Political Animal


December 06, 2012 12:53 PM Drone Surge

By Ed Kilgore

It’s increasingly obvious that the use of drones in Afghanistan has become a way to continue the war at a level of great intensity while “withdrawing” in terms of boots-on-the-ground. Here’s a report from Wired’s Spencer Ackerman, noting that initial reports of drone activity in Afghanistan have been significantly upgraded:

The soldiers and marines are packing their bags. The pilots are sitting on the tarmac. But the armed robotic planes are busier than they’ve ever been: revised U.S. military statistics show a much, much larger drone war in Afghanistan than anyone suspected.
Last month, military stats revealed that the U.S. had launched some 333 drone strikes in Afghanistan thus far in 2012. That made Afghanistan the epicenter of U.S. drone attacks — not Pakistan, not Yemen, not Somalia. But it turns out those stats were off, according to revised ones released by the Air Force on Thursday morning. There have actually been 447 drone strikes in Afghanistan this year. That means drone strikes represent 11.5 percent of the entire air war — up from about 5 percent last year.

It’s not that surprising when you think about the politics involved. Americans tend to dislike wars in a precise ratio to the level of American casualties and/or troop deployments. Thus, Afghanistan aside, the drone surge raises unsettling questions about the propensity of the United States to wage war in a future where robots do the work and nobody here but a handful of critics is paying much attention to the physical or diplomatic damage. More from Ackerman:

U.S. special operations forces underwent a major command overhaul and now operate out of a private base run by the company formerly known as Blackwater. Super-sizing the drone war is fully in line with that broader shift. This may have been the year of the drone in Afghanistan, but the drones aren’t going home any time soon.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • RMcD on December 06, 2012 1:07 PM:

    For all the moral concerns drones raise, it should at least be noted that strikes in Afghanistan are significantly less problematic than are those in Pakistan and Yemen. Unlike the latter countries, Afghanistan is an active and long-standing war zone, the home base for a former offensive against U.S. soil (9/11), and the site of our current occupation, as formally approved by Congress. If drone attacks facilitate our peaceful withdrawal, they are serving legitimate military and political objectives in a reasonable way. I can't say they trouble me much in this context.

  • Robert Abbott on December 06, 2012 1:27 PM:

    I agree with RMcD.

  • Gandalf on December 06, 2012 1:29 PM:

    RMcd-wow dude haven't you ever seen the terminator movies?

  • Alex on December 06, 2012 3:44 PM:

    To RMcD

    Until the next 9/11 comes from people who lost relatives in Afghanistan. In case 9/11 didn't make it clear enough, these guys have looooong memories, and even longer grievance lists against us. Increasing it for no good reason (what exactly are those drones achieveing again?) doesn't sound wise...

  • gratuitous on December 07, 2012 3:34 PM:

    It's reports like this that cause me to emit a thin, papery chuckle over our government's "outrage" that the Syrians might gas their own people. I'm not sure we have any standing to complain about the perpetration of crimes against humanity by others.