October 7, 2001, three weeks after the 911 attacks, the first US drone strike assassination was attempted on Mullah Mohammed Omar, a Taliban supreme commander. It missed, instead incinerating a nearby car and killing two members of his entourage, allowing the target to escaped unscathed. It was such a disaster that it threatened to derail the entire military operation and to this day, nobody even knows who ordered the strike. Deputy Dave Deptula, who worked on coordinating “Operation Enduring Freedom” had this to say about the attempted assassination:
“To this day there is a degree of uncertainty over just who issued that fire order. We both watched the weapon impact and both turned to each other simultaneously and said, ‘Who the fuck did that?’” So furious was Wald that he threatened to call off the first night’s bombings. As Deptula conceded to me, in the rush to go to war “there had not been a lot of attention paid” to working out who was in charge of the drone. Tommy Franks has put it more bluntly: “In combat there has to be one line of authority. But in this goat rope there had been CENTCOM, the Pentagon, the White House, [and] the CIA.”
By the end of November the CIA’s drones deployed at least 40 missiles throughout Afghanistan. That was 16 years ago and since then the unmanned drone has become to favorite weapon the the United States Military. Before George W Bush left office, he would launch over 40 strikes in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen, killing hundreds of militants.
By the time Barack Obama took office in 2008, The US military was fully equipped with drone fleets, used both for surveillance operations and strikes. Before he left, he would authorize more than 500 drone strikes, killing thousands of militants, and unknown numbers of civilians.
There is no doubt that civilian deaths are more prevalent with drone strikes than traditional “boots on the ground”, guerrilla warfare. The drone papers released by Wikileaks revealed harrowing numbers on drone strike accuracy. On the other hand, the fact is that drone strikes spare the lives of US military personal. According to the Congressional Research Service report, total US casualties under Bush totaled close to 10,000. Obama slashed the number of troops in war zones from 150,000 to 14,000, and reduced US military casualties by more than 50%.
Calculating the real efficiency of drone warfare is difficult because the reports on Civilian deaths are often vastly under or over reported. ForeignPolicy.com recently published an article entitled “Do Not Believe the U.S. Government’s Official Numbers on Drone Strike Civilian Casualties”. Additionally, there is no way to measure the true impact of a drone strike that hits a village of civilians, no way of knowing how many new religious extremists or Daesh recruits are produced. Even if those numbers were readily available and accurate, deciding how many civilian deaths or US soldier deaths are worth one dead militant is too morally reprehensible to ponder.