The Obama administration is relying too heavily on unmanned drones in the war on terrorism and, as a result, is killing innocent civilians — including a few Americans — and creating more enemies. The drones have a role to play in the latest warfare, and they are preferable to risking soldiers' lives on the ground. But their widespread use should be re-examined.
A new report from human rights activists at the law schools of Stanford and New York University details the horrifying effect of living under the threat of drones for civilians in Pakistan's border territories. The Obama administration has asserted that the strikes are carefully chosen and surgical. But this report, while acknowledging that some information is sketchy, says eight years of strikes dating back to the Bush administration have killed hundreds of civilians, including 176 children.
The report gathered information for nine months and interviewed more than 130 people, including scores of victims on the ground in Pakistan. Unspoken, before this report, was the stress for civilians of living under constant threat, knowing that the drones are always up there, somewhere. The report also asserts that far from being precise strikes, "the number of 'high-level' targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low — estimated at just 2 percent."
Americans also have been killed in drone attacks. Take Yemen, for example, where the State Department says Islamist terrorists have killed five Americans in the past decade. During that same time, Foreign Policy says U.S. drones have killed four Americans there. And only one was by intention, which is an altogether different and troubling legal question. It's a sobering thought that the United States has killed nearly as many of its own citizens in Yemen as terrorists have.
The administration should be more forthcoming in discussing the true toll of its drone war. The killing of innocent children should never be acceptable collateral damage in the war on terror. Civilians on the ground in Pakistan, increasingly enraged by death and destruction raining down from U.S. drones, certainly don't see it that way. The United States may have trouble making friends in the region, but that's no reason to keep making enemies.