Problems With Killer Drones

President Obama's increased reliance on lethal, unmanned airstrikes in Afghanistan draws criticism

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The CIA's use of predator drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan has come under intense scrutiny in a deep investigation by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker. As we covered here, drone attacks have long been controversial. But recent findings have sharpened the debate. According to a new study cited in the article, President Obama has authorized as many drone attacks in his first nine months as George W. Bush did in his final three years. Mayer describes drone attacks as "a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force" with no apparent system of accountability.

In response, dovish commentators are piling on their criticism of drone attacks, calling them reckless and ultimately damaging to the U.S. war effort. Others have lauded the predator drones, noting their effectiveness in killing Al Qaeda operatives without putting U.S. lives at risk. The debate for and against the use of unmanned verhicles includes a range of ethical, legal and strategic arguments.

  • Increased Drone Use Raises Ethical Controversy, writes Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. (Preview here.) "Cut off from the realities of the bombings in Pakistan, Americans have been insulated from the human toll, as well as the political and moral consequences...Before September 11th, the C.I.A. refused to deploy the Predator for anything other than surveillance. Eight years later, there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy...According to the New America Foundation's study, only six of the forty-one C.I.A. drone strikes conducted by the Obama Administration in Pakistan have targeted Al Qaeda."
  • Drones Undermine the War Effort, writes Lisa Schirch at The Huffington Post: " Drones kill more civilians than insurgents. The Brookings Institution estimated in July 2009 that a ratio of ten civilians die for every militant killed in a drone strike," she writes. "High civilian casualty rates, particularly from US unilateral military maneuvers, undermine both Pakistani and Afghan state sovereignty and legitimacy, stir political unrest, and challenge alliances ... The tactic of using unmanned drone strikes should be taken off the table."
  • An Ironic Strategy for a Nobel Laureate, writes Kelley Beaucar Vlahos at Anti War Blog: "Seems like President Barack Obama -- Nobel Peace Laureate Obama - has taken his predecessor's predator drone program and jacked it up with steroids... And the Republicans were worried that he wouldn't be man enough."
  • Legally Defensible, writes The administration, in my view, ought to take a far more vigorous approach to defending the full lawfulness of that campaign, as well as other operations that the US might undertake, whether via the CIA or military special ops or a combination."

  • Either Way, Drones Are Shaping Obama's Afghan Strategy, writes Jake Tapper at ABC News: "Obama administration officials have been proud of the fact that largely because of better intelligence, unmanned Predator drone strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Pakistan have been more successful in the first eight months of President Obama's presidency than in the previous two years combined."
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