- U.S. carried out 333 drone strikes in Afghanistan in 2012, report says, up from 294 in 2011
- Controversial method of fighting uses remote pilots to operate aircrafts
The statistics, published by the U.S. Air Force and published by Wired’s Danger Room blog, show that there were 333 drone strikes in Afghanistan in 2012 alone, up from 294 in the previous year and 278 in 2010.
It is far more than an estimated 338 strikes carried out by the CIA in Pakistan since it began hunting down remnants of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas eight years ago.
The U.S. carried out more drone strikes in Afghanistan this year than it has done in all the years put together in Pakistan since it launched the air war there eight years ago
All of these strikes, Wired notes, are occurring during a time when U.S. troops are thinning out their presence in Afghanistan and the war is winding down.
The incredible use of remotely-piloted drones mark a new way of fighting the war in Afghanistan as the forces left behind depend more and more on these weapons.
According to the military report, there was an average of 33 drone strikes per month in 2012, up from an average of 24.5 the year before.
Earlier this month, Congress held a rare hearing to address the use of unmanned drones as a means of killing, asking for transparency from the White House where the program is involved.
The measure was instantly dismissed.
The Predator aircrafts which can loiter in an area for as long as 20 hours are a low-cost alternative to having F-18s fly all over the country to carry out these strikes, as Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, told Reuters.
Unlike the remotely piloted flights in Pakistan run by the CIA, local military commanders order such operations in Afghanistan, usually to help troops under fire.
But they are also used by Special Forces for targeted killings as in Pakistan if intelligence points that way or to thwart insurgents trying to plant roadside bombs, still the biggest killer of foreign and local forces.
One piece of argument in support of greater use of unmanned aerial vehicles is that because they stay long and slow over an area undetected, unlike a bomber aircraft, and are equipped with powerful video cameras, the chances of getting it wrong and killing civilians are reduced, Reuters reported.
Commanders have been known to stack drones upon drones over a compound to track all movement for hours before unleashing a Hellfire missile.
Still, ultimately it’s a judgement call made by teams on the ground and in the rear and these have sometimes gone wrong in the past. Just because you see two people digging something in the ground on your video screen and because that happens to be in an area used by militants doesn’t necessarily mean they are planting bombs.
Der Spiegel revealed a harrowing account of a former drone pilot who has seen both ends of the war from his bunker in New Mexico.
Brandon Bryant spoke of his first mission in Iraq when his job was to watch over a group of U.S. soldiers returning to their base camp as their guardian angel.
The Montana native said that he operated military drones from within a small, windowless bunker. One strike in particular stood out horrifically in his mind – when he sent a Predator drone shooting a Hellfire missile in Afghanistan.
Moments before the bomb was slated to go off, he saw a child walk around the corner of the street. Five people died as a result of the strike.
From then on, he couldn’t keep the five lives lost out of his thoughts.
‘I saw men, women, and children die during that time,’ Brandon Bryant, 27, told the magazine. ‘I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn’t kill anyone at all.’
The Guardian’s George Monibot wrote in an editorial earlier this week that while President Obama has shown his sorrow for the deaths of the 20 children killed in last Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, not a word has been spoken by the president over the children killed overseas by such drone strikes.
‘These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern.
‘Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute analysis of what happened and why,’ he writes.
‘Obama does not kill children deliberately. But their deaths are an inevitable outcome of the way his drones are deployed.’
Until another mission, this time over a mud house in northern Afghanistan where seconds after he pressed the button on a Hellfire missile a child stepped into the frame.
A part of the house was obliterated and there was no sign of the kid. The operator and his colleague were left to agonise over whether the child was dead, and worse — never knowing for sure.