The use of drones in what is termed ‘the war against terrorism’ has become very controversial, wherever in the world. Now that the US drone programme has passed five years under President Obama’s national security strategy it has been estimated that the death toll by drone strikes is at least 2,400 people.

By Md. Sariful Islam, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka

Although the US is claiming that drone strikes are crucially important, are legal and justified, the actual picture shows something else. According to the United Nations and some international human rights organizations, the USA has attained the position of world’s number one user of targeted killings with the ever increasing number of drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A study conducted by a USA military adviser has found that drone strikes in Afghanistan during one year of protracted conflict caused 10 times more civilian casualties than strikes by manned fighter aircraft. The Brookings Institution estimated in July 2009 that a ratio of ten civilians die for every militant killed in a drone strike. But information from the people of drone affected areas tells the number is around 50 civilians per strike.

UN Human Rights Council Special Investigator Philip Alston chastised the USA for failing to track, investigate, and punish low ranking soldiers for drone strikes that kill civilians, for failing to tell the public the extent of civilian deaths, and for not compensating families of victims.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said, “This attack shows that American forces are not respecting the life and safety of Afghan people’s houses… for years, our innocent people have become victims of the war under the name of terrorism, and they have had no safety in their homes.”

He has also lashed out saying that the United States should leave Afghanistan unless it can restart peace talks with the Taliban and to back this up he has showed his unwillingness to sign a security pact with Washington.

Unfortunately, such steps by President Karzai can hardly make an effect on the existing USA led drone strike and Afghanistan has failed to make any real difference on the USA strategy of uprooting terrorism through drone strikes. Thus civilian casualties caused by drone attacks are not only increasing the tension between Kabul and Washington but also exacerbating the ‘war against terrorism’.

The infractions deteriorate the very aim of the drone attacks and keeps fueling anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan. One of the kernels of the drone attacks is, the anti-American sentiment is not only confined to the territory of Afghanistan but rather it has spread widely and especially in the Muslim world. It is also be worth noting that attacks on innocent civilians has become subject to castigation throughout the world and even most of the people of the USA, which shows democratic heresy when it comes to drone attacks that have created carnage among civilians. But the USA continuously tries to justify the killings of innocents by saying that insurgents take the opportunity to hide among civilians and use them as human shields and that it is very difficult to separate insurgents from civilians in the course of aerial attack.

The gruesome picture of the terrorism and drone attack nexus cannot be expressed in words. Let us try to understand how terrorism differs under different points of view. When people of a society live under the cloud of drones – they fear, passing every moment thinking they are on the point of death and can be killed at any moment, they see the torn apart bodies of their innocent children and beloved ones, then, whom will they consider terrorists? Taliban or the drone-launchers? Without doubt, their answer will be the drone-attackers. Can the offer of a formal apology by the top USA general in Afghanistan compensate those for what they lost? Does the deepest sympathy of the USA military towards the victims make good their losses?

The goal of drone attacks have not been successfully met rather it has cause severe anti-American sentiments. People are expressing their disgust against the formidable USA led drone attacks. Yet, the USA repeatedly defends its position on the drone issue telling of the importance of the safety of USA itself and this ‘war against terrorism’ but the increasing death toll of the innocent civilians and the continuing survival of Taliban prove the entire strategy of drone strikes has failed.

USA drones regularly striking at top Afghan Taliban leaders but in most of the cases these remain untouched. Instead of improving the situation, drone strikes increase terrorist recruitment along with causing immense human misery.

Think about the US intervention in Afghanistan, 12 years have passed but the Taliban still remains a strong and organized force – representing the failure of USA strategies. Taliban continues to attack Afghan and Coalition forces regularly. It clearly indicates the strength of the Taliban and raises the question of effectiveness of the drone strategy in Afghanistan by the USA.

It is further noteworthy that every killing of an innocent civilian gives birth of new Taliban members from the victim’s families who are furiously angry and seeking revenge. The strategy has created more enemies instead of reducing their number. Thus, the strategy of using drone strike to eliminate terror has hopelessly failed.

More attention should be given on pragmatic, human-centric approach and diplomatic solutions to change the existing situation and establish a peaceful environment in war-torn Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the USA army can form a joint task force for the strong and effective military establishment of Afghanistan so that they can strengthen their capacity to combat insurgency and extremism. The local air force should be modernized through special aid packages and aerial vigilance should be stepped up instead of aerial drone attack. It is high time to take necessary steps to achieve an early end of such devastating drone strategy and to reach towards reconciliation.

The denouement of these devastating drone strikes is, the increased terrorism in the Muslim world along with the Pak-Afghan territory and certainly it poses a big threat towards having a peaceful world. Lastly, the debate continues and the question remains unanswered, “Is it justified continuing drone attack in the name of fighting against terrorism?”