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Lethal Drones

Data from the US-based Council on Foreign Relations says the US forces had carried out more than 500 lethal drone strikes from 2001 to 2015, killing an estimated 3,674 militants, including 473 civilians. The Washington-based New America Foundation said drone strikes in Pakistan had killed between 1,700 and 2,700 people in the eight years 2004-2012.

Since 2001, the United States has been killing people with weaponized drones, most times not knowing the identity of the victims. By early 2016, at least 6,000 people had been killed by these drone strikes. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 4 percent of drone victims in Pakistan were identified as a-Qaida members. But vastly more than 2,000 people had been killed there by drones during these years. Another country which suffered heavily under drone strikes is Afghanistan, the most drone bombed country in the world. Between 2001 and 2013, 1,670 drone strikes took place in the country. It was in the city of Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold, where the first strike by a weaponized drone took place in October 2001. The target, Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, was not killed on this day, but many other unknown people had been in the years since.

Since 2009 the US has refused to engage in a physical fight with terrorists on the battlefield, and mostly use killer drones. Drones are low-cost, lethal machines. From a purely counter-terrorism operations standpoint, drones have proven to be extremely effective in Pakistan and in Yemen. But their use comes at a price: they fan local anti-U.S. sentiment. To the extent that our use of force in somebody else’s country creates political resentment, or feeds into concerns about colonialism or American imperialism, or to the extent that it reinforces this notion that the United States is at war with Islam, it can be problematic.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, have also played a growing military role, especially in US campaigns. They provide surveillance, identify targets, and can deliver lethal force - but only if an operator gives the go ahead. But within decades technological advances could write the human operator out of the equation.

In December 2011, in a letter to President Obama, Human Rights watch urged “greater public accountability” for CIA drone strikes. The group also urged Washington to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.” in January 2012 Amnesty International urged the Obama administration to “disclose details of the legal and factual basis for the lethal use of drones in Pakistan and clarify the rules of engagement.”

In a major address at the National Defense University in Washington on May 23, 2013, President Barack Obama has given a framework for ongoing counterterrorism efforts, including the use of drones in direct lethal action against terrorists. He said that when governments cannot stop terrorism on their territory, lethal targeted action, including with drones, is required, but must be held to rigorous standards.

"America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists - our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose - our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty," he sid.

Obama called the use of drones effective, saying they have disrupted many plots, and that they are legal, noting America was attacked on September 11, 2001. But he acknowledged that the new technology raises "profound questions" and the risk of "creating new enemies."

"As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power - or risk abusing it," he said.

In modern warfare, drones and other unmanned vehicles are playing an increasing role, with militaries embracing a technology that they say makes war safer and more effective. But human rights campaigners fear what might be to come - fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention - and they want a new global treaty to stop that from happening.

Human Rights Watch jointly published a report with the Harvard Law School's International Rights Clinic arguing that within 30 years militaries could be armed with autonomous "killer robots." They said such weapons would be inconsistent with international humanitarian law and would increase the risk to civilians during armed conflict.

The government of the United States has been hiding the real data on casualties from deadly drone strikes in the Middle East, Somalia and Afghanistan, the co-founder of CODEPINK anti-war organization told Sputnik on 27 February 2015. "We feel that our government has been hiding the civilian casualties in the illegal nature of the use of drones and we want to expose that in our efforts to stop that," Medea Benjamin said.

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