The US drone programme is perhaps the most widely criticised and unpopular branch of military operations conducted in different parts of the world, particularly in Yemen and Pakistan. Buried under layers of secrecy, it impacts people and places often inaccessible to mainstream media and the wider population. Although President Barrack Obama claimed to have introduced a policy change in 2013 with regards to drone strikes, evidence suggests that the deplorable practice of “signature strikes” – killing without insufficient or zero knowledge about the identity of the target – is still in place. In the drone strike that mistakenly killed Warren Weinstein, Giovanni Lo Porto along with al-Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq of the al-Qaeda in the subcontinent (both of whom were not on the US hitlist), the US was apparently targeting an “al-Qaeda compound” without credible information about the presence of individuals inside despite “near continuous surveillance”.
Now that a US citizen has been killed, the efficacy of the drone programme is being debated once again. Unfortunately, the local variety of “collateral damage”, with considerably higher numbers, hardly ever invites reaction or acknowledgment. The data gathered by non-governmental organisations such as Reprieve comprehensively answers the question of the drone programme’s efficiency: it isn’t efficient. According to one report, in pursuit of 41 “high-profile” targets, US drones killed 1,147 non-combatants, including women and children, in Yemen and Pakistan. The US mostly doesn’t acknowledge failed strikes or its many victims. Legality issues aside, the drone campaign is guided by poor intelligence that results in the deaths of innocents and a poorly engineered, broad policy that doesn’t attribute much value to innocence of victims, principles of justice or morality.
As a result, it could be argued that while drone strikes prove helpful in taking out “combatants” in their safe havens, the frequent deaths of innocents make the campaign counter-productive and perhaps inexcusable. Would the US exercise the same lack of scrutiny and verification when lives of US citizens are at stake? Is it not true that the standards are lower for targeting people in Pakistan and Yemen? Entire villages have to live in fear of man-made aerial predators so the US can feel a tad bit more secure. The Obama administration ought to be aware that the drone campaign is fueling the anti-Western sentiment primarily because innocent civilians are killed far too often. It must review its policy, and stop treating human life with the same disregard its sworn enemies do.