Posted by J. Galt
One of the most compelling arguments against the use of armed drones is the high civilian casualty rate. Of recent, stories that drones could be used to target American citizens have been highly publicized. In fact, this has already occurred. In 2011 three Americans were killed: Anwar al-Aulaqi, a known Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, his nephew Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, a known Al-Qaeda propagandist. Is should be noted, that of these three men, only Anwar was targeted. Samir died in the strike that killed Anwar, and Abdulraham was a casualty of a strike that killed Ibrahim al-Banna, a senior Al-Qaeda figure.
The issue of targeting American citizens isn't an inherent flaw of the drone program. That problem derives from the American government bypassing due process with impunity. To redress this flaw, President Obama must create protocol and instructions for its use; he must make the drone program transparent or accountable. But all in all, America's drone system should be highly admired and encouraged.
But how can a program that kills civilians possibly be admired?
The New America Foundation calculated in a widely cited report that between 1,953 and 3,279 people have been killed by drone strikes since 2004, and that 18 percent to 23 percent of those casualties were civilian, although the report states that in 2012, civilian casualties were down to 10 percent. Assuming the worst, that 23 percent of the 3,279 killed by drones were civilian, the number of civilian casualties since 2004 is 754, an absurdly high number. Several other authorities estimate the number is even higher. Nothing can defend the killing of civilians, especially from a country that justifies its actions as defense against terrorism. The only consideration to be brought up is, if drones were removed from service, what would happen?
The reason that America is taking action in Pakistan and Yemen is that Pakistan and, to a certain extent, Yemen, are incapable of fighting these insurgencies on their own (Osama Bin Laden was found in Abbbottabad, a Pakistani city home to the Pakistan Military Academy, their West Point Academy). Pakistan's intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, is a venal and shadowy agency, often accused and connected to the very terrorist organizations they are instructed to extirpate. So, if the United States removed drones from Pakistan, the Pakistani government may try to combat the insurgents and terrorist organizations, but would likely fail. In the end, the United States, if they wished to prevent the failure of the state, would have to send in troops. How many deaths would that amount to?
Furthermore, terrorists don't often direct their attacks on military troops - they attack civilians. That's what makes them terrorists. So while there is an important distinction between terrorists and militants, the question is from the approximately 1504 to 2689 militants and terrorists killed since 2004, how many lives did America save?
Perhaps some of those militants and terrorists would have been killed regardless, but Navy Seal Team Six can't be sent in every time a top Al-Qaeda official is found. Undoubtedly, that would be a lot messier than the drone strike that hits its target within six meters.
While reprimanding the drone strike program, it's important to consider the unquantifiable good it has done, and ponder what the American government would have to do if it was shut down, because the government by no means was going to just lie down and wait for these insurgents and terrorists to gain strength. By removing the drone program, the government is forced to take its next best option, one that will likely produce more civilian deaths. The drone program is by no means perfect in its current form, but to outlaw its usage in warfare would be an egregious mistake and would leave both American troops and Pakistani and Yemen citizens in more danger than they are under the auspices of the drones.