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Ear to the Ground

Drones Far Deadlier to Civilians Than Conventional Aircraft

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Posted on Jul 2, 2013
meeshypants (CC BY 2.0)

Drone strikes cause 10 times the number of civilian casualties that manned aircraft attacks do, a U.S. military study found, contradicting claims that robotic planes are more precise than their human operated counterparts.

The study looked at a year of fighting in Afghanistan. It undermines this claim made by President Obama in his speech on unmanned aircraft in May: “Conventional air power or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage.”

According to its classified executive summary, the study found that drone strikes were “an order of magnitude more likely to result in civilian casualties per engagement.”

The subject period was the most intense during the 12-year-long Afghanistan War. From mid-2010 to mid-2011, Gen. David Petraeus reversed airstrike restrictions instated by his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that were intended to reduce Afghan outrage over dead civilians. By February 2011, pilots of drones and conventional planes ran 10 missions daily, nearly twice the rate of the previous year.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research group with close ties to the US military, studied air strikes in Afghanistan from mid-2010 to mid-2011, using classified military data on the strikes and the civilian casualties they caused. Lewis told the Guardian he found that the missile strikes conducted by remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones, were 10 times more deadly to Afghan civilians than those performed by fighter jets.

… But “the potential for [citizens to be] surprised” by the higher rates of civilians killed by drones led Lewis and his co-author, Sarah Holewinski of the non-governmental organization Center for Civilians in Conflict, to refer to Lewis’ findings in an article for Prism, a journal published by the Center for Complex Operations at the Defense Department’s National Defense University.

… “These findings show us that it’s not about the technology, it’s about how the technology is used,” said Holewinski. “Drones aren’t magically better at avoiding civilians than fighter jets. When pilots flying jets were given clear directives and training on civilian protection, they were able to lower civilian casualty rates.”

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