“A calamity in which we’ve been afflicted”

The title refers to Osama bin Laden’s characterization of the drone threat.

A fascinating episode of the Irregular Warfare Podcast on the “Bin Laden Papers.”

Episode 59 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast dives into the internal workings and communications of al-Qaeda and uses that insight to draw lessons for counterterrorism strategies. From the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden to the recent strike against Ayman al-Zawahiri, targeting key leaders has long been a cornerstone of counterterrorism strategies, but what do these terrorist leaders have to say about the effectiveness of the campaigns against them?

THE BIN LADEN PAPERS: THE INNER WORKINGS OF AL-QAEDA’S LEADERSHIP

I remember in the mid-2000s when there was a lot of talk about whether the drone war was creating more terrorists than it was taking out. And General Petraeus says the same in this episode, that it was an important consideration.

I remember holding that same thought and being very skeptical of the value of drones.

But having listened to this episode, you can sense just how effective they were. You can make the argument that drones (and the drone infrastructure – intelligence, partnerships, etc.) effectively suppressed Al Qaeda for the length of the GWOT.

Does that invalidate the concerns? No. But it’s possible that those concerns were overblown.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention General Petraeus’ take on one of my favorite lines. At the ~40:30 mark, in reference to a past operation, “We’re getting hammered in the court of public opinion.”

Which, as you know, is basically the same as “we’re getting our ass kicked in the information environment.”


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