The New Republic raises some interesting questions about the increased use of drone attacks in the war against terror (not their phrase). The “outrages” of Guantanamo used to be the number one recruiting tool for terrorist enlistment, now it’s the drones, which have, according to a recently released report,

“killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.” Meanwhile, only 2 percent of those killed were “high-level” targets. This means that the strikes have killed three times as many children as terrorist leaders.

I was not aware that there has been more than a ten-fold increase in drone attacks in the last 3 years.

Still, the vast majority of those killed are mere “foot soldiers” or simply those who might be “militants” of some stripe. Indeed, that’s been an explicit policy choice by President Obama, under whose tenure the pace of attacks have dramatically escalated. The Bush administration carried out between 45 and 52 attacks, all aimed at major terrorist leaders. In less than half the time, his successor has carried out nearly 300, lowering the targeting threshold to include so-called “signature” strikes against “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.” [Also known as ‘profiling’? jmk]

While obviously dangerous—the 9/11 hijackers themselves were low level operatives, after all—they are much easier to replace than senior leaders. It’s debatable whether it’s worth the reported one million dollar per strike price tag for taking out these low level targets, much less whether it’s worth the resentment and collateral damage that’s the natural fallout.

The report authors note that “evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.”

Will drone attacks, however, be eclipsed by anti-religious videos as the most effective recruitment tool? I would wager that many more have been recruited to the cause since the stepped-up drone attacks than have been killed by them. Of course, some of these things are really hard to quantify. It’s a new world we live in where unmanned drones can do such things. What will we think of next?