Political Animal


February 16, 2013 12:24 PM Karzai to ban Afghans from using NATO airstrikes; expected decree highlights drone deficiencies

By Samuel Knight

On Friday, in a written response to questions submitted by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director nominee John Brennan said that the number of civilian casualties caused by drone should be made public, but claimed that they are “rare instances.”

Setting aside the fact that, as Reuters pointed out it, the government “assumes ‘military-aged’ males in the proximity of a drone strike are combatants unless it finds out otherwise,” a development in Afghanistan today cast doubt on Brennan’s claim that civilian casualties arising from targeted assassinations are infrequent.

President Hamid Karzai said that he is planning on issuing a command that will forbid Afghan security forces from appealing for NATO air support in residential areas.

According to the Guardian, Karzai, addressing the National Military Academy in Kabul, said:
“Tomorrow, I will issue an decree stating that under no conditions can Afghan forces request foreign air strikes on Afghan homes or Afghan villages during operations.”

The expected decree, assuming Karzai issues it, will happen just days after an airstrike near the frontier with Pakistan caused the deaths of ten Afghan civilians:

Karzai said he had been told that the air strike was requested by the Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). “If this is true, it is very regrettable and it is very shameful. How could they ask foreigners to send planes and bomb our own houses?”

Why does this decree — which pertains to any sort of airstrike — give Americans an insight into the CIA’s drone-reliant targeted assassinations program? It highlights the peril of launching sorties in asymmetrical warfare. Population centers are frequently targeted. And whether they are launched by UAV, aircraft, submarine, or warship — the targeted killing program doesn’t rely solely on drones — no matter how precise the strikes themselves are, they are only as good as the intelligence that justifies them. In the latest instance, faulty intelligence led to the deaths of ten Afghans.

This unpleasant truth about intelligence and other factors (distrust of self-interested turf war obsessed national security state organs) have led to general skepticism about Brennan’s claims concerning civilian casualties and targeted killings. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, these strikes have led to the fatalities of between 473-893 Pakistani civilians, 72-178 Yemeni civilians, and 11-57 Somali civilians.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • c u n d gulag on February 16, 2013 3:24 PM:

    Oh sure, any collateral male victims are ALL associated with the prime target(s)!

    Sure, that list might include the Halal butcher, the baker of leavened and unleavened bread, and the beeswax candlestick maker (in case of brown/black-outs) - and their male children!

    Obama needs to drastically review HIS drone policy - because it ain't OUR drone policy, since neither he, nor the military personnel in charge of it, report everything to Congress, or to us.

    I'm not saying that this House full of vengeful Village Idiots and clowns, or a Senate full of ancient angry douchebags should dictate drone policy - but, it would be helpful if our drone policy was much, much more transparent.

    I suspect that we make many, many more enemies with each successful drone strike, than actual terrorists that we kill.

  • Doug on February 16, 2013 6:50 PM:

    What can one expect when one of the selling points on the use of drone strikes employs words such as "surgical"? Civilians tend to think of "surgical" in strictly medical terms where, as a result of a certain procedure, something dangerous or harmful to the body's health is corrected. To the military "surgical" apparently ranks between the preciseness attainable by employing a sniper and the destruction resulting from an artillery barrage or bombing run.
    The two ideas are so far apart it's almost laughable, but that's what happens when the DoD tries to "sell" a policy using Madison Avenue techniques, I guess.
    I prefer drones to bombing runs but, as the use of both/either relies so heavily on intelligence it seems to me THAT'S where we're failing. How many drone attacks were launched due to faulty, or even false, intelligence? Then there's the problem of the type of war being fought with these drones. In a "regular" war, gains or losses are measured by how much ground is directly occupied by one's soldiers. This is Vietnam in the mountains and even if we're trying to limit ourselves to a "body count" that consists solely of those leading the enemy and not just any civilian caught in the crossfire, it's STILL a body count and and there are still civilians getting caught in the crossfire. We know how well THAT tactic worked in SE Asia, why does anyone think it will work any better in Afghanistan?

    FWIW, over on DKos, there's a two-part article about this very topic. Part one was last week and was about whether or not the use of drones against Al Qaeda was legal or not (Armando says yes). Tomorrow, in part two, the discussion will be about whether or not our current policy is doing more harm than good and some suggestions. I can highly recommend it

  • Michael Cargal on February 17, 2013 3:23 PM:

    We should call drones what they are: flying killer robots.