So far, 2013 has been a busy year for Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Barack Obama, as his Administration launched six drone strikes in Pakistan during the first eight days of the year. The strikes have been blamed for an estimated 35 deaths.
According to reports, the United States launched 43 drone strikes in Pakistan last year, less than half of the number of strikes during the most aggressive bombardment of the nation in 2010. But the frequency of drone strikes in the initial days of 2013 and other indicators likely offer telltale signs that the drone war will ratchet up again.
On Monday, Obama nominated counterterrorism adviser and drone murder aficionado John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency, which has taken a primary role in drone assaults in recent years.
While the number of civilian deaths that have occurred from drone warfare is widely disputed (some international agencies have estimated the civilian death toll to be anywhere between 5 percent and 20 percent of all drone-related deaths in Pakistan), Brennan has publicly supported expanded drone warfare. According to The New York Times, Brennan even claimed in 2011 that for more than a year there wasn’t “a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”
Because the CIA is the primary operator of America’s deadly drone program, there are no concrete, publicly available numbers related to civilian death tolls from drone strikes. But Brennan critics say his earlier assertions are ridiculous, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated the number to be near 500 civilian casualties late last year.
Another caveat of the policy of constantly pummeling tribal Pakistan with drones is the psychological impact it is having on the non-militant population of the region. People terrified of the American death machines in the skies are more easily co-opted into anti-Western extremist groups.