Too Many Civilian Casualties: Drones to blame.

The US government, and mainstream media, are making sure the public remains ignorant of civilian casualties in Afghanistan

During his eight years in office, Bush ordered a total of 45 drone strikes in Pakistan; in fewer than three years, Obama has ordered more than 200. On his third day in office the president ordered two drone strikes, one of which incinerated a pro-government tribal leader along with his whole family, including three children. Obama has since also expanded the drone war in Afghanistan.

Injured Afghan Child from Drone Attack

Injured Afghan Child from Drone Attack

The new tactic has many sceptics, and not all of them are antiwar activists. Criticism has also been voiced from within the CIA and the military. Yet drones have been embraced with remarkable warmth by Obama and the US intelligentsia. This partly has to do with an existing US tendency to see technology as a panacea for all problems, including military ones. But the tactic is also made palatable by a routine exaggeration of its accuracy and a downplaying of its human cost.

At the end of 2009, the Pakistani daily Dawn calculated that, of the 708 people killed in 44 drone attacks that year, only 5 were known militants. Earlier that year, The News, Pakistan’s other major English-language daily, had calculated that between January 14, 2006, and April 8, 2009, 60 drone attacks killed 701 people – of whom only 14 were known militants.
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Besides the tendency to exaggerate success and downplay failure in order to avoid adverse public reaction, neither the US nor the Pakistan government has a mechanism in place to verify the identity of those killed. There is also a concern that the drones are no longer targeting only high value suspects; under expanded authority granted by Bush and continued under Obama the agency can target all suspected militants based on “pattern of life” analysis collected from surveillance cameras. In the tribal areas, where traditionally most adult males carry guns and ammunition, this makes everybody a potential target. A year before Osama bin Laden was killed, a CIA officer told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, that because of the drone surveillance, “no tall man with a beard is safe anywhere in Southwest Asia”.

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1 Comment

  1. The idea that technology can provide a cleaner and safer battlefield is seductive but has been proven a lie. From the catapult and crossbow, through the use of gas and airplanes in World War I, helicopters and napalm in Vietnam to the ‘smart bombs’ of the Gulf War, war has only grown deadlier. Technological advances may reduce the danger of casualties among the military personnel in the short run, but with each advance the number of civilian deaths multiplies and every war of the past century has numbered more children than soldiers among its victims.

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