US Drone Strikes Killed Thousands of Civilians
Drone strikes are supposed to be precise - surgical is the word often used - to target terrorists and threats and avoid killing innocent civilians. But a deep investigation by the New York Times Magazine finds that U.S. airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians - including small children - in places that include Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. According to the report, over a five-year period US forces carried out more than 50,000 strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The Obama Administration uses the word "surgical" to describe its drone strikes. Official White House spokesman Jay Carney marshaled the medical metaphor here, saying that "a hallmark of our counterterrorism efforts has been our ability to be exceptionally precise, exceptionally surgical and exceptionally targeted." They've successfully injected the term into public discourse about drones. “The spread of this characterization is a triumph of propaganda,” said Conor Friedersdorf, writer and founding editor of The Best of Journalism.
What did the report find?
It found that a trove of confidential documents covering more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties details a 'pattern of failures'. In one case cited by the paper, US special forces claimed to have killed 85 "Islamic State" fighters in northern Syria. According to investigative reporting carried out by The New York Times, the dead were 120 villagers.
Reporters visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed witnesses while also submitting Freedom of Information Act requests. They found, military officials used 'deeply flawed intelligence' to target potential terrorists in airstrike. Also they filed lawsuits against the Defense Department and Central Command. The report said the aerial footage the drones use do not show people in buildings, under foliage or under tarpaulins or aluminum covers.
In August, a New York Times investigation found that a Kabul airstrike had killed 10 members of a family. US officials said it had destroyed a vehicle that contained bombs, a claim that was later retracted. An investigation of video evidence, along with interviews with more than a dozen of the driver’s co-workers and family members in Kabul, raised doubts about the U.S. version of events, including whether explosives were present in the vehicle, whether the driver had a connection to ISIS, and whether there was a second explosion after the missile struck the car. After a preliminary investigation, the Pentagon admitted in September that the strike had been a "tragic mistake" and said it would compensate those family members who had survived.
Finally, this is the main takeaway from Pentagon documents that The New York Times reported on last week: “The trove of documents—the military’s own confidential assessments of more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties, obtained by The New York Times—lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children, a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs. The documents show, too, that despite the Pentagon’s highly codified system for examining civilian casualties, pledges of transparency and accountability have given way to opacity and impunity.”