Friday, August 26, 2016

Drone warfare: Does the U.S. really know who it’s killing?

You would think it would “rank among the
most serious (and legitimate) scandals of his
presidency,” said Jim Newell in
President Obama admitted last week that a
CIA drone strike in Pakistan accidentally killed
two kidnapped aid workers, proving the supposed
safeguards against killing civilians are a
sham. But the reaction to the two men’s deaths
in Washington, even from Obama’s Republican
foes, was a collective “Oh, well.” Warren Weinstein,
an American, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian,
died when a missile fired from a U.S. drone
struck the al Qaida compound where they were
being held hostage. Under CIA rules, drone
operators supposedly fire only when there is
“near certainty” of the identities of the targets, and “near certainty”
that noncombatants will not be injured or killed. In reality,
U.S. officials simply fired a missile at a compound in Pakistan’s
tribal regions that they believed terrorists were using, discovering
only later they’d killed two al Qaida militants as well as Weinstein
and Lo Porto. The president offered his “deepest apologies” to
the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto, said Trevor Timm in But what about the hundreds of Pakistani,
Afghan, and Yemeni civilians killed by U.S. drones? We need a
“full-scale independent investigation” of the “human rights catastrophe”
caused by this secretive, lawless program.
“Sorry folks,” said Ralph Peters in the New York Post, but “that’s
war.” The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto are obviously regrettable,
but we cannot halt all counterterrorism efforts because al Qaida
takes hostages. U.S. intelligence officials report that drone strikes
have taken out 40 al Qaida leaders in Pakistan in just the past six
months, and have left the decimated core of that group incapable
of meeting to plot terrorist attacks. Let’s not forget that these jihadists
“would gladly nuke our cities” if they had the chance. “Drones
are not a perfect tool,” said Tom Rogan in,
but without them we would have no “adequate means of defense”
against terrorists using remote areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and
Yemen to “plot murder against the world.”
But for every terrorist we eliminate, how many do
we create? asked Doyle McManus in the Los
Angeles Times. Yes, drone strikes have devastated
“al Qaida Central,” but since those
attacks began in 2008, al Qaida’s Yemeni
branch has grown to some 1,000 members,
and Yemen’s government was toppled by
Houthi tribesmen angry that the U.S. had been given free rein to
attack their country. The perception that the U.S. callously kills
Muslim civilians has also helped the Islamic State of Iraq and
Syria recruit thousands of young men. In the big picture, the evidence
that drone strikes diminish terrorism “is less than clear.”
It is clear, however, that for civilians, drone attacks are “the
safest form of war in modern history,” said William Saletan in In World War II, up to 67 percent of the dead were
noncombatants. In Vietnam, the figure was around 50 percent,
and in Iraq, 80 percent of those killed since 2003 have been civilians.
By contrast, the civilian casualty rate from U.S. drones in
Pakistan has been only 24 percent by the harshest estimate, and
possibly as low as 5 percent, and in Yemen, civilian drone deaths
have numbered between 8 percent and 15 percent. If the goal is to
avoid killing civilians, replacing drones with conventional warfare
would be “the worst thing you could do.”

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