Drones, by the numbers

January 30, 2015

Drones tend not to be seen as especially funny. Still, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart was able to extract some humor from them after a government employee crashed a toy drone on the White House lawn at 3 a.m. this week.

As this Reuters graphic shows, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation, drone and cruise missiles have been a part of the global anti-militant campaign since 2002, with 396 total strikes taking place in Pakistan and 118 occurring in Yemen. The frequency of strikes increased in late 2008, and then rose substantially once President Obama took office, peaking in 2010, when they killed at least 609 in Pakistan. Since then the frequency has somewhat abated, and the majority of monthly strikes have shifted to targets in Yemen. Drones killed 411 Yemenis in 2012, the worst year for deaths in that country.

A July, 2014, Pew Research Center poll found that “In 39 of 44 countries surveyed, majorities or pluralities oppose U.S. drone strikes targeting extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” In that poll, 66 percent of Pakistanis disapproved of drone use, with only 3 percent in approval; when asked the same question the year before, 68 percent of Pakistanis disapproved, against just 5 percent approval. The numbers seem clear-cut, but articles in both The Atlantic and The Economist have made the argument that the calculus is more complex, owing to questions about the integrity of the data based on, among other things, bias selection and a Pakistani populace that can be too intimidated to contradict popular opinion.

Despite the opposition of a vocal minority, the majority of U.S. opinion supports drone use on targets deemed threats, although Pew numbers show that approval decreasing. Ultimately, though, public opinion doesn’t decide military policy, and the use of drones continues; in 2015 unmanned strikes have already killed 30.

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The US has a complete range of land, sea, and air drones, but recent air shows reveal that at least 65 countries, including Arab lands that are in legal states of war with Israel, have similar capabilities. Also, China and Russia engage in frequent military exercises that integrate drones with human land, sea, and air forces. The essential parts are allocation of frequencies for command and control, reports from “battle” areas, changes of mission objectives to conform to “battlefield” reports, orders to stand down when the “mission” is achieved, and resupply and repair to prepare for the next “mission.” Humans must practice with their drones to become proficient with them, as the White House incident shows.

Posted by carlmartel | Report as abusive