Drone campaigns are the last resort in a war of self-defense against the terrorist forces. It is the flawless weapon to take out the individuals posing imminent threat to American way of life. And, did you know that the strikes are made only after being certain that no civilians will be killed or injured? It is really the highest standard set by American military; a win-win situation; and once again the United States is on the right side of history. Won’t this be the version Washington and Hollywood be singing about their precise high-end technology to eliminate terrorists? In reality, American’s ‘war on terror’ has fully evolved into ‘war of terror’. The distant buzzing of drones in the Greater Middle East is only creating of collateral damage of all sorts with little idea of whom they have just blown away.
Supporters of drone warfare repeatedly signify one reason: civilians may have died in drone strikes, but the death toll from terrorist strikes would be far high if prior actions haven’t been taken. They assert that the commanders and analyst make excruciating difficult decision to get it right (recently Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” showcased one such difficult scenario in drone warfare). ‘Maybe the drone programs are not perfect. But, which military program had been totally flawless?’ is the question military officers and think tanks pose to those opposing terrorism and talking against drone strikes.
Last year, ‘The Intercept’ magazine obtained a series of secret documents from anonymous member of the intelligent community, which contained clear details about US military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia. Known as ‘Drone Papers’, the documents revealed that for every targeted assassination at least 5 or 6 non-targeted civilians are killed. In the leaks, there was mention of Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan, in which 219 unintended civilians were reported to be killed along with 35 targeted terrorists. The report also further goes on to state that almost 90 percent of the people killed in air strikes are not the intended targets. To be brief, the report calls the air strikes as fool’s errand. Many national newspapers, bloggers and diplomats questioned the authenticity of the leaks and most importantly wrote long articles on the myths and misunderstand about the drone warfare.
The often repeated claim is that the unintended targets might have died next to intended targets, but that doesn’t mean those unintended targets were truly ‘innocent’. While opposers of American way of war claim that the civilian death toll might be higher, the supporters claim that the unintended could be unnamed terrorists or may become one at some point in the future. Political people as often take the middle stand, waiting to jump into a side based upon popular opinion. The powerful elites may say that the intelligence and military community have taken too far with usage of drones and at some other time they may revert from the statement and ask, ‘why did the intelligence agencies are so meek in handling the terrorists?’
Two complaints stand tall against drone operations: drone strikes are inefficient due to lack of intelligence support or special operations from ground, in the sites of operation; Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabab are only growing in numbers despite the strikes (reasons vary from degradation of local governance incited by repeated strikes to popular outrage against the killing of civilians). Those condemning drones point out how the air strikes have changed from being a ‘compliment’ for ground forces to a ‘substitute’. There’s also no greater transparency in the US’ counter-terrorism operations. While the legality and morality of using drones are questioned, the administration constructs layers and layers of secrecy to dodge the questions forever. Bureau of investigative journalism has complied elaborate data on American counter-terrorism operations to showcase the death of hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan. US Administrators, however, are reluctant to release any detailed breakdown of civilian casualties. Even information regarding the scope and limits of authority to order a drone strike isn’t disclosed.
The American presidential candidates have staunchly supported or at least haven’t talk against the drone program. They have adapted a Hollywood vision, where characters would say the word ‘imminent threat’ and don’t look at (or erase the image of) ‘women’ and ‘children’ near the strike area. ‘They are all just freaking terrorists and this is the fine way to ensure American way of life’ might be the popular opinion. Of course, the American admirers of modern warfare weapons would never imagine about spending time in neighborhood with their family on a warm, sunny day, wondering when some ‘hell-fire’ would fall out of sky. Justifying the killing of innocent children from sky might be just another American way of life.