Throughout the War on Terror, the United States has continuously utilized drones despite knowing that these tactics kill indiscriminately. Last month, an airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, which the U.S. military said was supposed to target suicide bombers, killed at least 10 civilians, including a suspected seven kids. Now, two Senate Democrats are calling on President Biden to find a way to stop killing civilians with drone warfare.
On Monday, Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked Biden to consider "the moral and strategic consequences of our nation's post-9/11 counterterrorism policies." The two pointed specifically to the military's use of drones, noting, "Far too many people are erroneously labeled as targets based on faulty or inadequate intelligence."
Durbin and Leahy continued: "These failures fuel resentment towards the United States that boost terrorist recruitment, undermining the central goal of counterterrorism over both the short and long-term. It is firmly in our nation's interest to reduce the number of civilian casualties we cause and respond to civilian harm wherever it happens with rigorous investigations, public acknowledgement, and amends, including through condolence payments."
It's hard to know exactly how many civilians have been killed by drones. One analysis by Airwars, a harm monitoring group, estimated that at least 22,000 civilians have been killed based off the U.S. military's assertion that it has conducted 100,000 airstrikes since 2001. However, the same analysis noted that the number could be as high as 48,000.
In a press release from Columbia Law Human Rights Clinics's Counting Drone Strike Deaths, acting director Naureen Shah said, "Drone strike casualty estimates are substituting for hard facts and information about the drone program. These are good faith efforts to count civilian deaths, but it's the U.S. government that owes the public an accounting of who is being killed, especially as it continues expanding secret done operations in new places around the world."
Biden has cut back on the use of drones. In March, Insider reported that there hadn't been any since he took office. Obviously, that's no longer the case now. While the U.S. military celebrated the August strike at first, it has since changed its position. Earlier this month, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that the airstrike was a "tragic mistake".
McKenzie also said that the airstrike "did not come up to our standards" and that "clearly the intelligence was wrong." These words, however, ring hollow. The U.S military has been aware of the fact that drones kill civilians for some time. It has simply decided again and again that their lives were worth trading.