The Impact of Drone Strikes

Mainstream news outlets are often reluctant to report on the use and impact of drones by the United States military, and probably for good reason; to avoid an appalled reaction from its viewers at the realization that its government employs such faceless and devastating tools of destruction. But what exactly are the impacts of the ongoing drone program?

The continued and increasing use of unmanned aircraft as remote controlled killing machines is a subject of some debate, usually touched on only by left leaning news media; but there is a noticeable movement towards public acceptance, that collateral damage is a necessary and unavoidable consequence of ‘getting the bad guys’.

This is a fallacious stance to take.

Though the use of unmanned drones can be traced back to the second world war, it is the drastically increased use of these lethal weapons in the last few years that raises such concern. When President Bush was in power, drone related attacks were estimated at less than 52 a year. However, since President Obama’s rise to power, drone related attacks have risen to at least five times that number, and with it a corresponding increase in the number of innocent casualties as a result of drone strikes.

The primary targets of these drone strikes are suspected terrorist or radical camps and hideouts throughout Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, with Pakistan in particular subject to hundreds of unmanned drone strikes over the last several years. Statistics from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism indicate that between 411 and 884 civilians are estimated to have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan alone over the last ten years. These figures are only those that have been reported by the US or Pakistani governments or military, so the actual numbers could be much higher than that.

According to US President Barack Obama, however, these figures are within an ‘acceptable’ range. He recently stated that the use of drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties”, and he added that it’s “important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”

FATA or Federally Administered Tribal Areas are the main targets of these drone attacks, These are tribal regions in the northwest of Pakistan, mostly inhabited by ethnic Pashtuns, that the US has identified as potential breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.

The people most affected by drone strikes are divided into two main categories; civilians and insurgent militants. In the case of militants, the use of drone attacks have been justified and generally accepted by the American populace, especially if it precludes the need to send American foot soldiers into these regions. However, the often understated and unrecognized impact of these drone attacks is on innocent civilians.

Drone strikes have an enormous impact on civilians in these regions and the surrounding communities. Not just the direct loss of life that results from collateral damage caused by drones; but also economic hardships for civilians living in these areas, due to the destruction of infrastructure such as roads, bridges and workplaces.

There’s also an emotional and psychological toll; people are often afraid of leaving their homes to go to work, due to the possibility of an unmanned drone attack at any time. Drone attacks have also been linked to increasing illiteracy in affected communities as schools often close or run intermittently for fear of attacks. As a result, children growing up in these regions often opt to join the militia, the only remaining institution that can offer them a form of education.

To make matters worse, areas affected by regular drone strikes often suffer from a lack of access to medical aid. International aid organizations such as the Red Cross are unable to offer medical aid to civilians caught in drone attacks, due to the inaccessibility of some of the affected areas (particularly in the FATA region).

Now clearly, it’s impractical for the local TV news to report every time there’s an innocent victim of drone strikes; not just impractical, but inadvisable for ratings, simply because most people don’t want to hear about it. But given the sheer devastation and misery caused by the use of these unmanned killing machines, surely it should be mentioned more often? Or debated, even? But try and find any mention or question of the morality of drone use on any mainstream media channel and you’ll come up stumped.

The other significant issue that arises from the use of these drones is the long-term impact on the ideologies and beliefs of the people growing up in these devastated communities. These regions are already unstable, no doubt, being fought over by tribes and subject to power struggles and often negligent governance, but does the use of drone strikes result in an even more perilous society? And will it give rise to the birth of a whole new generation of anti-Western rhetoric?

What the US might consider a way of establishing worldwide security may just lead to retaliatory attacks from those affected, and thus a vicious and tragic circle is created; the war on terrorism feeds the endless war on terrorism.

Sons seek revenge for the deaths of fathers. Extremism may be strengthened, rather than weakened, by an ongoing campaign that leads to hundreds of civilians being killed by anonymous, soulless robots in the sky.

Given that unwarranted intervention in foreign lands was precisely the catalyst that spawned the current generation of extremists and would-be terrorists, ask yourself the following logical question: Will the use of drone strikes to inflict untold devastation on towns inhabited by suspected insurgents result in – a) less probability of future terrorism? or b) a greater probability of future terrorism against the United States?

The answer, to me at least, as it should be to you, is clearly (b).

You can’t win by simply killing all the bad guys. You win by getting out of occupied territories, not interfering in the affairs of other nations and allowing people to live however they want to live.

Of course, it’s too late for that now.

It all sounds like the recipe for a dystopian future, one dominated by the military industrial complex, the endless cycle of war, and the ever-increasing need for ‘surveillance’. Surely there’s a better way to prevent a new generation of scorned would-be soldiers, willing to commit their lives to an extremist cause, than by doing the very thing that helped create the first wave of such terrorists – wilfully invading and desecrating the lands of others without concern for the consequences or long-term impacts in doing so.


Article by Brendan Wilson

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