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Do drone strikes combat the Taliban in Pakistan?

December 25, 2018

Monthly variation in drone strikes by the US and terrorist attacks by the Taliban, January 2005 to September 2011.
Source: Author calculations using terrorist attack data from the WITS of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Drone strikes have a bigger impact on Taliban and Al Qaeda violence in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, researchers have found when looking at data from 2007 to 2011.

An attack by the Taliban in Pakistan is 9% more likely to occur 5 days after a drone strike and 7.4% more likely to occur 6 days after a drone strike.

“We also find that Taliban violence in Pakistan is negatively associated with Taliban violence in Afghanistan,” they said, “[as] 0.02 fewer terrorist attacks occur 16 days after one terrorist attack in Afghanistan.”

Their findings were published in a research paper titled, ‘Are Drone Strikes Effective in Afghanistan and Pakistan? On the Dynamics of Violence between the United States and the Taliban’. The paper is by David A Jaeger and Zahra Siddique and was published in CESifo Economic Studies, in December 2018.

America’s policy has been to use drones as the main weapon to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is how they carried out targeted killings of terrorists in both countries. This strategy was considered successful so America started using this tactic globally. The CIA and its military greatly increased the use of drones around the world.
Drone strikes have killed important Taliban leaders but their use has been unpopular in Pakistan because civilian casualties have been associated with them. People also think that drone strikes have caused the Taliban to retaliate against the general public. Baitullah Mehsud had said, for example, that they had attacked the Lahore police academy in 2009 as revenge for drone strikes.

Jaeger and Siddique examined the impact of successful and unsuccessful drone strikes (which did or did not succeed in targeted killing of a militant leader) on terrorist attacks by the Taliban. They found “strong effects of unsuccessful drone strikes on Taliban violence in Pakistan, suggesting important vengeance and deterrent effects”.

“In Pakistan, the probability of a terrorist attack increases in the first week after a drone strike,” they wrote. “The impact is negative in the second week following a drone strike, when we examine the number of terrorist attacks by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.” This suggests a reallocation of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which are pushed forward by the Taliban in response to drone strikes.

They asked the questions: Are drone strikes a good counterterrorism policy to combat the Taliban? Do the Taliban increase or decrease terrorist attacks following drone strikes which target their leaders? How do the impacts differ across the border in attacks carried out by the Taliban in Pakistan? Is there a cycle of violence associated with the use of drone strikes by the US government in Pakistan? They concluded:
1. There is little significant impact of drone strikes on Taliban attacks in Afghanistan.
2. There is a significant impact of drone strikes on Taliban attacks in Pakistan.

“Our most important finding is that drone strikes matter, but primarily for Taliban violence in Pakistan. There is less of an effect of drone strikes on Taliban violence across the border in Afghanistan.”



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