Columns / Discourse / October 28, 2010

World Politics Corner: The myth of targeted strikes

Arguments for “precision bombings” have been used in numerous conflicts in the past. The excuse is that an army or nation is doing as much as it can to avoid civilian casualties but the terrorists/insurgents are hiding behind civilians.

However, this excuse can only be somewhat backed up by providing the name of a terrorist being targeted, and proof that he/she is in the area about to be attacked. So far, no nation has provided this alongside the attacks committed.

Even if a missile can damage only one home or one building, that doesn’t mean they are legitimate targets.

Unfortunately, as long as a nation claims they’re aiming for “precise targets” (although unspecified even afterward), everyone else in the world is content with twiddling their thumbs and accepting unproven statements.

A recent study in Pakistan has revealed the inherent problems of the US drone attacks on areas the Taliban allegedly are hiding in. “The new report published by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) last week offers the first glimpse of the drone strikes based on actual interviews with civilian victims of the strikes” (Al Jazeera English).

The report followed a poll conducted in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), showing overwhelming opposition to the drones.

Originally drones were seen as essential to the war in Afghanistan, as Taliban leaders are said to be hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In 2008 there was an average of 3.33 civilian deaths per drone missile. This means that “only” 460 civilians have been killed due to the drones.

Researchers Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation have estimated that the number of those killed actually is between 1,109 and 1,734. The official total number of civilian casualties is unknown.

According to the study by CIVIC, “Only 66 leading officials in al-Qaeda or other anti-US groups have been killed in the bombings. Reports on the bombings have listed the vast majority of the victims as ‘militants,’ without further explanation” (Al Jazeera English).

Originally the drones were to target specific al-Qaeda leaders in areas where no civilians were located, but in early 2008 former President George W. Bush was persuaded by the CIA to target locations with “signature” of a pattern or behavior linked to al-Qaeda, according to David Sanger’s book, “The Inheritance.” Sanger was also told by a high ranking Bush Administration National Security official that the president had allowed further leeway to the CIA and that they could now target locations based on inferences rather than hard proof.

“It allowed that directorate to collect the intelligence on potential targets in the FATA, interpret its own intelligence and then make lethal decisions based on that interpretation—all without any outside check on the judgments it was making, even from CIA’s own directorate of intelligence” (Al Jazeera English).

A civilian victim told a researcher from CIVIC that his home was targeted for giving food to Taliban members. At the time, the man did not deny food to the members for fear of retaliation. Sadly, in an ironic turn of events, his decision to save his family still put him in danger. The drone attack, committed the very next day, resulted in the death of his only son.

These types of incidents are not isolated, and spread anti-American sentiment throughout the nation. The survey proves this, showing that 76 percent of the 1,000 residents of the tribal areas are against drone attacks, and 50 percent of the 76 percent see the attacks as killing mostly civilians.

In the case of this war, the fact that more civilians are killed in drone attacks rather than by terrorists has overreaching consequences for winning the hearts and minds of Afghanis and Pakistanis.

Sixty percent of those surveyed now believe that using suicide bombings against the US military are “often or most times justified” (Al Jazeera English).

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