The number of targeted drone strikes aimed at killing suspected terrorists is well down, despite their use being central to President Barack Obama's anti-terror strategy.
The rate of strikes peaked in Pakistan in 2010 but it has gone down sharply since then, The New York Times reports
In Yemen, the number of drone strikes rose sharply last year while the United States supported efforts by authorities to reclaim territory taken over by the local al-Qaida branch. However, numbers have declined sharply there, too, and now equal about half of last year's total -- and there were no drone strikes at all in the country in February or March. There have also been no strikes in Somalia in more than a year.
Obama is set to make a major address to the National Defense University on Thursday, when he is expected to lay out his justification for the strikes in detail. This follows his State of the Union pledge to define the "legal architecture" for strikes.
He may explain, during the speech, the reasons for the declining use of drone strikes. Officials have said the reasons include a shrinking list of important targets, or changing opinions about the benefits of targeted strikes.
Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel says there are many reasons for the declining drone strikes, "but a growing awareness of the cost of drone strikes in U.S.-Pakistan relations is probably at the top of the list. They are deadly to any hope of reversing the downward slide in ties with the fastest growing nuclear weapons state in the world."
The strikes are often used by al-Qaida for propaganda purposes. They have been used as justification for attacks such as the attempted car bombings in Times Square in 2010 and a failed attack on a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009.
A growing list of former Bush and Obama security officials have expressed their concerns that the drone strikes gains are outweighed by long-term strategic costs.
"I think the strikes have been tremendously effective," said Michael Hayden, who, as CIA director in 2008, oversaw the first drone strike escalations in Pakistan. "But circumstances change. We’re in a much safer place than we were before, and maybe it's time to recalibrate."
Hayden said with the diminished terrorist threats, the negative effects of drones should be considered, including alienating the leadership of the countries where drones are used and losing intelligence from allies, along with "creating a recruiting poster for al-Qaida."
An administration official said last week that Obama, in his speech, will also review his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and lay out ways of dealing with al-Qaida and other terror groups.
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