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Drones

#1  Postby Father O Rielly » Jun 09, 2011 4:47 pm

The US has been relying, to an increasing degree, on unmanned drone aircraft to carry out hits on extremists in Pakistan, Yemen, and other places. In today's world some militant groups can cause destruction disproportionate to their actual numbers. They can also, apparently, hide quite successfully in chaotic or near-failing states.

What are the ethics here? Some might say that if culprits can't be reached by more conventional law-enforcement methods, then the missions are justified. If the extremists involved are committed to what is essentially sub-state level warfare, then this is an accepted practice. Some authorities can not, or will not, cooperate in law enforcement in this area. Leaving the extremists in place will very likely mean attacks and innocent deaths in the future.

On the other hand, despite the crowing about ultra-modern technology, it is clear that more innocent people get killed than militants. Targeting individuals from 40,000 ft is still not an exact science. Sure, these people should be arrested if possible, but the law will have to go through its process, without risking bystanders. Resorting to terrorist means just lowers us to their standards.

What do you think?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/world ... el.html?hp
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Re: Drones

#2  Postby laklak » Jun 09, 2011 4:53 pm

It's like any other technology, the morality is dependent on those who wield it. I think that so far it's justified, despite civilian casualties. I don't mean to sound callous, but if you allow militants to take over your village then you put yourself in harms way. I do not believe that in general these militants are an occupying army, forcing themselves on an unwilling civilian populace. The civilian population is complicit, they are supporting and protecting the militants and therefore a degree of collateral damage is acceptable.

That said we should not put too many eggs into the robotic basket. There is no substitute, even on today's high-tech battlefield, for boots on the ground. Skynet, anyone?
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Re: Drones

#3  Postby HomerJay » Jun 09, 2011 4:55 pm


I can't be arsed to register, so I don't know if those are your words or from the article?
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Re: Drones

#4  Postby Father O Rielly » Jun 09, 2011 5:33 pm

laklak wrote:It's like any other technology, the morality is dependent on those who wield it. I think that so far it's justified, despite civilian casualties. I don't mean to sound callous, but if you allow militants to take over your village then you put yourself in harms way. I do not believe that in general these militants are an occupying army, forcing themselves on an unwilling civilian populace. The civilian population is complicit, they are supporting and protecting the militants and therefore a degree of collateral damage is acceptable.

That said we should not put too many eggs into the robotic basket. There is no substitute, even on today's high-tech battlefield, for boots on the ground. Skynet, anyone?


You don't know who those hard noses are who have taken up residence in the crowded allyways of town, but you do know that you don't like them, and further, those that have asked too many questions have come to grief. You are more concerned about scratching out a living for your six kids and wife in a brutal economy. You come home one day and find your shack is a burning ruin, kids dead. Collateral damage, the US is saying. How complicit are you?
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Re: Drones

#5  Postby Father O Rielly » Jun 09, 2011 5:34 pm

HomerJay wrote:

I can't be arsed to register, so I don't know if those are your words or from the article?


My words.
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Re: Drones

#6  Postby laklak » Jun 09, 2011 5:47 pm

Father O Rielly wrote:
You don't know who those hard noses are who have taken up residence in the crowded allyways of town, but you do know that you don't like them, and further, those that have asked too many questions have come to grief. You are more concerned about scratching out a living for your six kids and wife in a brutal economy. You come home one day and find your shack is a burning ruin, kids dead. Collateral damage, the US is saying. How complicit are you?


I seriously doubt that they have no idea who the hard asses are. Like I doubt the locals had no idea who was living in that decrepit mansion in Abbottabad. Or for that matter that the Pakistani authorities didn't know. From what I've seen, these hard asses don't exactly hide their presence, they're out there digging pits to stone women to death in, burning schools, flogging and hanging people. If a bunch of white supremacist militiamen took up residence in my neighborhood I'd certainly know about it. That said, I'm sure there are people who don't know, or don't support them and are too terrified of reprisals to speak out. I'm sorry for that, but it doesn't change my decision to use the drones rather than attempt a capture. Sometimes life sucks.

It isn't as easy as it looks to fly a SEAL team into hostile territory, evading small arms or even more sophisticated air defenses, land in an urban area controlled by hostile armed forces, fight through a rabbit warren of streets, find the person they're looking for, extract him without harm, get back to the copters (which have to be defended by more troops during this whole process), and then get out safely. I think it's one HELL of a lot harder than it looks and that's why it isn't done more often, but I'd have to defer to Weaver on that one.

Drones certainly aren't foolproof, but they're a hell of a lot more accurate than carpet bombing.
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Re: Drones

#7  Postby Weaver » Jun 09, 2011 6:59 pm

Father O Rielly wrote:The US has been relying, to an increasing degree, on unmanned drone aircraft to carry out hits on extremists in Pakistan, Yemen, and other places. In today's world some militant groups can cause destruction disproportionate to their actual numbers. They can also, apparently, hide quite successfully in chaotic or near-failing states.

What are the ethics here? Some might say that if culprits can't be reached by more conventional law-enforcement methods, then the missions are justified. If the extremists involved are committed to what is essentially sub-state level warfare, then this is an accepted practice. Some authorities can not, or will not, cooperate in law enforcement in this area. Leaving the extremists in place will very likely mean attacks and innocent deaths in the future.

On the other hand, despite the crowing about ultra-modern technology, it is clear that more innocent people get killed than militants. Targeting individuals from 40,000 ft is still not an exact science. Sure, these people should be arrested if possible, but the law will have to go through its process, without risking bystanders. Resorting to terrorist means just lowers us to their standards.

What do you think?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/world ... el.html?hp
Emphasis mine.

You have yet to establish the bolded bit ... it's not clear at all, especially when the missions are highly classified.

From my own interaction with a variety of armed and unarmed manned and unmanned aircraft across two theaters of war, I can tell you avoiding innocent casualties is a huge priority. Certainly mistakes happen - not least because terrorists routinely seek cover among innocents - but multiple measures are put in place to try to avoid this sort of collateral damage.

Please don't go talking about the difficulty in targeting from any particular altitude until you have some experience using the systems and seeing imagery available - as yet, you simply don't know enough to express a meaningful opinion on the subject.
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Re: Drones

#8  Postby mrjonno » Jun 09, 2011 7:06 pm

The tricky one of the value of NATO soldiers versus the value of civilian lives. I think in war time the balance is definitely in favour of the NATO soldiers but I'm far from convinced we are at 'war'
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Re: Drones

#9  Postby Father O Rielly » Jun 09, 2011 7:57 pm

laklak wrote:
Father O Rielly wrote:
You don't know who those hard noses are who have taken up residence in the crowded allyways of town, but you do know that you don't like them, and further, those that have asked too many questions have come to grief. You are more concerned about scratching out a living for your six kids and wife in a brutal economy. You come home one day and find your shack is a burning ruin, kids dead. Collateral damage, the US is saying. How complicit are you?


I seriously doubt that they have no idea who the hard asses are. Like I doubt the locals had no idea who was living in that decrepit mansion in Abbottabad. Or for that matter that the Pakistani authorities didn't know. From what I've seen, these hard asses don't exactly hide their presence, they're out there digging pits to stone women to death in, burning schools, flogging and hanging people. If a bunch of white supremacist militiamen took up residence in my neighborhood I'd certainly know about it. That said, I'm sure there are people who don't know, or don't support them and are too terrified of reprisals to speak out. I'm sorry for that, but it doesn't change my decision to use the drones rather than attempt a capture. Sometimes life sucks.

It isn't as easy as it looks to fly a SEAL team into hostile territory, evading small arms or even more sophisticated air defenses, land in an urban area controlled by hostile armed forces, fight through a rabbit warren of streets, find the person they're looking for, extract him without harm, get back to the copters (which have to be defended by more troops during this whole process), and then get out safely. I think it's one HELL of a lot harder than it looks and that's why it isn't done more often, but I'd have to defer to Weaver on that one.

Drones certainly aren't foolproof, but they're a hell of a lot more accurate than carpet bombing.


There are about 180 million people in Pakistan, a country not well known for its easy access to information. How many of those have crucial information? How many may know something, but are afraid of getting killed if they speak up? The purpose of burying themsleves in crowed urban areas is precisely to hide- and so stonings and hangings would certainly defeat that purpose. If the purpose was not to hide, then they may as well move into a farmhouse with "cruise missiles here" painted on the roof.

I live in a city of about 350,000, and I certainly have no idea what most of those people are doing at any one time. There could be odd-ball plots going on not far from me, without my knowledge. I most certainly do not anticipate, nor do I think would be fair or ethical, stray bullets from the swat team coming through the wall of my house, because I happened to be to close to some criminal goings on. If those white supremacists did move into your neighbourhood, intending to hide, would you really know about it? What does a white supremacist look like?
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Re: Drones

#10  Postby HomerJay » Jun 09, 2011 8:08 pm

Father O Rielly wrote:What does a white supremacist look like?

Is it something like this?
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Re: Drones

#11  Postby Father O Rielly » Jun 09, 2011 8:21 pm

Weaver wrote:
Father O Rielly wrote:The US has been relying, to an increasing degree, on unmanned drone aircraft to carry out hits on extremists in Pakistan, Yemen, and other places. In today's world some militant groups can cause destruction disproportionate to their actual numbers. They can also, apparently, hide quite successfully in chaotic or near-failing states.

What are the ethics here? Some might say that if culprits can't be reached by more conventional law-enforcement methods, then the missions are justified. If the extremists involved are committed to what is essentially sub-state level warfare, then this is an accepted practice. Some authorities can not, or will not, cooperate in law enforcement in this area. Leaving the extremists in place will very likely mean attacks and innocent deaths in the future.

On the other hand, despite the crowing about ultra-modern technology, it is clear that more innocent people get killed than militants. Targeting individuals from 40,000 ft is still not an exact science. Sure, these people should be arrested if possible, but the law will have to go through its process, without risking bystanders. Resorting to terrorist means just lowers us to their standards.

What do you think?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/world ... el.html?hp
Emphasis mine.

You have yet to establish the bolded bit ... it's not clear at all, especially when the missions are highly classified.

From my own interaction with a variety of armed and unarmed manned and unmanned aircraft across two theaters of war, I can tell you avoiding innocent casualties is a huge priority. Certainly mistakes happen - not least because terrorists routinely seek cover among innocents - but multiple measures are put in place to try to avoid this sort of collateral damage.

Please don't go talking about the difficulty in targeting from any particular altitude until you have some experience using the systems and seeing imagery available - as yet, you simply don't know enough to express a meaningful opinion on the subject.


Your reply suggests that you think those not technically involved with an issue should not comment on it. Following this line of logic, those with no medical training should not have an opinion of abortion, no training in economics means no comments on the economy. Education? Only if you hold a teaching degree please. Etc.

In fact people do inform themselves about issues, and speak about them- right here on this forum for example. What we are discussing here is not the altitude from which you feel accuracy is assured, or for that matter is the intent to make judgements about air force technicians, but the merits, pro or con, or these types of operations. It would be tedious- to the point that I am not going to do it- to research the net and compile a list of all the unintended civilian casualties that have occured in recent years from air attack. The question is: is it worth it? Some that have been killed were no loss to humanity. Others were. In fact threre is a broader range of questions that this issue opens up, and I am hoping to see some comment on them, one way or another.
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Re: Drones

#12  Postby willhud9 » Jun 09, 2011 8:36 pm

Weaver, what rank and what branch are you? You probably either have answered that question tons of times or you cannot disclose that information but I am merely curious.
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Re: Drones

#13  Postby Weaver » Jun 09, 2011 8:45 pm

I am a Sergeant First Class, primary branch is Artillery (Fire Direction) though for the last 2.5 years I've been the Battalion Intelligence Sergeant.

Father O, though you have indeed probably seen most if not all the reports civilian deaths from "drone" strikes, you have no way of knowing which of those were accurate reports, which contained partial or full fabrication, and no way at all of knowing what the enemy count was. You have no meaningful way to compare the two classes - valid enemy vs innocent civilian - because that information simply isn't available to you - nor should it be. But do you really, truly think that our government, across two administrations and with all the civilian oversight at various levels, would continue a program which killed more civilians than enemy?
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Re: Drones

#14  Postby mrjonno » Jun 09, 2011 10:02 pm

But do you really, truly think that our government, across two administrations and with all the civilian oversight at various levels, would continue a program which killed more civilians than enemy?


I didn't think there had been a conflict in history where more civilians weren't killed than combatants?
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Re: Drones

#15  Postby Father O Rielly » Jun 11, 2011 12:56 am

Weaver wrote:I am a Sergeant First Class, primary branch is Artillery (Fire Direction) though for the last 2.5 years I've been the Battalion Intelligence Sergeant.

Father O, though you have indeed probably seen most if not all the reports civilian deaths from "drone" strikes, you have no way of knowing which of those were accurate reports, which contained partial or full fabrication, and no way at all of knowing what the enemy count was. You have no meaningful way to compare the two classes - valid enemy vs innocent civilian - because that information simply isn't available to you - nor should it be. But do you really, truly think that our government, across two administrations and with all the civilian oversight at various levels, would continue a program which killed more civilians than enemy?


During the Second World War, the US, with Britain, Canada, and others, undertook massive bombing of cities in Germany and Japan, in an attempt to shorten the war by suggesting (and going a long way towards) total destruction of their societies. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. When weighed against the alternatives- heavy American casualties and possible Soviet invasion and post-war presence in Japan- nuclear weapons were used on Japanese civilians. In the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, the air war was also intense, with many, many civilain casulaties sacraficed for war aims. Bombing, by some measures, exceeded the intensity of WW2 during the final stage of the Vietnam conflict, for the purpose of getting a peace treaty and withdrawal of US forces. In other words, if the situation has been deemed important enough, high rates of non-combatant deaths have been accepted. Today's conflicts can be said to be more limited, and also the weapons more precise. But the risks are also very high. Just a very small group of extremists with a nuclear weapon could do immense damage. Or as we have seen, even without one the outrages could be extreme.

Considering these stakes, and the historical record, in answer to your question, yes I absolutely think the US government would continue a program with (unintentional and regretable) high civilian casualties.

As for the numbers killed, I don't know if they are in the hundreds, or thousands; or if in the case of drone strikes they actually exceed suspects killed, or are a percentage of the total. As you say, there are various reports. In one interview with drone operators, they claimed that there simply were no mistakes. This is highly suspect. Even US and NATO authorites have admitted that civilian casualties from conventional air attack have been high enough that this is causing the danger of a serious rift between them and the Afghan people and government. Is your argument that drones are incredibly more effective, even with the added difficulties of remote operation, and not having direct access to target areas?

And anyway, the question is an ethical one, not a technical one. What are the arguments for or against what is essentially assassination of suspected criminals? How much inadvertant death is acceptable? Is any?
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Re: Drones

#16  Postby Weaver » Jun 11, 2011 1:04 am

There are a lot of reasons there are reports of civilian casualties following various operations. One of the ones you never hear reported much, but which happens quite frequently, is that inter-tribal or criminal acts are carried out at the same general time as the bombing raids, and the bodies are moved to the bombing sites to try to kill two birds with one stone - take out a rival, and blame it on the Americans. And this doesn't just happen with air operations - it happens after ground fights as well. I was involved in one case where the family of a man claimed that Coalition Forces had killed him with machine gun fire - from such a range that the bullet would have been travelling at about walking speed and sideways. He was murdered by insurgents, then they tried to convince the family we had done it. Stuff like this happens all the time - the enemy has learned how to use and twist the uncritical media reporting to their purposes - and since they often control local communications sources (through violence, bribery or intimidation) their message resonates with the locals. We counter with such things as providing free radios to the locals so they can get unvarnished news beyond the marketplace gossips, and it helps - but we haven't learned to counter the messages in the global media that you, among many others, seem to be taken in by.

I simply cannot get into details on how I know that the casualty rate for civilians injured or killed in aircraft operations is far lower than actual enemy killed and wounded, but it is. I know that nothing I say will convince you, so I'm just going to drop out of this discussion now - less frustrating for all of us.
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Re: Drones

#17  Postby HomerJay » Jun 11, 2011 10:31 am

Weaver wrote:I simply cannot get into details on how I know that the casualty rate for civilians injured or killed in aircraft operations is far lower than actual enemy killed and wounded, but it is. I know that nothing I say will convince you, so I'm just going to drop out of this discussion now - less frustrating for all of us.

This is very poor Weaver, you can't claim special knowledge, claim it is protected and then say I'll not discuss it further.

This reduces the worth of this post to zero.

It is so poor people will question your reasons for posting it, after having dismissed it's content as propaganda the next question is why you are diseminating such claims.

The numbers are simply a side show, it isn't the salient point.
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Re: Drones

#18  Postby Weaver » Jun 11, 2011 11:11 am

You're probably right - I shouldn't have gotten involved in the topic in the first place. But as the entire discussion of numbers and targeting is veering into classified territory, I will not continue further.

Whether that makes everything else I've said on the subject worthless is up to each person to decide. But all I've said is that I won't go further - that doesn't in itself invalidate the other material I've posted on the subject.

And I'm not sure it is a side show - the OP made an assertion that UAS strikes were killing more civilians than legitimate targets, and used that as a basis to question the morality of the strikes. If that contention can be shown to be incorrect - which it is - doesn't that alter the morality question?
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Re: Drones

#19  Postby Nicko » Jun 11, 2011 11:19 am

Personally, whist I disagree with Weaver's position on some issues regarding violence, my own recollection of his history on this site leads me to believe he places a high value on honesty and accuracy. I am certain that he believes his statements to be true.

HJ has made a valid point, however.
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Re: Drones

#20  Postby willhud9 » Jun 11, 2011 4:46 pm

HomerJay wrote:
Weaver wrote:I simply cannot get into details on how I know that the casualty rate for civilians injured or killed in aircraft operations is far lower than actual enemy killed and wounded, but it is. I know that nothing I say will convince you, so I'm just going to drop out of this discussion now - less frustrating for all of us.

This is very poor Weaver, you can't claim special knowledge, claim it is protected and then say I'll not discuss it further.


Probably because if he told you, he'd have to kill you. ;)

My father, who spent 14 years in the armed forces, says the same exact thing, civilian deaths are quite low to military deaths. In fact, many of my friends and family who currently serve in the armed forces say the same exact thing.

But, in fact, homerjay can you prove that civilians deaths are higher than enemy military casualties? The US, especially, bends over backwards to prevent civilian deaths, even to the point of letting known suspects go because they were hiding in a hospital.
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