By Matt Gordon
“To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance,” said US president Obama in a major speech recently where he promised to scale back the use of unmanned drones to attack targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
But pious hand-wringing will not bring back the lives of the civilians indiscriminately bombed in their homes by Obama’s killer robots.
Nor does one speech change the tactics of the US Military and the CIA on the ground. On 29 May a drone strike in the North Waziristan, on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, killed at least four people, including Wali Ur-Rehman, second-in-command of the Pakstani Taliban.
However these attacks are rarely as accurate as that. One source estimates that only 2% of drone attacks kill targets as high profile as Wali Ur-Rehman.
It is also common practice for the Taliban to name a commander as killed only for them to later resurface elsewhere alive and well.
Obama and the US government have consistently downplayed the use of drones and the havoc they cause, but in truth their use has grown exponentially during his presidency. It is yet to be seen if Obama’s most recent speech is any more genuine.
Afghanistan is undoubtedly the epicentre of unmanned drone attacks, with 506 incidents in 2012 and no way to verify the number of civilian casualties accurately.
In Pakistan there have been 369 since 2004, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that between 2,541 and 3,540 people have been killed, and that between 411 and 884 of those have been civilians.
On receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace, Obama declared that America, “must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war”.
But unmanned drones are not used because they are more ‘surgical’ or less deadly than traditional weapons, they are used because they save the lives of American troops in the short term and so are more politically and financially expedient back home.
For those on the receiving end, a hellfire missile is just as deadly and indiscriminate whether it is fired by a drone or by a piloted aircraft.
The reality is that the war in Afghanistan is an expensive and bloody failure. Obama tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan, making it the mightiest and most technologically advanced military occupation in the world, but still failed to make any real gains against the Taliban insurgency, which is likely to become apparent when combat troops leave at the end of 2014. Replacing human troops with robots will not change this.
Drones terrorise entire populations. This will leave thousands if not millions of people psychologically traumatised and deeply opposed to the United States, and will also continue to fuel anger.
The billions spent on war could instead be used for schools, hospitals and creating jobs – both in America and in Afghanistan. The war and use of drones must be ended now.