There is a remarkable statistic in Jane Mayer’s superb piece [abstract] on the Predator war in The New Yorker:
It appears to have taken sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the C.I.A. succeeded in killing [Baitullah Mehsud]. During this hunt, between two hundred and seven and three hundred and twenty-one additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.
Remember, this took place under the best of circumstances, with friendly governments in both Islamabad and Kabul, a steady flow of human intelligence from the ground, and 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. With all the talk of a classic COIN campaign in Afghanistan not being worth the cost, and of resorting to a cheaper off-shore CT option instead, it’s easy to forget what it actually takes to kill a guy with a flying robot. And it’s not only the man-hours and the innocents incinerated — it’s also the inevitable moral damage to a war-fighting nation’s psyche. What else is a suicide bomber who targets an army patrol and kills 10 bystanders but a drone sent from afar by a deft operator¹ to carry out an assassination? Scott Horton sums up the dilemma:
Saying ‘no’ to predator drones would not serve the nation’s security interests. But reconsidering the troubling deviations from American traditions of civilian-military control over weapons systems and accountability for their use is an imperative.
Revenge of the Drones (appendix 1) — New America Foundation
Analysis: A look at US airstrikes in Pakistan through September 2009 — The Long War Journal
Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan (2001-2007) — United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
¹Amir is a fifteen-year old boy who was born in Pakistan to a family from Gardez. He has spent half of his life in Pakistan and the other half in Gardez. He is uneducated and spent only two days in a madrassah when his father asked him to leave and start working with him. He was greatly influenced by a local mullah (religious leader) who told him to go to Kabul to kill the ‘Angrez’. […] He claims that the Gardez mullah gave him 200 Afghanis and told him that he is in fact giving him heaven. The mullah told the boy that jihad is farz, required against the foreigners that have come to occupy Afghanistan and if he manages to kill a foreigner, he would go to heaven.