Drones: What's the Fuss About?

The rationale for the drone strikes, which started in Pakistan, was that Americans were being targeted from a foreign country that wouldn't let us in to do something about it. And what is more, nothing, or not much, was being done by Pakistan to curb the terrorist activities that were being carried out into Afghanistan. What is still more, elements within Pakistan were at the least encouraging these activities, as, for example, a former top-level officer of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (the ISI) and at the most, aiding and abetting these cross-border operations aimed at killing, among others, Americans. Given the fact that Pakistan is playing a double game in Afghanistan, helping American anti-terrorist actions episodically, but also protecting its "near abroad" against India by maintaining links with the Taliban, it was unthinkable that Pakistan would have been cut in beforehand on the impending attack against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad last May. In the event, Pakistani officials sharply complained about the violation of the country's sovereignty that the secret killing of bin Laden brought into view, but at the same time showed little understanding of the astounding operation that brought down the greatest mass murderer of our time. Indeed, many in Pakistan continue to admire bin Laden as a hero.

So, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, and now seemingly in West Africa, the drones have been a reliable source of intelligence and, equipped with missiles, a lethal and potentially accurate weapon. The most prominent example of the latter was the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, the founding father of the Pakistani Taliban, as he lay on a charpoy on the roof of a farmhouse in South Waziristan on Aug. 5, 2009.

Unquestionably, there have been a number of innocent people killed in drone attacks, either by proximity and/or mistake. But what is this in comparison to the land invasions and mass aerial bombings of the pre-drone era?