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Drones have become the most talked-about new weapon in the U.S. fight against terrorism.
the technology allows the military, or the C.I.A., to examine a single house for days, to be sure of its target and to destroy the house without damaging anything around it.
Few would deny that targeted drones are preferable to carpet bombing, but their accuracy is reliant on accurate intelligence. And more than once the United States has gotten it wrong — perhaps most tragically on Oct. 30, 2006, when an errant drone strike obliterated an Islamic boarding school in Chenagai, Pakistan, killing 82 people.
There was also the the killing in Yemen in 2010 of Jabr Al-Shabwani, a popular deputy governor, also by an errant drone strike.
Despite official claims that using real-time imaging allows operators of drones to know in detail both before and after an attack who, and how many, they have killed, the U.S. government has at times identified the wrong man.
The Drone Wars: The humans behind the technology
U.S. and Pakistani officials announced on June 3, for instance, that Ilyas Kashmiri, Al Qaeda's operational commander in Pakistan, had been killed in a drone strike. Six others were killed in the same attack. It was the second time Kashimri was reported to be killed. He was also pronounced dead in a similar attack in 2009. Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban, was also twice reported killed in a drone strike. And the list goes on.
Such confusion has led to speculation that more civilians are being killed in the strikes than is being reported by the United States. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit organization based in London, has attempted an accounting of all the civilians killed in Pakistan since the covert drone war began in 2004. Based on press accounts and local sources, the Bureau estimates that between 385 and 775 civilians have so far been killed in Pakistan alone, many of them children.
The killing of civilians and the disruption of life in regions targeted by drones has given rise to concerns that the strikes are driving a whole new generation of people, frustrated by the U.S. incursion on their lives, to the side of the militants. Indeed, some disturbing strategies are being used by the C.I.A. in Pakistan, including the targeting of funerals being held just hours after an initial attack. Large protests against the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have become a regular occurrence.
Still, the governments of all three countries have tacitly allowed the United States to continue the program, and the drones have met with success — a number of senior Al Qaeda and Taliban militants have been killed by drones, and they have become one of the most successful weapons in the war on terror.
If it’s a good policy to eliminate Al Qaeda, the U.S. official said, then you have to look at the best way to do that. And the drones are just one tool in the toolbox.
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