror Fight
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Last EditedArmyDem  Oct 04, 2011 12:09am
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MediaNewspaper - New York Times
News DateSaturday, October 1, 2011 06:00:00 AM UTC0:0
Published: October 1, 2011

WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born propagandist for Al Qaeda’s rising franchise in Yemen, was one more demonstration of what American officials describe as a cheap, safe and precise tool to eliminate enemies. It was also a sign that the decade-old American campaign against terrorism has reached a turning point.

Disillusioned by huge costs and uncertain outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration has decisively embraced the drone, along with small-scale lightning raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden in May, as the future of the fight against terrorist networks.

“The lessons of the big wars are obvious,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has studied the trade-offs. “The cost in blood and treasure is immense, and the outcome is unforeseeable. Public support at home is declining toward rock bottom. And the people you’ve come to liberate come to resent your presence.”

The shift is also a result of shrinking budgets, which will no longer accommodate the deployment of large forces overseas at a rough annual cost of $1 million per soldier. And there have been improvements in the technical capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft. One of them tracked Mr. Awlaki with live video on Yemeni tribal turf, where it is too dangerous for American troops to go.

Even military officials who advocate for the drone campaign acknowledge that these technologies are not applicable to every security threat.

Still, the move to drones and precise strikes is a remarkable change in favored strategy, underscored by the leadership changes at the Pentagon and C.I.A. Just a few years ago, counterinsurgency was the rage, as Gen. David H. Petraeus used the strategy to turn around what appeared to be a hopeless situation in Iraq. He then applied those lessons in Afghanistan.
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