digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

UAVs, through the lens of another war

April 20, 2009 _ 13:29 / Caitlin McNally / comments (0)

As we continue to investigate the military's use of technology, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently made public his budget recommendations. He encourages controversial cuts to programs geared towards traditional warfare, while indicating an increased focus on new technologies designed for what the Pentagon refers to as counter-insurgency operations. The proposed budget (an overall increase of 4% from FY2009) includes the acquisition of 50 additional Predator and Reaper drones. As mentioned in one of our posts recently, the Obama administration stated they intend to accelerate the use of drones in attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan. On Sunday, three militants were reportedly killed in what is believed to be the fourth strike by U.S. drones in the tribal areas this month.

Critics, along with the Pakistani government, continue to express concerns that UAV attacks have resulted in new recruits for the Taliban, have increasingly alienated the Pakistani people and are undermining the United States' campaign in the region. Children of the Taliban, which aired last week on FRONTLINE/World, sheds more light on the current situation there. According to that report, 30 or more bombs have been dropped in the past year: some of the dead are most certainly civilians, but reports on the numbers vary. Meanwhile the Taliban continue to make inroads in the heart of Pakistan outside the tribal areas, despite the ongoing efforts of the Pakistani Army. An estimated one million refugees have been forced from their homes as a result of the fighting. The government has conceded much of the Swat Valley, less than 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, agreeing to allow militants to impose Islamic law there in exchange for a cease-fire.

Here in the U.S., the debate over the military's use of drones continues, both on a tactical level and on moral grounds. And how does it affect the U.S. soldiers who carry out these missions and Americans in general? Does this feel like real war? How tangible is the loss of human life?

I find myself returning to Peter Davis' landmark documentary Hearts and Minds, and this moment in particular: near the beginning of Hearts and Minds, two bomber pilots, Lt. George Coker and Cpt. Randy Floyd, describe how at the time, flying those missions in Vietnam felt like a technical exercise, sometimes exciting, and clean. But as we saw at the end of the film--a moment that has always stayed with me--the legacy of those experiences was very different for Floyd and perhaps much of America.

What does our continued use of drones mean to you? We will continue to explore the topic here on this site and look forward to your input.

-- Sam

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posted February 2, 2010

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