Expect a ramp up in the use of drones to fight terrorism under President-elect Donald Trump's advisers warfare experts are saying, as they raised questions this week about the strategy's success in the war on terror.
Drones "will be used more. That's a good guess," said Scott Englund, a former counter terrorism intelligence analyst at the FBI and BAE Systems, whose work has appeared in briefings at the highest levels of the American government and military.
The US is still at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other conflicts, Englund pointed out. And while it's still "unpredictable to say what Trump will do," the president-elect has "hired aggressive people. Logically they would pursue a more aggressive strategy."
At a presentation of his paper on the use of drones in US counter-terror operations at King's College London, Englund – a Non-Resident Fellow at the security consultancy Trends – said Trump's National Security Adviser Michael T Flynn is "an aggressive person" who "won't hesitate to use them."
But in pursuing any strategy with drones, unmanned aerial vehicles as they're called in military circles, Trump's advisers "have to weigh the costs," Englund said, adding, "you cannot have a defence objective that is defined as defeating terrorism, an ideology."
Counter Terrorism is likely to get "more emphasis with Michael Flynn as NSA, at least initially," agreed Elizabeth Quintana, a senior researcher in air power technology at the British defence and security think tank The Royal United Services Institute. "If that is the case," she said, "then drones will continue to play an active role."
Retired Lt. General Michael T Flynn became director of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command in 2004 during the Iraq War. The clandestine group and the CIA took the lead on the US's global kill / capture campaign with drones. Flynn has spent his career handling sensitive military intelligence programs and building up the systems behind the drone programme.
President Barack Obama's targeted killing program with drones slayed six times as many people, and double the number of civilians, than under George W Bush.
In 2015 Flynn criticised the programme he spearheaded in an interview with al Jazeera, calling the targeted killing program a "failed strategy." He called for "different approach" using drones. "When you drop a bomb from a drone... you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good," Flynn said, agreeing that drone strikes tend to create more terrorists.
This spring Flynn was appointed vice chairman at the Drone Aviation Corp. and said he saw a need for "expanding the role of persistent aerial solutions in the marketplace" for military intelligence gathering.
Yet Flynn struck a more aggressive tone in an interview with the Washington Post in August. He said current US wars aren't "about countering violence extremist movements" but rather the next president should go "after an ideology that is within the Islamic world that is like a metastasised cancer."
Flynn recently published the book The Field of Fight, How We Can Win The Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. He said it was a mistake for Obama to pull troops out of Iraq in 2011 to comply with a deal with the Iraqi government after the US invaded the country in 2003.
In 2014 Flynn was forced into retirement by the Obama administration because, critics said, his management style was chaotic and he ignored facts. His leadership abilities and view that radical Islam is spreading across the Middle East have been questioned since his appointment by Trump in November.
This week Flynn came under fire for his and his son's use of social media to spread conspiracy theories. Trump fired Flynn's son Michael Flynn Jr from his transition team Tuesday (6 December) after he spread false rumours about Hillary Clinton online that lead to a man firing shots inside a Washington DC pizza parlour. Flynn Jr was set to help his father as a staff member of the National Security Council.
"I have grave concerns about the judgement of Lt. General Michael Flynn," Democratic Congressman Congressman Adam Smith said in a statement Tuesday (6 December) as he called for Flynn's removal as one of Trump's key advisers. "He has regularly engaged in the reckless public promotion of conspiracy theories that have no basis in fact, with disregard for the risks that giving credence to those theories could pose to the public."
As National Security Adviser Flynn is responsible for filtering and assessing defence information that gets to the president. "Someone who is so oblivious to the facts, or intentionally ignorant of them," said Congressman Smith, "should not be entrusted with policy decisions that affect the safety of the American people."
Flynn's view on stamping out the ideology of Islamic extremism in a "borderless, endless war on a target that is very hard to define," Englund argued is "an unrealistic military objective." And he cited General Stanley McCrystal's view that drone strikes stir up hatred in the civilian population of the countries where they're deployed as a reason to curtail their use.
Adding to that is the question whether the US has the "capacity to do more with existing capabilities," said Quintana, noting, "how overstretched US Air Force is at present."