The other week, thousands of Pakistanis, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, rose in protest against the use of drones in Pakistan. Drones, unmanned planes following a pre-programmed mission, have become a popular weapon in the CIA’s assault on terrorists hiding in the country. Whilst the US claims that drone attacks have been an important tool in wiping out nine known al-Qaeda leaders (it is believed that Osama Bin Laden’s son Sa’ad was killed in a drone attack), many Pakistani people have grown tired of America’s use of their country as a battlefield. The protest was particularly aimed at the Pakistani government who is believed, although publicly against these attacks, to have allowed the US to operate drones from airfields within Pakistan, as well as secretly sharing information about the suspected whereabouts of terrorists.
Under President Obama the use of drones has dramatically increased. During the Bush administration there were a total of 52 drone strikes, compared to 295 strikes under Obama’s administration. Whilst the Pentagon currently operates 7,000 drones, they have requested in the 2012 budget $5bn from Congress to be put towards drone research and operation. America believes that drone technology is the way forward: not only is it cheaper than traditional military aircraft, but there is also no risk to any crew. This makes drones popular amongst many people with 83% of Americans stating their support of drone strikes in a February 2012 poll.
However, not all Americans are so supportive. James Ricks from Ithaca, joined the protest in Pakistan as he believed that his government ‘is committing international war crimes’ killing innocent civilians. It is unclear how many civilian deaths have been caused by drone attacks; whilst the CIA claim not to know of any civilian victims, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that at least 474 civilians have been killed, out of which 176 were children (total reported killed is 2,572). One must also consider the psychological effect that drones are having on Pakistan’s population. As the medical charity Medcat has stated: ‘in addition to the number of deaths and injuries of innocent civilians, we also have concerns about the psychological damage to people living under the constant threat of drone attack’.
The controversy surrounding drone attacks continues to rage on.