US crew faulted for 21 civilian drone deaths

The deadly attack occurred on February 21 after the unmanned Predator drone, controlled by a crew at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, spotted three vehicles on a main road in Uruzgan province about 12km from where US Special Forces and Afghan soldiers were tracking suspected fighters, the report said.

Suspecting the convoy contained fighters, the ground commander ordered an
airstrike, and US helicopters fired missiles at the vehicles, it added.

But the attack order was based on inaccurate information from the Predator
crew and a flawed analysis of the situation by US commanders, according to Army Major General Timothy McHale, the author of the report.
Fox News - no reporting of story found
CNN - no reporting of story found
FP mounts a defnce of Drone Wars. By C.Christine Fair
During his testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2009, David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency advisor to Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, said it was time for the United States to "call off the drones." Later that month, Kilcullen and Andrew M. Exum, who served as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004, published a provocative editorial in the New York Times, titled "Death From Above: Outrage from Below," in which they estimated that over the "past three years" drones had killed just 14 "terrorist leaders" at the price of some 700 civilian lives. "This is 50 civilians for every militant killed," they wrote, "a hit rate of 2 percent." Their conclusion? Drone strikes produce more terrorists than they eliminate-an assertion that has become an article of faith among drone-strike opponents.

It would be a damning argument -- if the data weren't simply bogus. The only publicly available civilian casualty figures for drone strikes in Pakistan come from their targets: the Pakistani Taliban, which report the alleged numbers to the Pakistani press, which dutifully publishes the fiction. No one has independently verified the Taliban's reports -- journalists cannot travel to FATA to confirm the deaths, and the CIA will not even acknowledge the drone program exists, much less discuss its results. But high-level Pakistani officials have conceded to me that very few civilians have been killed by drones and their innocence is often debatable. U.S. officials who are knowledgeable of the program report similar findings. In fact, since January 1 there has not been one confirmed civilian casualty from drone strikes in FATA.

Not only do drone opponents rely upon these fictitious reports of civilian casualties, they also tend to conflate drone strikes in Pakistan with air strikes in Afghanistan, lumping the two related but very different battlefields together as one contiguous theater. They also conflate different kinds of air strikes within Afghanistan.

These distinctions matter, a lot. In Afghanistan, it is an ignominious truth that hundreds of civilians are killed in NATO airstrikes every year. But most of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan have not stemmed from pre-planned, intelligence-led attacks; rather, civilians are most likely to die when troops come into contact with the enemy and subsequently request air support. This is because when it comes to air strikes, NATO forces in Afghanistan have a limited range of air assets at their disposal. As a result, when troops come into contact with insurgents and call for air support, they get the ordinance that is available, not the firepower that would be best suited to their needs. Sometimes large bombs are dropped when smaller ones would have been better, and the risk of civilian casualties increases accordingly.
My bold. This is an interesting point that's not statistically wrong. The repeated application of air strikes in close proximity to civilians is liable to kill some innocents. This is especially true in an undermanned COIN campaign which is what we have even now.

Very expensive USAF strikes may hammer in 500lb laser guided bombs but have been subject to pretty strict SOPs. They are a necessary consequence of having too few soldiers on the ground and being careful of their lives. In any case fighting a war amongst the people will get some of them killed and maimed no matter how delicate you are.

Properly used with precise well verified intelligence Hellfire bearing Drones may be a lesser evil. Incidents like the one mentioned above tend to undermine this argument. Mistakes happen of course but this one looks plain sloppy.

I wonder a little about economic and psychological factors. Drones are cheap, the pilot is at no risk and may well be extremely remote from the carnage created in more than one sense. A politician does not face the career risks that come with putting men in harms way. Barry immediately embraced the technology. The USAF is now training more chaps to fly Drones than costly manned planes.

HUMINT is a finite resource. As Drone use inevitably escalates precise target selection is likely to be reduced. Not saying that's what happened here but that's likely to be the future.
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