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Obama's Warbirds

February 01, 2012

Illustration by Eefa Khalid

“For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in.”

These words were spoken yesterday when US president Barack Obama made a public admission confirming that the US drone aircraft have struck Taliban and Al Qaeda targets within Pakistan. A fact widely known is now being admitted to prove that President Obama is no less powerful than his predecessor and if continuing wars is what it takes to make this power greater, so be it. But to win the hearts, minds and perhaps votes of his nation, Obama’s drone strikes are making sure that while conflict in such countries continues, American lives, the soldiers, are not lost. In what some call the coward’s war, it is safe to assume that without any risk, there will be very little restraint in widespread use of this technology.

But the use of these aircraft brings very important questions to surface; Are drone strikes any less intrusive than sending troops in? Are they not cross border violations? Are they not violating domestic and international laws? More than anything else, are they not making the world a more dangerous place by rapidly creating a man versus machine battlefield?

Once other countries start acquiring this technology and unilaterally decide to target countries that they feel are threats to their security – what will happen? Won’t the US then become the torch-bearer of initiating armed conflict all over the world?

As opposed to a soldier assigned to a check-post sitting in freezing weather, keeping an eye out for infiltration, the new “soldiers” are sitting behind computer screens, sipping coffee perhaps while they operate the drones. Once these operators have completed their targets for the day, they will return to their homes, uninjured and alive. There is no man-to-man engagement. There are no scars.

A leading robot expert writes: Some critics have worried that UAV operators - controlling drones from half a world away - could become detached and less caring about killing, given the distance, and this may lead to more unjustified strikes and collateral damage.

In his admission, Obama also said drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties”. Well how many civilian deaths does it take to make the number significant? Ten? Twenty? How many until it starts mattering to you? President Obama, how many civilians are the drones killing to get to the “list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on.” Where is the transparency and where is the accountability? If anything, unmanned aircraft are only going to make it easier to diminish the notion of accountability for the United States of America, the world’s number one arms-exporting nation.

William J. Astore, a retired US lieutenant colonel writes: When it comes to investing in militaries and weaponry, no country can match us. We are supreme.  And despite talk of modest cuts to the Pentagon budget over the next decade, it will, according to President Obama, continue to grow, which means that in weapons terms the future remains bright.

What more can you really expect then from a country that sells weapons for profit and without consideration of how those weapons might be used. For how long will the US continue to flash the Abbottabad raid and the numerous killings of Hakimullah Mehsud as justifications for the thousands of civilian deaths it has caused world over? For a country that has launched and is still launching numerous wars in the aftermath of 9/11, I suppose the answer is, for a very long time.

Pakistan is no stranger to the use of America’s unmanned aircrafts. The government once in a while says “Bad drone strikes!”, but the nation knows better than that. The silent “handshake agreement” over the drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas has caused the civilian population to protest and demonstrate – but that barely makes a difference. On one hand, the US talks about dialogue with the Taliban and on the other hand it shoots off their special robots to wipe them out – along with “some civilians” in the process (as perhaps Obama would say). Calling those civilians collateral damage is not enough. Fooling the world into believing that it is in the interest of greater goods is not acceptable either. There are no victors in war. America, which has known war so well and for so long, should know that better than any other nation. In war, your damage will be our damage and our damage will ultimately be yours.

America, you take your civilian deaths very seriously, heck you even have a hard time accepting deaths of troops who are killed in wars launched by YOU – so why the double standard here? And you wonder why you are not liked – whether you are sending in your machines, or whether you are sending in your troops, you are killing innocent Pakistanis in the process too. You are violating our borders and just because our government is not strong enough to stand its ground and just because our military likes your aid does not mean the common man is on board with your hypocritical plans.

Make the death toll transparent. Tell us how many militants you killed and how many civilians. Tell us why people in Waziristan claim to have lost their children because of you and explain to us why the Pakistani government is paying compensation to families of victims killed by your aircraft? Once you start answering some questions and taking some responsibility, perhaps the perception on your wars may change… but until innocent children in every part of the world keep dying just because your country feels threatened, I doubt anything will change.

The writer is the Deputy Editor at