Rise of the Drones
A few years ago, everybody would have associated them with some kind of science-fiction horror movie. In 2012, they make headlines on a daily basis, and people seem to have accepted their growing impact without too many questions. They hunt their prey across Pakistan, Yemen and countless other countries, before raining down destruction in a short, deadly burst of violence. ‘10 killed in drone strike on compound in North Waziristan’. One takes a fleeting glimpse at the headline before moving onto the next one. There were 4 headlines like that already this week – it’s become far too normal to be interesting anymore.
The United States is using unmanned aerial vehicle or drone technology, primarily to strike terrorist targets in Pakistan without putting its pilots in danger. That’s the interesting and perhaps disturbing thing about the drone concept. An American pilot can head to the office in Nevada, take control of the drone, destroy a terrorist installation and go home for dinner with his/her family that very evening. On the ground in Pakistan, a low buzzing sound reverberates across the sun-baked landscape of goat herders, dirt tracks and mud huts, decades behind 21st century technology. A distant thud confirms the drone has found its target. The cutting-edge killing machine has made its mark on the medieval population below. They don’t pay too much attention. It’s becoming normal for them too.
The drone war initiated by President Bush has been continued by President Obama, at a much higher tempo. Since 2009, drones have struck in Pakistan at least 250 times. The political sensitivity of using drones over Pakistan coupled with the CIA’s intense involvement ensures that the US government tries to stay silent on the drone front. The White House did comment officially on the death of Yahya al-Libi, Al-Qaeda’s second in command, killed in a drone strike last week. This is not unusual – officials have been keen to emphasize the success of the offensive, commenting on the death of multiple high-level Al-Qaeda officials as well as the destruction of countless training camps. For the most part however, the drone war is conducted in absolute silence. There are no official records of who has been killed, questions are left unanswered and criticism is ignored – it has become a classic clandestine conflict.
After the death of Yahya al-Libi, Pakistan officially reprimanded a top US diplomat, stating that such attacks were a violation of its sovereignty. The strikes have proved deeply unpopular in Pakistan, which has constantly voiced its opposition, backed up with claims of civilian casualties. Murmurs of discontent are also increasing in the US, with some questioning the legality of the use of drones. A report entitled ‘Drone Attacks, International Law, and the Recording of Civilian Casualties of Armed Conflict’, was published last year by a team of international lawyers, chiefly stating that there is a need to identify, record and bury the dead. Time Magazine recently revealed that the Associated Press carried out an investigation this year, revealing that the drone strikes were killing far fewer civilians than many Pakistanis believed and most of the dead were combatants.Continued on the next page