Drone Strikes 2013: Everything You Need to Know About Drones


The U.S. military has used drones in its combat operations and counter-terrorism as early as 2002. The use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) aka drones, and their operations have been kept "secret" as the U.S. government refused to acknowledge their existence until late last year. The U.S. government argued that this was a matter of national security. Further, the U.S. argued, most recently with President Obama’s foreign policy address, that the use of drones is legal as the U.S. is in a state of war against Al-Qaeda. International law experts are often in contention about the legality of targeted killings (see this web seminar and this post).

Over the course of the past couple of years there were multiple attempts to create a comprehensive mobile app to track drone strikes. Apple has rejected all attempts to distribute an application that would notify their users every time a U.S. drone strike occur, but mockups of drone apps have emerged. 

There are different resources available for those interested in tracking U.S. drone activity. However, most of these resources only track reported drone strikes, and do not include areas where the U.S. uses UAVs solely for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. These types of activities are often secret and are generally not reported on.

The Washington Post keeps a very well-detailed accounting of major areas where UCAVs are used, notably in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The list is kept up to date, although not updated on a daily basis, as it appears recent strikes in Pakistan haven't been added to the list. The tracker indicates that the U.S. had 353 strikes in Pakistan since 2004 & another 58 strikes in Somalia/Yemen since 2002.  

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism runs a similar platform that monitors the "Covert Drone War." Through their accounting they note the following for Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia:

Pakistan Strikes:

369 in total, 317 under President Obama

Total reported killed: 2,541-3,540

Civilians reported killed: 411-884

Children reported killed: 168-197

Total reported injured: 1,174-1,479

Yemen Strikes:

Confirmed US drone strikes: 46-56

Total reported killed: 240-349

Civilians reported killed: 14-49 

Children reported killed: 2 

Reported injured: 62-144

Possible extra US drone strikes: 79-98

Total reported killed: 282-450

Civilians reported killed: 25-48

Children reported killed: 9-10

Reported injured: 78-101

Somalia Strikes:

US drone strikes: 3-9

Total reported killed: 7-27

Civilians reported killed: 0-15

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-24

A group of mappers created a crisis map that tracks all reported strikes in Pakistan, locating geographically where the strikes had occurred. Another source of information on Drone Strikes is the instagram/tumblr account called DroneStagram that shows satellite imagery (archival via Google Earth/Maps) of locations where strikes have taken place. In the case of strikes in Pakistan, overlaying the KML files from the crisis map above will allow you to view the most recent publicly available imagery of the place where a strike has taken place. 

View U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan in a larger map

A detailed map of where drones the D.O.D currently employs drones in the U.S. in addition to future plans can be found on Public Intelligence's website. For a detailed accounting of which Branch operates UAVs and what types are employed in the U.S., check out this infographic:

In March of 2013 and in November 2012 there were incidents in the Persian Gulf between the U.S and Iran. Iran claimed that U.S. predator drones had entered its airspace. In 2011, a surveillance drone operated by the CIA reportedly malfunctioned and crashed, Iran disputed this claim and said their forces had managed to electronically control the drone and land it in Iran.

U.S. holds several drones bases across the world. Micah Zenko of the Council of Foreign Relations's article "Where the Drones Are" details those drone bases; they are located in an astounding variety of places: Incirlik (Turkey), Jalalabad Airfield, Khost Airfield, Kandahar Airfield, Shindand Airfield (Afghanistan), Zamboanga, (Philippines), Al-Udeid Air Base (Qatar), Al-Dhafra Air Base (United Arab Emirates), Al-Anad Air Base (Yemen), Arba Minch, (Ethiopia), Camp Lemonier, (Djibouti), Mahe (Seychelles). The CIA has reportedly operated a "secret base" in Saudi Arabia since 2011. In the past few days reports emerged that the U.S. has led drones operations from their base in Germany, a claim Germany disputes.

With growing demand for more transparency in the drone program, we might soon come to learn that the U.S. has used drones in other arenas.

A couple of maps that highlight where U.S. drone bases are located can be found on Google Maps: