THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
edge the targeted killing program and to describe how persons
became targets of the program.
Instead of scaling the program back, however, the Obama
administration doubled down. It essentially designated all
military-age males in a foreign strike zone as combatants, and
therefore potential targets of what it termed “signature strikes.”
Even more disturbing, it declared that strikes aimed at specific,
high-value terrorists, known as “personality strikes,” could
include American citizens.
That theoretical possibility soon became a grim reality.
In April 2010, Pres. Obama authorized the CIA to “target”
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and a former imam
at a Virginia mosque, for assassination. Less than a decade
before, the Office of the Secretary of the Army had invited the
imam to participate in an interfaith service following 9/11.
But al-Awlaki later became an outspoken critic of the “war on
terror,” moved to his father’s homeland of Yemen, and helped
al-Qaida recruit members.
On Sept. 30, 2011, a drone strike killed al-Awlaki and another
American, Samir Khan—who was traveling with him in Yemen.
U.S. drones killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-
Awlaki, an American citizen, 10 days later in an attack on a group
of young men around a campfire. The Obama administration
never made clear whether the 16-year-old son was targeted indi-
vidually because he was al-Awlaki’s son or if he was the victim
of a “signature” strike, fitting the description of a young military-
age male. However, during a White House press conference, a
reporter asked Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs how he could
defend the killings, and especially the death of a U.S.-citizen
minor who was “targeted without due process, without trial.”
Gibbs’ response did nothing to help the U.S. image in the
Muslimworld: “I would suggest that you should have had a far
more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the
well-being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al-Qaida
jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
On Jan. 29, 2017, al-Awlaki’s 8-year-old daughter, Nawar al-
Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. commando attack in Yemen ordered
by Obama’s successor, Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, the media continued to report incidents of
civilians being killed in drone strikes across the region, which
frequently target wedding parties and funerals. Many inhabit-
ants of the region along the Afghan-Pakistan border could hear
the buzz of drones circling their area around the clock, causing
psychological trauma for all those who live in the area, especially
The Obama administration was strongly criticized for the