On Saturday a US drone attack killed nine people in Pakistan. President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan recently claimed they are aiding America’s “war on terror”, but he is perpetuating the fallacy that we can defeat an ideology with military force. Pakistani sovereignty is being breached and innocent civilians are being killed, under advantageous legal fiction.
In February the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported between 2,433 – 3,093 Pakistani civilians have been killed by US drone strikes since 2004, and at least 467 – 815 of these casualties were civilians. Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan, who runs an independent research site, alleges as many as 2,179 civilians are amongst the dead. On average, attacks are carried out in Pakistan by American drones every four days.
The Bureau claim that as many as 535 civilians have been killed as a result of drone strikes since President Obama took office. 50 civilians they say were killed in follow-up strikes whilst helping the wounded, and more than twenty were killed whilst attending funerals.
The US is not adhering to the laws of armed conflict and military warfare, as America is not technically engaged in ‘armed conflict’ with Pakistan. America cannot invade the airspace of another country without permission. Whilst America may be pursuing terrorists in Pakistan they are ignoring the country’s requests they stop and civilians are unlawfully dying. America is alienating its ally. If America wants Pakistan to allow them to resume sending Afghanistan-bound NATO supplies through the country they must stop striking.
Pakistan has currently shut its border crossings to NATO, in response to an American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. Pakistan has on countless occasions called for an end to U.S. drone strikes, having denounced them on the grounds that they kill civilians and are consequently disadvantageous because they inflame anti-U.S. sentiment and drive dissidents into the ranks of radical Islam.
In Libya, President Obama was able to dodge federal law by claiming America wasn’t in an area of ‘hostilities’ because there was no actual force on the ground. Under congressional authorization, soldiers are legally allowed to engage in combat against ‘belligerents,’ but drone attacks are managed by the CIA and not by military personnel.
The Department of Defence (DoD) and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) do not, on the other hand, have the congressional authority to use drones in Yemen or Somalia. Recently the CIA has reportedly begun operating a drone fleet against Yemen from “somewhere in the Gulf.” In Somalia an investigation by Jeremy Scahill at The Nation revealed the CIA operates from Mogadishu airport.
Drones enable countries to wage war without endangering the lives of their own people. The ease with which countries can kill makes going to war far too easy. Politically the cost of a drone attack is less than sending troops into battle. This weapon of war allows soldiers to target terrorists on a screen thousands of miles away. Any economic development that makes war cheaper is ethically wrong and morally dangerous.