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US introduces armed Predator drones in Libya

U.S. President Barack Obama has approved the use of armed predator strikes in the western-led military operation against Libya, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a new briefing on Thursday.

This happens right after the U.S. Department of Defense admits it does not keep track of civilian casualties from drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Recently CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed 40 civilians, "fuelling simmering extremism" and launching protests from Pakistani officials, condemning the assaults as "irrational" and serving to "only strengthen [the] hands of radical and extremist elements."

According to The Examiner the two Afghanistan experts, Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, see the drone attacks as a sign of waning U.S. power in the region and worldwide.

Meanwhile Noam Chomsky criticizes Washington for leading an illegal war in Pakistan, saying that drone attacks are targeted assassinations, which is an international crime according to the UN.

Jonathan Manes, an attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, criticizes the lack of oversight with "collateral damage" and calls for compilation of data about civilian casualties of "a new and controversial technology."
"The public must have accurate information about civilian casualties in drone strikes in order to assess the ethical, legal and strategic concerns that these weapons raise."

How Many Civilians Are Killed?

According to Forgottendiaries U.S. drone attacks recorded an overall 134 percent increase in 2010 compared with 2009's figures, jumping from 53 strikes in 2009 to 124 attacks in 2010.

According to a report by the Brookings Institution the illegal strikes have claimed the lives of 10 civilians for every militant killed in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
In the Pakistani media, it has been widely reported that some 700 civilians have been killed in the last year. 

According to Pakistani sources cited by New York Times U.S. drone strikes kill some 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent.

The Brooking Institution also reports that the US military fields 7,000 unmanned drones in the air, like the Predators that fire missiles into Pakistan, and roughly another 12,000 on the ground, like the Packbots that hunt for roadside bombs in Iraq.

Recently the US Department of Defense admitted posting drone attacks on YouTube, where they have become an instant hit.

RT has this news segment about the controversial videos, commonly known as "drone porn":

Oddly, the columnist for Huffington Post, Keith Thompson explains the drone videos with an interest in openness in the US Deparment of Defense.

Why Is USA Relying On Drones?

Both RT and Huffington Post are known to be extremely critical to hawkish Washington policies, but in this instance they seem to fail to grasp that posting these videos is a part of a three-fold Public Diplomacy campaign aimed at

  • normalizing the concept of drone attacks
  • popularizing it in the young male population (according to some estimates the average age of a YouTube user is 27)
  • recruitment

USA is relying on drones for the same reason: To keep casualties low in the ranks of the US Forces, having learned the lesson from Vietnam that dead American soldiers is bad for the war industry.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions it was frequently brought up that Washington censored photos of fallen American soldiers in an attempt to avoid the PR backlash at home.

New research shows that people create "emphatic blocks" against people outside the group they identify with, and that express prejudice greatly diminish the ability to sympathize with a human belonging to this group.

This extends to warfare too. We perceive casualities differently, depending on which side they are on.

What is The Breaking Point

This information makes it possible to estimate the breaking point of US warfare, at least when it comes to unilateral actions or controversial military campaigns (including "humanitarian intervention") without a clear defensive purpose.

According to the Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen project 5,885 American soldiers have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom (4,424) and Operation Enduring Freedom (1,461) combined.

UnknownNews puts the total number of deaths in the two wars to a staggering 919,967, including US and NATO forces.

Their compilation puts the number of  8,813 Afghan civilians killed and 15,863 Afghan civilians seriously injured (and about as many Afghan militants killed and injured).

According to the same list 864,531 Iraqi civilians were killed and 1,556,156 Iraqi civilians seriously injured, a number that far outdoes the number of fallen in Iraqi troops: 30,000 Iraqi troops killed and 90,000 seriously injured.

Combined these numbers give us an approximate total of 873,334 Iraqi civilian deaths - not counting soldiers, not counting over 1,5 million wounded, and not counting US soldiers or contracters.

In the US/NATO wars in the Middle East the ratio is, according to these numbers, about 1:150, meaning that the average American voter will accept about 150 foreign deaths, or at least Arab deaths, per fallen American soldiers, even if these are innocent civilians.

This piece of trivia should, of course, be digested with some caution: First of all, the high tolerance does not just reflect racial attitudes, but also media censorship and a general obfuscation of death tolls due to the reality on the ground and the transient nature of news reporting.

On the other hand we have to consider that the breaking point is not yet reached in the American population, even if war weariness did prove to have critical mass up to the 2008 Presidential Election.

The Danger of Creating a Faceless Enemy

The drone attacks are carried out from secure sites in America, and technically you can have a zero to infinite ratio of killing, meaning that USA can use their drone force to kill as many as they like in any combat zone they choose, while maintaining a zero casualty rate for the people handling the remote controls.

Absolutely dysproportional warfare or "aproportional warfare", warfare without proportions, stresses the problem of civilian involvement in political conflicts turned violent, also for the Western population, who become the next logical target.

When terrorists, insurgents, freedom fighters or just anybody with a beef with the United States are unable to hit back at a military force, but forced to sit and watch their troops, their installations and infrastructure - and, in many cases, their civilians - suffer attack upon attack by unmanned drones, it creates what Christopher Coker of the London School of Economics calls it a Collision of Psychology and Emotion.

Brooking Institution phrases it this way:
To some, a person who blows themselves up along with a hotel full of civilians is a shaheed carrying out a noble act of jihad. To others, that same person is a fanatical murderer committing an ignoble act of barbarity. Similarly, a pilot who uses a drone to strike with precision from thousands of miles away may see himself as a warrior fighting in full respect of the international laws of war. But 7,000 miles away that very same pilot is described by others as a coward engaging in an act of “heartless terrorism”, as the lyrics of a Pakistani pop song put it.
The concept is called "moral equivalance" by some, and it can be criticized for not taking the circumstances around a conflict and the political motivations and justifications into account.

Still, when it comes to the emotional impact on local populations and the predictable socio-political responses, this argument does not really matter: Objectively, we can predict that with a faceless US military force and countless civilian casualites, enemies will increasingly perceive civilians in the West - at least in countries supportive of US military campaigns - as legitimate targets. It is the only targets drone wars afford.

The logical consequence of Drone Wars is the total obfuscation of rule of law in any armed conflict.

You read it on Geopolitical Dynamics.

If you found this article interesting, please also read The Danger of a Faceless Enemy: How Drone War Turns Citizens Into Prey and How Killer Drones Produce More War

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