The dramatic expansion of drone wars in various countries targeted by the US national security state, has at least in part been predicated on this notion that drones are “precision” killers and we have the ability to target single individuals instead of land ground troops and wage a wasteful face-to-face war with non-state, non-uniformed actors. Well, behold the exactitude of murder-by-remote-control:
In the first known case of friendly fire deaths involving an unmanned aircraft, Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith, 26, and Navy Hospitalman Benjamin D. Rast, 23, were killed on April 6 by a Predator drone in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, after Marine commanders mistook them for Taliban.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the unreleased Pentagon report found that Marine officers on the scene and the Air Force crew piloting the drone from halfway around the world were unaware that analysts watching the live video feed from a third location in Terre Haute, Ind. had doubts about the identity of the targets.
Using a written chat system to communicate with the pilots, the analysts initially wrote that the two figures in question were “friendlies,” suggesting they were American troops. But a few seconds later, they changed their assessment, writing they were “unable to discern” who the figures were.
The report faults poor communications, mistaken assumptions and “a lack of overall common situational awareness,” but found that no one involved was “culpably negligent or derelict in their duties.”
The Times notes that the incident is similar to another Predator attack in 2009, in which a convoy of Afghan civilians was mistakenly targeted as Taliban. In a lengthy investigation, the paper traced how a series of errors in communicating and interpreting surveillance information led to the deaths of 15 innocent civilians.
To recap, US drones in Pakistan have killed literally hundreds of civilians, including at least 168 children. Investigative journalist Noor Behram, on the ground in Pakistan for years counting civilian casualties from drones, estimated that for every 10 to 15 civilians, drone attacks kill one militant.
Note that the news of killing two American servicemen gets headlines. We are told their names, how old they are, their jobs, their rank. The bulk of those killed have not had such privileged status and treatment. We don’t know their names. Nobody cared to check.