Sunday, 22 January 2017

Heavy civilian casualties after drone attacks

Time and time again, news stories of heavy civilian casualties have surfaced – largely innocent women and children slaughtered or injured – after reports of attacks by armed UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)  that roamed the skies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Gaza. 

Most recently, UNICEF expressed serious concern about the systematic air and missile attacks wreaking havoc in Sadr City by the U.S. military in its relentless pursuit of insurgents. The Iraqi government declares almost 1,000 people have died so far – 60% of them are women and children. Prior to the UNICEF report, USA Today gave an account that the U.S. military record showed “an unprecedented number of air strikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents”. The Pentagon has increased use of armed drones to deal with the escalation in fighting in Baghdad's district of Sadr City as well as in Basra.

As for Afghanistan, very few attempts at compiling annual estimates of insurgency-related civilian deaths have been made. As civilian casualties mounted, criticism on the conduct of air war was published in a Reuters piece, indicating that the Americans and NATO in Afghanistan are "hooked on air power." On June 2, 2007, a UN report shows "the number of [civilian] deaths attributed to pro-government forces marginally exceeds that caused by anti-government forces” — basically acknowledging U.S. and NATO-led forces to be responsible for a growing number of civilian deaths. Evidently, precision airstrikes that were supposedly targeting Taliban insurgents in residential buildings ended up time after time killing innocent civilians based on inaccurate information assessments. In an emotional speech last year, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai dabbed away tears as he spoke about the cruelty imposed on his people "as too much" and that Afghanistan couldn't stop “the coalition from killing our children.”

Under the guise of waging a ‘war on terror’ against the Taliban, the U.S. military supported by Pervez Musharraf has increased Predator strikes in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, causing outrage in Pakistan. One such incident resulting in civilian deaths drew criticism from Amnesty International with a letter to U.S. President Bush, stating that “a pattern of killings carried out with these weapons appeared to reflect a US government policy condoning extrajudicial executions.”  On April 8, 2008, the Daily Times reported that the United States has finally promised to curb airstrikes by Predators against suspected insurgents in Pakistan with the new civilian government as part of $7 billion aid package sent to Congress for approval.

Although drone attacks haven’t been covered much by mainstream media, we know that the Predator MQ-1, armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, was deployed to Afghanistan in October 2001, providing intelligence and a strike capability in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was not until October 2007 that United States Air Force first deployed the MQ-9 Reaper (technically advanced hunter/killer) to Afghanistan, where it is being used for precision strikes. And we know that the U.S. military is still using MQ-1s for surveillance and bombing raids in Sadr City and Basra as reported in occasional crashes.

The fact that MQ-1s have been playing a significant role in air operations since 2001 could explain the high rate of casualties among helpless civilians, as these unmanned drones are controlled remotely from military bases in the United States. It's obvious that Afghanistan and Iraq for several years have been used as the testing ground for the U.S. Pentagon trying to perfect its hi-tech robotic war weapons at the expense of thousands of innocent human lives. Undoubtedly, the growing use of armed drones has certainly raised serious ethical and legal issues.

As for the unreported news on Israel’s drones used in Lebanon war in 2006, the Israeli Air Force stated that it had focused its efforts on suppressing Hezbollah’s rocket launch capabilities. However, Human Rights Watch claimed otherwise in its report – pointing out high civilian casualties were due to “Israeli tendency to treat all people and buildings associated with Hezbollah, however vaguely, as legitimate military targets”.

Israel's notorious violation of human rights is globally known for its brutal conduct in Gaza , committing genocide – killing and maiming women and children before our very eyes. However, a few articles have exposed Israel’s dreadful use of UAVs in its attacks against the Palestinians. In the intensifying and ongoing assault on Gaza, Palestinians say Israel's pilotless planes have been a major weapon in its latest offensive in Gaza.

Worse still, the announcement of future ambition to turn a UAV into a thinking killer machine takes man one step closer to making a sci-fi horror into reality.  The BAE Systems is working with the British military staff and scientists to develop Taranis – a jet designed with a bat-wing to be able to think for itself, independently tracking and destroying aircraft and targets. First flight trials are scheduled to take place in 2010.

By accepting these drones to carry out battles against people makes the process of killing another human being so eerily impersonal, like the deaths of so many innocents have become nothing more than statistics. In conclusion, a battle waged between machine against man only guarantees one thing – a high loss of precious human lives.

(First published on, May 10, 2008)