Al Qaeda’s Guide To Avoiding Drone Strikes

Men perform pre-flight checks on an unmanned a...

Men perform pre-flight checks on an unmanned aerial vehicle before launch. (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

Militant Tipsheet: How to Avoid Drone Strikes

By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd
February 23, 2013 — Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)

Al Qaeda’s Guide to Avoiding Drones

A terrorism analyst says the list has been on the Internet for a couple of years

Militants are advised to stay away from parked cars, avoid using cell phones
Osama bin Laden warned followers to take precautions against drone strikes

(CNN) — A list of 22 techniques for evading drone strikes shows that militants are trying to share their knowledge and reduce the number of casualties that American attacks are costing them.

The tipsheet advises militants to hide under thick trees, stay in the shadows, cover up their vehicles, stay away from their parked cars, hold meetings indoors, and avoid using cell phones. If they hear a drone approaching, they are advised to scatter in multiple directions.

The list also suggests using jamming equipment, and even setting up dummies as decoys to fool the reconnaissance planes.

The Associated Press reported finding a printout of the tipsheet in the African nation of Mali, in the aftermath of recent fighting that pushed back militants there. But the list has been on the Internet for the last couple of years, according to terrorism analyst Jarret Brachman.

Retired Col. Cedric Leighton, a former Air Force intelligence officer who worked on developing the American drone program, said he believes the evasive tactics that militants are attempting to adopt will not tip the balance in their favor.

“They are good for people who are in a desert environment, who are trying to avoid drones — but there are a lot of limitations to them. The drones are fairly effective,” he said.

The list, according to CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, demonstrates how concerned jihadists are about the toll that the strikes are taking on their ranks.

“It’s a matter of life or death for them,” he said. “It has induced a high degree of paranoia in their ranks. That has made it more difficult for them to recruit new members.”

Judging by interrogation reports and accounts of Westerners, said Cruickshank, “it is extremely stressful, to know that any moment, the droning sound you hear from the sky may well be your death.”

Al Qaeda’s new strategy revealed

Before he was killed, Osama bin Laden himself warned his followers to take precautions against drone strikes, according to documents seized during the raid on his Pakistan compound

“A warning to the brothers: they should not meet on the road and move in their cars because many of them got targeted while they were meeting on the road,” bin Laden wrote. His advice to any militant who was on the move: “He should move only when the clouds are heavy.”

Leighton sees the tipsheet as an opportunity to learn how to foil the militants, since they have now tipped their hand.

“They’re making it possible to see what their tactics are, and making it possible for us to develop tactics of our own to go against them,” he said.

It is unclear how many people have been killed by American drone strikes around the world, but Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, told an audience Tuesday that it is in the neighborhood of 4,700 people. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism gives a similar estimate.

CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen says that over the course of around 420 drone strikes, some 250 to 370 civilians likely have been killed (plus 200 to 330 unknowns). The strikes have caused public resentment in targeted countries like Pakistan and Yemen.


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