Al-Qaeda is morphing and metastasizing, spreading like a cancer in an arc of jihadism from the deserts of Northern Mali through Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Islamic extremists continue to gain ground in Iraq, and President Barack Obama has authorized more than a dozen airstrikes as fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant threaten to take Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department is cutting one of the most vital tools against this threat: loitering unmanned aircraft, aka drones, to provide persistent surveillance of terrorist networks.
While DOD has had drones flying over Iraq for over a month, a drastic shortfall in global supply means that their presence in Iraq is at the expense of another vital mission elsewhere. And yet not only is DOD not moving to address this shortfall, it is taking steps to reduce its drone fleet, a dangerous move that will make it harder to keep tabs on a growing and changing terrorist threat.
In its recent Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon announced a 15 percent cut to its Predator and Reaper fleet, the bulk of the unmanned aircraft currently used to surveil terrorists around the globe. This isn’t because there is an excess of capacity. Demand for airborne surveillance for critical missions like countering terrorism far outstrips supply. It’s because the ugly disease of “next war-itis” that Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeatedly warned about during his tenure has flared up in the Pentagon yet again.