War Criminals in the CIA?, con’t

The damage caused by an American unmanned drone attack

[tweetmeme] There are many who think that the ‘secret’ American drone program – that uses remotely controlled drone air craft to bomb suspected militants in remote parts of Pakistan – is ineffective in that it kills more than an acceptable number of civilians included in the handful of militants.  The New America Foundation released a study showing that 30% of the casualties from these drone strikes are civilians.  COIN specialists Andrew Exum and Peter Kilcullen believe that the civilian deaths from the drone probably create more militants than are killed and Obama counter-terrorism expert John Brennen even fears the drones are a strategic failure.

However Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent speaks of a new study led by Brian Glyn Williams positing that the strikes kill far less civilians than is portrayed by the media.  Williams found that

According to our database, as of 1 April 2010, there have been a total of 127 confirmed CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, killing a total of 1,247 people. Of those killed only 44 (or 3.53%) could be confirmed as civilians, while 963 (or 77.23%) were reported to be “militants” or “suspected militants.”

Peter Bergen, one of the authors of the New America Foundation study, believes that the actual rate of civilian deaths now is somewhere around 20% and that the accuracy and efficacy of the drones has increased dramatically since the programs inception in 2007.  If Williams’ study is correct, it will certainly heap allay fears like those of Exum and Kilcullen.  Though the fact that Faisal Shahzad – the thrwarted Time Square bomber – reportedly acted to revenge the deaths of Pakistani civilians from drones still leaves many COINistas a little nauseous over the program.

H/T to Andrew Sullivan

Photo from Express India

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3 thoughts on “War Criminals in the CIA?, con’t

  1. I have two concerns regarding the drones. First is that “militants” or “suspected militants” are very elastic terms. Those terms could include virtually anyone the US and NATO forces say they include.

    Second, is that un-manned drones really dehumanize the targets and allow a certain levels of killing without regard to the human nature of it. Here are some good thoughts on this point:


    1. I agree on both fronts. The definition of who exactly is a militant is why the reports on civilian casualties vary so much. 3% civilian casualty rate and 20% civilian casualty rate are very different. A quick thought – what do you think the Administration considers to be the correct figure for civilian casualties and what do you think their acceptable limit is. Presumably if the gov’t thought that 50% of those killed were civilians they would cease the attacks. 40%? 25%? I think the gov’t probably agrees with the 3%.

      Your second point is right on. It completely dehumanizes war. The article was very interesting too; I like the comparison of the drone attacks to video games, because, essentially, they are video games with real life consequences (for the ‘bad guys’).

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