Drone Strikes, Effective Weapon in the War on Terrorism?
United States Diplomatic History
November 21, 2014
September 7, 2009, in Machi Khel in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, Pakistan. At 20,000 feet death silently, stealthily, knifed its way through the afternoon sky. Two drones, operated by American Air Force drone pilots 7,000 miles away in Nevada, USA, had been hovering over the area throughout the day. Modern warfare and the fight against terrorism were about to greet Sadaullah Wazir and his family as they reentered their home after evening prayers in the garden. Moments later an explosive concussion from missiles launched by the drones rocked the neighborhood ...view middle of the document...
Drones, originally used for surveillance, have increasingly been employed as attack weapons since around 2004. The pilots are usually US Air Force pilots specially trained to operate drones and may operate the controls from remote centers thousands of miles away from the drone. Overt drone strikes are conducted in an announced theater of war, such as Afghanistan. Any drone strike outside of Afghanistan is called a covert strike. The three countries where the US has been conducting covert strikes are Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
Drone strikes are further divided into “personality strikes” and “signature strikes.” Personality strikes are directed against known terrorists, frequently persons that are on “kill lists.” Signature strikes “are carried out against unknown individuals that match a pre-identified ‘signature of behavior’”. Signature strikes outnumber personality strikes and are controversial because they can result in the deaths of a large number of unknown individuals, including civilians.
Signature strikes were first approved by then President George Bush and his head of the CIA General Michael Hayden. They developed a plan to allow “drone operators to fire at armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown.” As noted by journalist Daniel Klaidman within the CIA signature strikes are sometimes called “crowd kills.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that fewer than 4% of the victims have been identified as al-Qaeda operatives, contrary to John Kerry’s assertion that strikes are directed only against confirmed high-level terrorist targets.
The types of strikes are further divided into pre-planned and dynamic strikes. Pre-planned strikes are carefully detailed plans to take out one or more specific persons and are generally far more effective in limiting the kills to specific targets, reducing civilian kills. Dynamic strikes can be initiated based on timely information received from informants or cell phones calls and by definition are quickly initiated and have a far greater likelihood of killing unknown individuals. Dynamic strikes may be used in either personality strikes or signature strikes.
There is considerable disagreement over exactly how many people have been killed in drone strikes, and of those killed, how many are militants and how many are civilians. The four reporting organizations cited in the Columbia report use different sources to compile their statistics, and each of those sources have different criteria for determining the status of kill victims. For instance, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that in Pakistan from 2,562 to 3,325 people have been killed in drone strikes as of September 2012, with 474 to 881 being civilians. Numbers from Yemen and Somalia are smaller, yet significant, with similar percentages of civilian deaths.
Many people have called into question the criteria the government uses for determining if a...