Want to hear what a drone sounds like? Click here (warning, the images in this film are very disturbing):
Imagine that deafening noise constantly buzzing 24 hours a day in the sky over your head. Now, imagine it came from a low flying, ominous, unmanned plane armed with missiles and equipped with high-resolution cameras, watching your every move, hovering over your home, ready to strike.
How would you feel about those that sent them? How would you protect yourself or your family?
Welcome to Waziristan
For at least 800,000 people living in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan, this is not a scene from a movie. It's everyday life.
The drones, an increasingly indispensable part of the US's "war on terror", aim to kill al-Qaeda linked militants who pose a threat to the US. But they are sent to such remote locations – chiefly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – that it's all but impossible to establish exactly who, and how many, they kill and injure.
Against all common sense, the CIA maintains that, somehow, no innocent civilians have died (although the way they define combatants – as all males of military age killed in a strike zone – must help).
But painstaking work by globally respected lawyers, academics and campaigners paints a very different picture.
CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2012
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a rigorous confirmation process for casualties of US drone strikes, which means that the numbers below are necessarily conservative. They are still shocking:
Total US strikes in Pakistan: 347
Strikes ordered by President Barack Obama: 295
Total reported killed: 2,572-3,341
Civilians reported killed: 474-884
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,232-1,366
As if this wasn't bad enough, a new Stanford University and New York University report has shed light on the harrowing effects on not just the victims and their families, but on the entire region.
Almost 70 years after doodlebugs (the nickname for Hitler's V-1 flying bombs) terrorised the civilian population in the UK, the US's drone war is having an eerily similar effect.
Drones are piloted by remote control from faraway places, like offices in the Nevada desert. They can hover for days at a time without having to refuel. This means people in Waziristan have to live with a nearly constant buzz, in constant fear. Many residents – especially children – suffer anxiety and psychological trauma. Many avoid gathering in groups, travelling to and from school, or even holding religious and cultural events such as funerals.
Indeed, people are so terrorised that doctors and other civilians have stopped coming to the aid of those injured by drones: they fear they will be struck by the drones, which are known to hover for hours after initial attacks, ready to hit anyone who comes to help those suffering from terrible injuries. Hundreds of terrifying stories have been reported from families across the region – yet still the drones continue to strike.
Is this 'winning the war'?
US officials insist that their "surgical" drone war is keeping the US and the west safe from more terrorist attacks. But as they keep all their information secret, it's impossible to prove how many (if any) attacks have been averted as a result of the "kill list" process, where Obama and his staff decide in weekly meetings where to strike – and who should die.
In fact, instead of eliminating the threat to the US, drones are one of the best recruitment tools for extremists. The resentment, anger and fear they provoke has skyrocketed suspicion and mistrust of the US in Pakistan to a record high, in a country where anti-American sentiment is now routinely recorded as the highest anywhere in the world.
Pakistan's parliament has condemned US actions, as have key government ministers, but many Pakistanis are angry with their government for not doing enough to stop the strikes. Indeed, many suspect the government of secretly co-operating with the US.
Speaking in New York City last week, Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that her administration believes the US had the right to "go after terrorists," but that unilateral drone strikes are illegal and counterproductive. It's “about choosing to win the battle at the cost of the war," she said. "These are battles. You get one terrorist, two terrorists, fine. But are you winning the war?”
Overall, the US drones war is having a disastrous effect. However "high value" some of the targets the US claims to have killed, the fact remains that these are extrajudicial killings taking place outside of a war zone and therefore running roughshod over any number of international laws (let's start with the Geneva Conventions) that the US is supposed to uphold. And in a volatile, strategically important and nuclear-armed country, this policy of humiliation, aggravation and killing is dangerously short-sighted and explosive.
On Sunday, the internationally known cricketer and politician Imran Khan will start a Waziristan Peace March in an attempt to galvanise global attention on the impact of this war. But one thing is clear. Were robot weapons killing hundreds of civilians in a region with 24-hour news coverage, where affluent, perhaps even English-speaking people could give voice to their suffering, the US would have a PR disaster on its hands.
Learn more: Watch this excellent summary on the disastrous effects of the US's secret war, and help make sure this shameful story is no longer a secret by sharing it with everyone you know:
Sources: Salon, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Huffington Post, Guardian, Atlantic, Slate, Wikipedia, Dawn