Action At A Distance: U.S. Drone Strikes Abroad

A drone is also known as an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) is usually armed and requires no onboard pilot, but are usually under real-time human control. As such, features like the cockpit, arms, ejection seat, flight and environmental controls for pressure and oxygen are not needed, as the operator runs the vehicle remotely. Although largely automated, the drone nonetheless requires a human controller to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. At present, there are few countries capable of launching missiles from their drones. They include the U.S., U.K., Israel, Pakistan, and China. Inspired by Israeli success in the 1982 Lebanon War, the U.S. adopted derivatives of these models and introduced them during the Gulf War. Drones reportedly appeal to U.S. President Obama because they offer the capability of eliminating terror threats without endangering American soldiers and without requiring an extended long-term war. However, though the efficacy of drones on eliminating terrorists is well attested, it has emerged that there are vastly greater numbers of civilian deaths than the government officials care to admit. This is often the result of the distance between the missile target and the drone operator who often can do no better than guess as to the identity of those under fire. Without detailed and reliable evidence on the ground, drone operators have no way of knowing whether they have the correct target.

Drone strikes have sparked rage both overseas and at home in the U.S. Although disproportionate to the number of foreigners accidentally killed by American operated drones, a total of eight Americans have also been killed. Only one of the eight was deliberately targeted, nonetheless, six were suspected to be linked to Al Qaeda and were killed in strikes aimed at the organization. These deaths are problematic insofar as the U.S. requires that any American – even one suspected of terrorism - should be given a legal review before their execution. Particularly in Pakistan and Yemen, drone strikes have provoked anti-American sentiment. Nonetheless, drones and their use abroad are popular amongst the American public, gaining a 66% approval rating.

It seems that the overall American approval of the use of drones is not only at odds with the rest of the world, but with the American remote operators themselves who often suffer PTSD and psychological trauma. Considered a dead-end career, drone operators are in short supply. Perhaps it is telling that those who witness the destructive capabilities of rogue weapons are opposed to them, while the American public idly approves from relative safety.