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article imageU.S. often does not know who drone attacks kill

By Ken Hanly     Aug 6, 2015 in World
Washington - "Signature strikes" are drone attacks based solely on a target's behaviour with the identity of the target not known. Sometimes such an attack may hit a high value target but at other times they may kill innocent civilians.
On June 9, the United States launched a drone strike that killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a high-ranking leader in the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, the leader was not the target as the attack was a signature strike carried out on the basis of activities observed thought to be by militants. While Obama often claims drone attacks are employed against high-value targets and only when it is virtually certain that no civilians are present, this is not the case with signature strikes. These strikes are made on the basis of behaviour patterns that observers associate with militant activity.In assessing who was killed the Pentagon counts all males of military age killed as militants. As a New York Times report indicates:"Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: People in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good." Often targets are decided on the basis of activity monitored on cell phones.
Drone strikes began during the George W. Bush administration — 51 drone strikes were launched in Pakistan during the eight years Bush was in power, killing between 410 and 595 people. When Obama became president attacks happened in much greater numbers, not only in Pakistan, but other countries as well. So far Obama has launched 419 strikes in Pakistan alone. Deaths from Obama drone strikes have been over 4,500 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.
There are a number of cases where drone attacks have misidentified targets, mistaking a funeral procession for a militant convoy for example. In other cases those killed are simply collateral damage: One example is 16-year-old U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (son of Islamic militant preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, also a US citizen killed in a US drone strike) in 2011. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said Abdulrahman was not ''specifically targeted.'' Another is Mohammed Tuaiman, a 13-year-old Yemeni boy who was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen last February. Drones had killed his brother and father beforehand.
Newsweek has a useful chart detailing drone strikes in different countries.
Of late the number of drone strikes in Pakistan has been sharply reduced with none in the last month. This may be because the Pakistani armed forces are on an offensive in areas that were often subject to drone attacks. The U.S. often complained that the Pakistani armed forces needed to be more active and drone attacks were in part a substitute for ground action. In other areas such as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia the number of drone attacks is increasing: American drone strikes killed hundreds of people in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia in July, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based nonprofit. The TBIJ produces monthly reports about highly secretive U.S. drone operations around the globe as part of its goal to provide the public “with the knowledge and facts about the way in which important institutions in our society operate, so that they can be fully informed citizens.”
Recent attacks show a different function for the drone strikes. Patrick Barnes a spokesperson for the US Africa Command said that the strikes were "in defense of the African Union forces in Somalia who were under imminent threat of attacks": The Los Angeles Times reports that the influx of strikes indicates a shift in U.S. policy toward directly aiding African peacekeepers in their fight against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab. “Up until now, we’ve focused strikes on high-value targets,” an unnamed U.S. military official told the Times. “These strikes were launched to defend forces on the ground.”
The official story claims that drone strikes are precise, and based upon reliable intelligence gathered by increasingly sophisticated and high-tech methods. However, the use of drones is not only being extended to signature strikes but also to defensive and support actions of the type that are also carried out by conventional bombing and attack aircraft. The number of civilians who die as collateral damage in these actions is bound to be large. The idea that these high-tech operations are precise is mostly market hype: Futuristic, high-tech militarism is not as "clean" nor "precise" as it is marketed. Drone strikes, particularly signature strikes, are very imprecise, kill thousands of people, and inflict serious harm, suffering and injury. What this new form of militarism does do, however, is maintain the US's permanent war machine in a new form. The US's goals of global hegemony and full-spectrum dominance remain the same. This latest military-technical revolution is simply another - more sophisticated and less visible - way of achieving it.
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