In March 2011, an American drone circling above Pakistan’s North Waziristan released three missiles on a gathering of village men. The meeting was not a clandestine one: it was a meeting to settle a dispute over a chromite mine, not to place an improvised explosive device. Most of the 40 or so killed were civilians.
The U.S. started it’s drone program in 2004 but in the last three years there has been a rapid increase in the frequency of these unmanned strikes. Press reports suggest that the militant-civilian death ratio from these strikes is 80%, yet even accepting this figure, over 500 Pakistani civilians have been killed since 2004. Is the large human cost worth the prevention of Taliban expansion? More importantly, are these strikes actually hindering Taliban expansion?
In the eyes of the CIA, looking at “favorable” statistics militant deaths might be enough to justify the tactics. However, it is bemusing how they fail to view the situation from a much simpler yet equally powerful perspective of the innocent residents of Pakistan caught in the foray of war. Actions during war have consequences, even more so on those that affect the civilian population. The drone strikes present a new façade of war with an “emotional cost” that is hard to measure. Certainly, while the CIA sees drone strikes as tactical victories against the enemies, the emotional spillover effects do far greater damage in the long run. In militant infested areas, the loss of a parent, sibling or child due to drone strikes will not cause Pakistani civilians to refer to the 80% militant/civilian casualty ratio; instead they will naturally use their emotions to rationally explain such terrible events. This in effect, breeds a sort of vicious cycle, where if continued, cannot be stopped. These people affected by the “unannounced” drone strikes are more likely to pledge allegiance with the Taliban, as they view such attacks on a personal level rather than an ideological standpoint that the United States is trying to counter. They feel the need to pick up a gun, and they would feel pride in detonating a suicide vest at the expense of the U.S. More people will go to Madrasah’s rather than schools, more anti-American fervor will rise, and as thus the threat to the U.S. will proliferate.
Military tactics throughout history are studied and a “military-industrial complex” has developed over the past six decades to reach the ultimate goal that has eluded powerful nations: how to wage a war with zero casualties on its side. The drone program is one giant step towards achieving this goal and has effectively removed the emotional cost of war, but for only one side. There is someone sitting comfortably in front of a television screen bombing areas on the other side of the planet. For others, this “video game” means the tragic death of a family member, one without any ties or any relation to the Taliban; a family that now has firm enemy, the United States. This policy essentially breeds terrorism. Soldiers are directly accountable for their actions whereas drone ‘pilots’ cannot fathom the consequences of their endeavors.
President Barack Obama, under whom the rapid increase of strikes has occurred is liable legally to act in such a way under the under the September 2001 authorization that “all necessary and appropriate force” can be used “to prevent future acts of international terrorism.” Can the actions undertaken by the U.S. be deemed fair if they are not only making a controversial decision on the effectiveness of the strikes, but also as collateral damage fostering the death of hundreds of innocent men, women and children? Is this not “international terrorism” itself?
The justification that the ‘U.S. hasn’t experienced terrorist attack since this policy was undertaken’ is an oversimplification; it’s a vague argument that’s marketable to the American people, but cannot be deemed true. For example, there has been a rapid increase of attacks in Europe and other parts of the world and terrorism has definitely not backed down. U.S. internal security is the most likely cause for the lack of attacks there, and so the Islamic fundamentalist organizations form new targets.
In November 2011, a NATO another drone strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. These soldiers, trying to eliminate terrorism, were gunned down by people on their side of the battlefield. Does the U.S. really believe they’re eliminating terrorism by such means? The question here is about both the humanitarian foundations of the policy and the effectiveness of it.
If the U.S. actually spent a proportion of the sum spent on drone warfare on rehabilitating the education facilities and infrastructure in those areas, they would find increased long-term success. Education should be the “silent” weapon of choice that influences individuals with a twenty-first century eye on morality that would condemn acts of terrorism carried out by the Taliban.
– Sameer Tayebaly
(Display photo credit: Department for International Development)