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University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

Five Questions About the Assassination of Ayman Al-Zawahiri

August 11, 2022
Rebecca Best, et al.

Blog

In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Rebecca Best, associate professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, Debra Leiter, associate professor at University of Missouri – Kansas City, and Simanti Lahiri, program coordinator at Rutgers University, answer questions about what the strike on Zawahiri might mean for Al Qaeda, U.S.-Afghanistan relations, and more.

Will Zawahiri’s assassination change attitudes about drone strikes?

US public opinion will likely remain supportive of drone strikes, but this high-profile example of a complex operation in a populated district of Kabul resulting in no civilian casualties may increase public pressure on leaders to minimize civilian casualties in future operations. The absence of civilian deaths, thanks to the US policy of “near certainty standards,” might at first blush suggest that Americans will become more supportive of their use. While a majority of Americans support the use of drones, US public support for drone warfare weakens when these strikes fail to reduce civilian casualties. Though ethical and strategic questions remain, the US has dramatically increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), partly because they are thought to minimize civilian casualties and reduce risk to military personnel compared to conventional “boots on the ground” strategies. Yet drone strikes have killed many civilians over the last two decades, making them unpopular internationally and fueling concerns that they may radicalize civilians. If the Zawahiri assassination contributes to an expectation that collateral-free conflict is possible, the US public may demand lower levels of civilian casualties.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.