Saeed al-Shihri, the second in command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed yesterday in Hadramawt, Yemen. While the cause of death has not yet been confirmed by the United States military, multiple Yemeni sources have stated that al-Shihri’s car was hit by a U.S. targeted drone strike. Al-Shihiri is said to have designed the faulty underwear bomb in the attempted attack aboard a flight to Detroit on Christmas day 2009.
On this solemn anniversary, the strike on an active terrorist organization that devastated lower Manhattan is a timely victory in the ongoing war on terror. After al-Shihri was detained in Guantanamo Bay for six years and allegedly survived a drone attack in September 2011, this course of action was necessary. Americans agree, approving of drone strikes 62 percent to 28 percent, according to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.
And yet, statistics regarding civilian casualties from drone strikes vary from source to source, as many missions are not reported or admitted to by the U.S. government. This PlayStation mentality is another form of absentee execution, also termed targeted killing or covert assassination, and it is unsettling. For instance, nine days ago, an estimated 13 civilians were killed in a faulty airstrike in the city of Radaa. The U.S. has both claimed responsibility and apologized for this attack, admitting that they completely missed their target. Such deadly mistakes can serve as recruitment tools for those we aim to disarm or destroy.
The warzone is more amorphous than ever. A fight against an invisible enemy, a war on terror, that has neither a strict deadline nor confined killzone. Yet the heightened national security needs of the post-9/11 era warrant the selective use of drones, as in the case of al-Shihri.
The shift towards drone warfare allows unmanned weaponized aerial vehicles to replace American soldiers in direct combat — a less costly and dangerous military tactic. The use of drones has furthered the war on terror, resulting in multiple deaths of high-ranking members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with minimal risk to American soldiers. The collateral damage that results is an unfortunate fact of war.
As we look out on the two memorial flood lights beaming up from Ground Zero, it is important to remember that while these strikes may be ill-advised, we are still fighting in the memory of the thousands of Americans who died 11 years ago, and the thousands more still affected by terrorism today.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at email@example.com.
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