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Civvie Kills Endanger COIN: Mullen

Adm. Mike Mullen doesn't want "to tie our troops' hands" but drone and bomb strikes that kill civilians undermine the counterinsurgency mission.

When you boil it down that is what Mullen said yesterday when I asked him iif drone attacks that killed civilians were a major problem for operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "I believe each time we do that [kill civilians] put our strategy in jeopardy..." he said. “We cannot succeed in Afghanistan – or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan – by killing Afghan civilians. The center of gravity in Afghanistan are the people of Afghanistan." Mullen was referring to the May 4 airstrike in Afghanistan's Farah province, which Afghan officials said killed 140 civilians. The Pentagon disputes the Afghan accounts.

Mullen said the military is trying to improve its targeting, noting that there have been changes in "procedures." He said the military is working "to be more deliberate and more precise about this."

I asked Mullen the question in part because of a piece co-authored by the counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen. Buzz readers doubtless saw a piece Kilcullen co-authored in the May 16 New York Times where he tilted against drone attacks, saying they just had too many negative consequences.

"Expanding or even just continuing the drone war is a mistake. In fact, it would be in our best interests, and those of the Pakistani people, to declare a moratorium on drone strikes into Pakistan," wrote Kilcullen and co-author Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security.

Greg Grant, who did the first story pointing out Kilcullen's claims about the drones' low success rate, called sources at the Pentagon to try and see if the military agrees with Kilcullen's numbers. No one said a word. Our conclusion: if the numbers were off base the military would be screaming, if only to put pressure on the CIA, who are responsible for most -- if not all - the drone strikes.

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