Game of Drones
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013 16:02
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, have become an ever-present part of modern warfare today. Drones, used by the United States primarily in the Middle East, allow for the military to target and kill terrorists, terrorist cells, or any perceived threat from an aircraft without risking the lives of soldiers or military personnel.
Recently, drones have come under fire not from international enemies but from critics at home who are concerned that these strikes take lives of innocent civilians along with the intended target of the strike. In addition, drones have been used to kill American citizens known to be involved in terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. Most notably was the killing of Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011.
This past week, the United States Senate asked John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to become head of the CIA, specifically about drone use against American citizens with known terrorist ties. Brennan defended the killing of al-Awlaki and said “al-Awlaki’s involvement in efforts to kill Americans made him a legitimate military target.”
Brennan went on to tell the Senate that as President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, he was in charge of certifying that his actions met the standards that “the American people expect of us as far as taking actions we need to protect the American people, but at the same time ensuring that we do everything possible before we need to resort to lethal force.”
While Brennan’s Senate confirmation hearing has brought drone strikes back into the conversation, the debate about the use of these aerial vehicles has been consistent for a number of years. In 2009, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta told the Pacific Council on International Policy that, “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership.” Panetta went on to call drone strikes “very effective,” with “few civilian deaths as a result.”
Brennan, Panetta, and the Obama Administration’s philosophy on drone strikes are thus very clear. Drones are an important part of the military assault on international terrorism. While the use of lethal force will always be contemplated, when it is deemed necessary or even essential to American security, drones can be used to keep military personnel out of danger and still provide the stealth and accuracy needed to complete the given objective.
Civilian casualties should always be a major concern, but the use of drones certainly will only increase in the near future. If handled properly, the U.S. military has a significant tool in its hands that could advance its position in the fight against terrorism while keeping armed forces personnel out of harms way whenever possible.