UAV Strikes In Afghanistan Quietly Rise. Civilian Casualties Drop. Observers’ Heads Explode

Seriously, check out what I’ve just reported at the Washington Independent. Complete with drone-strike numbers, broken down by month.

The spike in recent months compared to the previous year looks like the result of a combination of factors. First, the increased operational tempo of U.S. troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan’s south and east, despite the (increasingly less relevant) traditional winter lull. Second, senior military leaders like Central Command’s Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq’s Gen. Raymond Odierno have spoken for months about accelerating the transfer of combat-support assets like surveillance drones to Afghanistan; and those drones can be outfitted with Hellfire missiles. “More strikes by these aircraft is probably best understood as a function of more ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] -and-strike capable assets flowing to the theater,” Sholtis said. And finally, the precision capabilities contained within the remotely-piloted drones satisfy McChrystal’s guidance for a “a higher degree of certainty, patience and restraint in employing air strikes,” in Sholtis’ phrase. Or, as a Marine officer quoted in the Washington Post put it, “It has pinpoint precision, and it limits collateral damage.”

An increase in drone strikes corresponding with an internationally-recognized drop in U.S./NATO-caused civilian casualties. I’m surprised, to say the least.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman