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Humans · Technology

Drone strikes

May 15th, 2017
in:Humans, Technology
by:Federica Tedeschi
located in:USA, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan
tags:CIA, Drone War

Remote killing became a defining point of war following the invention of the bow and arrow thousands of years ago.

Since the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism began recording data in 2010, a minimum of 2,262 drone strikes has been confirmed, causing between 6,263 and 9,049 deaths. Figures include over 730 civilians and at least 242 of them are children.

The Bureau is an independent, not-for-profit media organisation whose Covert Drone War team has been tracking and reporting on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia for over seven years and more recently in Afghanistan.

Fairplanet spoke with Jack Serle, a senior reporter on the Bureau’s Covert Drone War team.

There are several definitions of drone and drone strike. How would you explain it?

The word drone has become a catchall term for a huge number of different systems and it is always the human being who is in control of the aircraft. Similarly, drone strike and air strike are often used interchangeably by people to refer to an attack from the air.

When was the first drone strike launched?

The first drone strike ever took place in October 2001 in Afghanistan when the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tried to kill Osama Bin Laden. Year 2002 marked the first strike in Yemen, while the first attack in Pakistan happened in 2004. However, the drone war took to a new level of intensity in 2009, when Barack Obama embraced the idea of remote controlled war to fight terrorism and leave the civilian population unharmed. 

What are your team’s sources?

Because the USA has kept its campaign in these countries as secret as it could, our team draws data from open sources and their own contacts in the countries where the strikes are happening as well as from news reports by other media organisations and reports by NGOs.

We turn textual data into quantitative ones, like the number of people killed, the date, time and geocoded location of the strike. Reports are entirely based on the information we receive, which is why they often remain quite broad on the specifics.

How has the U.S. target changed over the years?

In Pakistan, from 2004 onwards and through the Bush and Obama years it was Al Qaeda. What is interesting is that the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) came to a secret agreement with the CIA, allowing them to kill the Al Qaeda representatives with their drones, as long as they would have also murdered the Taliban Pakistan. In 2009-10 the U.S. attention shifted to the war in Afghanistan, while the main target in Yemen was Al Qaeda.

Now the USA’s focus is both on Al-shabaab, a regional entity in Somalia, and on carrying out attacks in Kenia, Tanzania, Uganda and Djibouti, rather than strikes in the West.

Are U.S. drone strikes legal?

The strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somali are happening in countries where the USA is not at war and therefore has declared it is in a global conflict with Al Qaeda, wherever al-Qaeda is in the world. People would argue that if there is not an armed conflict going on in those countries, the role of war does not apply. And it is surprising that the law of armed conflict allows for civilian casualties during war time: it just has to be proportional.

What has the team’s biggest challenge been so far?

The hardest part is always to find out specific information about what is happening both on the ground of the people who are targeted by the strikes and in the aftermath of these attacks, not to mention the U.S. decision making process that goes into ordering the strikes.

The issues come when we are trying to work out what role the victims exactly played in that community: were they children, militants, somebody who had been thrown into a terrorist organisation or civilians who were in the wrong place in the wrong time? 

What is its greatest achievement?

After having worked on this project for 6 years, on July 2016 the USA finally released its assessment of the number of strikes it had carried out, the number of people it had killed and the number of civilians it had killed in counter-terrorism strikes outside of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. And that came as a result of concerted pressure from the Bureau, two American organisations who also collect data on drone strikes and journalistic and non-governmental institutes.

What does the future of drones and drone strikes hold?

We may not see a dramatic escalation in the number of drone strikes by the USA, however, I think we are going to see a proliferation in the number of people using drones and we know that many European countries have successfully purchased armed ones from China.

It is now difficult to see a NATO military force going to operation without lots of drones: armed and unarmed ones, small little surveillance drones as well as huge ones monitoring entire continents.

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
The first drone strike ever took place in October 2001 in Afghanistan when the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tried to kill Osama Bin Laden.
The strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somali are happening in countries where the USA is not at war and therefore has declared it is in a global conflict with Al Qaeda, wherever al-Qaeda is in the world.
After having worked on this project for 6 years, on July 2016 the USA finally released its assessment of the number of strikes it had carried out, the number of people it had killed and the number of civilians it had killed in counter-terrorism strikes outside of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

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