The Year of the Drone

predatormq-1A recent report by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation provides a detailed examination of the “secret” U.S. drone war in Pakistan. The report, Year of the Drone: Analysis of US Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010, looks in particular at the civilian cost of the drone strikes.

Estimates of the number of civilians killed in the drone strikes vary widely. Some reports claim that civilians make up 98 percent of fatalities, while others claim that they make up only 10 percent. Bergen and Kiedemann attempted to compile their own number by looking at “reliable” Western and Pakistani news sources. According to their research, between 830 and 1210 individuals, of whom 550 to 850 can be said to have been militants, were killed in the 114 reported drone attacks in Pakistan from 2004 to 2010. This puts the level of civilian deaths at about 32 percent, or one third of the total number of fatalities.

Bergen and Tiedemann argue that the use of drones is problematic based on three key issues. Firstly, there is the issue of proportionality. Causing the deaths of a significant number of civilians in order to take out military targets goes against just war principles. Secondly, drone strikes have failed to have a major effect on the outcome in other theatres of operation, such as Iraq. Finally, the civilian casualties caused by the drone strikes have served as a recruiting tool for the insurgency in Pakistan.  Causing such casualties runs counter to the fundamental principles of the counter-insurgency strategy espoused by Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal.

Despite these concerns, the authors expect that drones will remain the primary U.S. tool for fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan.

Photo: U.S. Air Force

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