WASHINGTON: Former United States president Barack Obama has said that he took “no joy” in ordering drone strikes that claimed thousands of lives during his tenure, but stated that he could not afford to “look soft on terrorism”.
Obama made the revelation in his new memoir “A Promised Land”, that was published on November 17. In his new book, the former US president reflected on the task of ordering such killings.
In excerpts carried by Business Insider, Obama claimed that his first chief of staff — Rahm Emanuel — was “obsessed” with keeping track of a list of terrorist targets. Emanuel had “spent enough time in Washington to know that his new, liberal president couldn’t afford to look soft on terrorism,” he wrote.
“In places like Yemen and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, the lives of millions of young men […] had been warped and stunted by desperation, ignorance, dreams of religious glory, the violence of their surroundings, or the schemes of older men.
“They were dangerous, these young men, often deliberately and casually cruel. Still, in the aggregate, at least, I wanted somehow to save them — send them to school, give them a trade, drain them of the hate that had been filling their heads. “And yet the world they were a part of, and the machinery I commanded, more often had me killing them instead.”
“I took no joy in any of this. It didn’t make me feel powerful. I’d entered politics to help kids get a better education, to help families get healthcare, to help poor countries grow more food — it was that kind of power that I measured myself against. “But the work was necessary, and it was my responsibility to make sure our operations were as effective as possible,” the former US president wrote in his book, the Business Insider report said.
Obama went on to write that the country’s national security agencies had been challenged to construct “new forms of warfare” as Al Qaeda had scattered and gone underground. “As Al Qaeda had scattered and gone underground, metastasising into a complex web of affiliates, operatives, sleeper cells, and sympathizers connected by the internet and burner phones, our national security agencies had been challenged to construct new forms of more targeted, nontraditional warfare — including operating an arsenal of lethal drones to take out Al Qaeda operatives within the territory of Pakistan.” Commenting on the US raid to kill Bin Laden, Obama wrote that he knew ordering a military strike inside an allied state violated its sovereignty but he decided to go for it as he did not want to miss the chance to take out the Al Qaeda leader.
“Whatever we chose to do in Abbottabad, then, would involve violating the territory of a putative ally in the most egregious way possible, short of war — raising both the diplomatic stakes and the operational complexities.”
The former US president revealed that his two closest aides, the then vice president Joe Biden and defence secretary Robert Gates, had opposed the raid. “US drone strikes against Al Qaeda targets in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] had been generating increasing opposition from the Pakistani public,” an excerpt from the book carried by Vice stated.
However, Obama had ruled out involving Pakistan because he believed that certain elements inside the country maintained links to the Taliban and perhaps even Al Qaeda.
The US began carrying out drone strikes in 2001, after 9/11, under the administration of then president George W. Bush. After assuming office, Obama had chosen to expand the programme, carrying out hundreds of strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. According to the the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 424 drone attacks were carried out in Pakistan from 2004-2016. The first drone strike in Pakistan was carried out in 2004 to kill Taliban commander Naik Muhammad, according to data available with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report (BIJ).
There was a 631pc jump in drone strikes under Obama, compared to the Bush administration. According to the BIJ, Bush authorised 51 strikes, while Obama gave the go-ahead for 373 strikes.
The US had come under heavy criticism for drone strikes against extremists which critics said actually hit civilians, killing women and children at wedding parties, schools and even a hospital in Afghanistan that was run by the charity organisation Doctors Without Borders.
The unmanned spy drones programme also faced criticism from congressional lawmakers who questioned its scope and legality.
Obama faced pressure from both supporters and opponents to allow greater scrutiny of the secretive decision-making process guiding drone use. In 2016, Obama acknowledged that “civilians were killed that shouldn’t have been” in past US drone strikes, but said the administration was now “very cautious” about striking where women or children were present.