By Noah Shachtman
February 10, 2009
Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have struck targets in Pakistan at least 40 times in the last year. The most recent attack came just days after President Obama was sworn in. Twenty-two people were reportedly killed in the strike.
U.S. officials say the drones have taken out dozens of militants who were undermining American efforts in the region. Perhaps so, Kilcullen acknowledges. But using drones to attack those militants
Kilcullen doesn't think all UAV attacks are bad.
All strikes should be carried out in consultation with Islamabad, in "an area outside of effective Pakistani sovereignty," and a time when "the target is positively identified and clearly distinguishable from surrounding populations, reducing the risk of collateral damage to a level acceptable to elected political leaders."
That last bit may be the toughest part. Before U.S. Air Force drones hit targets in Afghanistan as part of pre-planned operations, lawyers and intelligence officers in the Combined Air and Space Operations Center match it with cell-phone intercepts, informants' tips, and "pattern of life" analyses on the intended targets. Other airmen estimate the likelihood of civilian casualties, with "Raindrop," a classified simulation tool that models local traffic patterns, structural compositions, and bomb blast patterns. It's a process so rigorous that even Human Rights Watch says that the chances of civilian casualties are near nil, when it's followed. (The problems -- and the slaying of innocents -- come during last-minute, so-called "troops-in-contact" scenarios.)
But the UAV attacks in Pakistan are spearheaded by the CIA, not the Air Force. It's unclear whether the spy agency takes the same precautions, when it unleashes the killer drones.
UPDATE: Kilcullen wants to be clear.