Patrick Johnston, an associate political scientist at the Rand Corp., writes in The Providence (R.I.) Journal that his investigation into 40 years of counterinsurgency operations finds that terrorism campaigns diminish when insurgent leaders are captured or killed.
Drone strikes are controversial because of interpretations of international law. Authorities at the United Nations last year said there were troubling trends emerging in counter-terrorism operations, where some conflicts know no borders.
A 2009 effort to target Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud left 60 civilians dead but missed the militant chief.
Johnston states, however, that compared to more conventional operations, drones are more deliberate and can reduce collateral damage.
Mehsud was killed in a drone strike later that year. In Yemen, a suspected CIA drone killed U.S.-born al-Qaida ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki last year.
Johnston writes that letters taken from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's compound indicated there were concerns about the safety of militant leaders in Pakistan because of drones.
Amnesty International has said any justification for drone strikes weakens the credibility of the United States when it comes to pressing for human rights in other countries.