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Predators: The CIA's Drone War on al Qaeda

Predators: The CIA's Drone War on al Qaeda by Brian Glyn Williams. Potomac Books, 2013, 256 pp.

With Predators, historian Brian Williams adds an important study to the ongoing debate over the United States' drone policy. This thoroughly researched history focuses primarily on the development and employment of the RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, particularly in Pakistan. The work manages to remain balanced, providing a fair, sensible, and insightful look into this controversial topic.

The author's research is meticulous and thoroughly documented. Williams read and addressed dozens of reports by authors of various nationalities involved with or interested in drone strikes from 2001 to 2012. Consequently, Predators speaks from multiple perspectives, from America's insistence on the importance and precision of drones, to the concerns of Pakistani civilians, to the claims of Taliban officials. Williams's research helps support his overall claim that although drones have caused considerable collateral damage, those incidents are isolated, and these platforms have proven exceptional in their ability to hunt and engage their targets. Furthermore, he argues that US insistence on secrecy and the inability to handle foreign-relations policy hurt the American cause. Williams notes that the Bush and Obama administrations simply failed to explain to the world--Pakistan in particular--the usefulness of these aircraft.

Air Force members, politicians, journalists, and the general public need to read this history. Williams does a brilliant job of addressing the facts, clarifying much of the conjecture and myth surrounding the use of remotely piloted vehicles. Whatever biases he holds are well concealed, and he never allows his feelings to sway the drone argument one way or another. Rather, Williams does exactly what a historian should do by letting the record speak for itself and drawing conclusions only when all research has been exhausted. Although the author makes a solid case in support of drone warfare, he holds nothing back, exploring not only the program's successes but also its failures.

Regardless of public opinion, drones are now an integral part of military operations. Predators is a must-read for everyone who wants to understand the virtues and vices of these platforms.

Capt Ian S. Bertram, USAF
Kirtland AFB, New Mexico


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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