It is the wet dream of every kid who grew up playing Hurlyburly download.htm”>Microsoft Flight Simulator. From the safety and comfort of Air Force bases in Nevada (read: your angsty teenage bedroom with the Kurt Cobain poster in the corner), grounded pilots bomb insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan using unmanned aerial vehicles, known more menacingly as Predator Drones. Gamers could not have come up with a more badass title.
A covert CIA drone program focuses on Pakistan, a country riddled with Taliban fighters and terrorists but no US troops. President Obama has ordered as many drone attacks in Pakistan as Bush did in his last three years in office combined. Approximately a third of drone attack casualties in Pakistan since 2006 were civilians, according to a report by the New American Foundation. If that is what passes for “surgical” strikes these days, the C.I.A. may be in need of its brand of own health care reform.
In terms of public opinion, a surge in drone attacks is still preferable to one in US troops. And by public opinion, I mean the apparent lack thereof when it comes to the ethics of drone attacks. In this week’s New Yorker Jane Mayer explains the illusion of “costless” war created by the use of these unmanned planes. Pilots face the same risks and realities of war they did growing up playing IL-2, but with more satisfaction than a high score. She argues, “cut off from the realities of the bombings in Pakistan, Americans have been insulated from the human toll, as well as the political and moral consequences.”
Mayer need only refer to David Rohde’s compelling account of a drone attack, which he witnessed during his eight months stint as a Taliban hostage, to demonstrate its perceptible and unpleasant repercussions.
“A stalemate between the United States and the Taliban seemed to unfold before me. The drones killed many senior commanders and hindered their operations. Yet the Taliban were able to garner recruits in their aftermath by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties… The strikes also created a paranoia among the Taliban. They believed that a network of local informants guided the missiles. Innocent civilians were rounded up, accused of working as American spies and then executed.”
In the absence of assailable Americans to wreak vengeance on, the Taliban is imagining enemies amongst the civilian population. I am in no way suggesting that American soldiers should be the alternative target of aggrieved Taliban fighters, but the indirect impact means drone attacks certainly don’t come cheap in terms of human lives.
Photo from Flickr userr JimNtexas’ under the Creative Commons License.