"I Saw Pieces of Bodies": Afghan Civilians Describe Terrorization by US Drones

Predator drone with Hellfire missiles on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Credit: Alex Edney-BrownePredator drone with Hellfire missiles on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Edney-Browne)

The Trump administration’s “drone policy,” though early to characterize, is shaping up to be even more aggressive than the Obama administration’s. There has been a significant increase in the number of drone attacks since Trump assumed office. In March 2017 parts of Yemen and Somalia — where the United States is not formally at war — were changed to “areas of active hostilities,” making it easier for the US to launch drone attacks.

Many more civilians are dying than the US government publicly admits.

Through the Obama years and continuing with Trump, opponents of drone warfare have tended to highlight civilian casualties from drone attacks. They rightly argue that many more civilians are dying than the US government publicly admits. Another frequently raised concern is the secrecy of (and dubious legal basis for) the CIA’s drone operations in “non-traditional battlefields” like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. These are all pressing issues and will continue to serve an important role in ethical debates about drone warfare.

What is often neglected in these debates, however, is the use of drones by the US Air Force (not the CIA) in countries that the US is known to be active in: Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Trump administration is deepening its military engagement in these conflicts, and has committed to the deployment of nearly 4,000 soldiers to Afghanistan. This troop surge is going ahead even though a corresponding long-term strategy for the war in Afghanistan is not yet decided. It is important to consider how the use of drones is affecting civilians’ lives and livelihoods in these countries, how those effects will manifest in the future, and the long-term implications of this for diplomacy and security.

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