Drones Hardly Ever Kill Bad Guys

Drones Hardly Ever Kill Bad Guys

The foreign policy community’s favorite counterinsurgency adviser, or at least their favorite Australian one, David Kilcullen, told lawmakers last week that the drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan are creating enemies at a far faster rate than its killing them. According to statistics he provided, the success rate of the drone bombing campaign is extremely low: just 2 percent of bombs dropped have hit targeted militants. The other 98 percent? Those killed noncombatant Pakistani civilians, he said.

Since the drone strikes began in earnest in 2006, the U.S. has killed 14 mid-level Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. In the same time frame, the strikes have killed 700 Pakistani civilians, Kilcullen said May 7, speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats. The strikes themselves are not particularly unpopular in the tribal areas, the FATA, that border Afghanistan, as many of the people there are weary of the militants operating in their midst. Where the strikes are extremely unpopular, he said, is in the more populated areas of Punjab and Sind, areas where there has been a big jump in militancy since the bombing campaign began.

“Right now our biggest problem is not the [extremist] networks in the FATA, but the fact that Pakistan may collapse if this political instability continues.” The U.S. should stop the bombing campaign against the Pakistani Taliban and instead return to a narrower target set aimed only at Al Qaeda operatives, Kilcullen said, as the bombing campaign has simply become too counterproductive. The Taliban run a very effective “information operations” that broadcasts the death toll from U.S. strikes to feed a rising tide of popular anger against the U.S. and western involvement in Pakistan, he said.

The issue of civilian casualties caused by U.S. bombing is not simply a humanitarian matter, but is a major factor influencing the political and ideological battles being waged in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, says CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman in an email. “Civilian casualty estimates have effectively become an extension of war by other means,” he says. “Tactics that physically defeat elements of the enemy and lose the population lose the war.”

Cordesman says the U.S. can’t bomb its way to victory in Pakistan. The U.S. is also too unpopular to put significant numbers of troops there. He says Pakistan will either succeed or fail against the Taliban based on whether it can adopt some version of the “clear, hold and build” counterinsurgency strategy the U.S. applied in Iraq, and is trying to apply in Afghanistan, versus “having the Pakistani Army smash its way into Swat and leave, which has been the high point of Pakistani warfighting to date.”

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and we want to replace manned planes w/these… hmm

First I gotta admit that I am a rear area guy — sitting in dark rooms most of my career, doing space stuff.

But I have followed counterinsurgency for twenty years. So perhaps this is best put as a question.

Counterinsurgency (in my definition) is a conflict where one side’s logistics and infrastructure are in the combat zone and the other side’s is safe behind a border. The warriors on both sides are in the combat zone, but the insurgent’s training, storage, etc are safe from attack. This was the case in Vietnam, in Palestine, etc.

Are we using our UAVs over Pakistan to target ammunition storage, training, barracks, insertion routes, etc? It seems that we could do a lot of damage to buildings — causing few casualties and major disruption to the enemy. Sure maybe we would not be “getting” the bad guys but if they had no ammo — they can hate us all the want and it won’t bother us. If they can’t get to the battlefield because the bridges are out — they can curse us from afar all they want.

Of course the news is all about our attacks on High Value Targets (the leadership) but we know that a leader can be replaced. If the enemy is off on a training scenario and comes back to a barracks or training site that has been destroyed in the mean time, they will probably pause to rebuild. I would rather have them building a barracks (which could be blown up as soon as they finish it) than training on ambush skills.

i dont think terrorists in the swat tribal area have much ifrastructure to destroy.…. we are talkin about guys that smuggle weapons on mules… they look like any other nomad out there… they blend into the local population… if we destroy a bridge they simply float across… they dont have much heavy equipment to worry about.. they dont have huge ammunition depots… There is no way from keeping weapons from these guys.. people all over the world (even people in allied countries) are selling weapons and ammunition to these guys…

Do we have a link to an original source? Even the speech itself, so we can see its cites. I’d like to see the sources for these numbers. I’m not too sure of the credibility of “random Pakistani guy who just sort of happens to know a lot about airstrike casualties”.

Not seeing too many suggestions from this so called “expert”. Guessing this is Obama’s cover to stop attacking the bad guys. What should we do just let them build terrorist camps and be free to plot attacks against us?

This sounds a lot like more liberal nonsense how the US is to blame for everything and she should stop defending ourselves because it is all our fault anyway. I think this guy just offers criticism and no real solutions.

Whatever though he is an “expert”.

I’ll take a guess that we have been relying more on UASs to make up for the lack of manpower on the ground in Afghanistan as well as the Pakistan governments lack of effort. The current change in both troop buildup in Afghanistan and the change in Pakistan government thinking may help alleviate over reliance on UASs. Continuing the push to train Pakistan army in counterinsurgency will also help more in the long run than any UAV.

It’s an interesting point. Even if the guy is way off with the casualty figures, those are really irrelevant. The Taliban have a very effective information campaign, and if every time a drone kills 20 people, it makes no difference if they are militants or civilians if the Taliban spreads the word that we just killed 50 civilians in an air strike. I’m sure that guy is way off when he says that only 2% of the strikes actually kill militants, as our intel is quite good when we make those attacks. If the Taliban say 700 civilians were killed, it could be more like 350 militants and 50 civilians. Whoever reports these numbers can only know for sure that women and children were collateral damage, as there is no way for a hospital to know if a dead male was a civilian or militant.

Some of the comments here have been made by people who know war, and some have been made by people that don’t know anything.

First, Dave Kilcullen is retired Australian army and has done more difficult duty than anyone who is reading this site! He brings combat experience and educational excellence to the study of counterinsurgency. He is a unique mix of a PhD that is the guy you want watching your back if you were dropped into the worst battle you had ever dreamed of. Anyone who calls him a liberal apologist has spent a career sorting shoes in the PX, not training for combat. They need to stop watching NASCAR and do some reading.

Alex is correct that actual casualty figures are irrelevant, the Taliban PR people could turn a couple of unlucky farmers into dozens of innocent victims. If we did not have any collateral damage, the Taliban are easily capable of coming up with some.

The AF, of which I am a retiree, is a “hammer” and tends to see everything as a nail. It is hard to discriminate targets from 5000 feet, in the dark, when you are zooming along at 700 mph. Dave Kilcullen is right when he says that we gotta be real real careful when we bomb sites, we lost Vietnam on the fields of the US not on the battlefields in Southeast Asia.

And John needs to read up and find out that the Taliban are not a few farmers who swim across a stream and take pot shots with an antique hunting rifle. They are irregular but well equipped soldiers — with a smaller logistics infrastructure than NATO has but it is their weak point. In a firefight a person can easily shoot hundreds of rounds — that has to all be stored, transported, maintained. The Taliban have RPGs, heavy machine guns, etc. And we should be happy for people to sell those guys ammo — as long as we can find it and drop ordnance on it once it is in Pakistan.


The U.S. is not just indiscriminately bombing buildings in Pakistan that *might* have militants in them. If that were the case, we would have nothing short of an all-out air campaign over there as there would be no shortage of *maybe-but-not-quite-sure* targets. When one of our drones releases a Hellfire or JDAM, the target has been confirmed with multiple levels of intelligence including at the very least HUMINT and IMINT, and probably SIGINT in many (if not most) cases as well.

In some cases, we might even have SO forces on the ground to confirm the intel (it’s been confirmed that we have special ops forces training Pakistani military over there, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to have some special forces roaming around the country side gathering intel for drone strikes). And it goes without saying that even if we hit our mark, chances are the militants have made sure that if they go, they take some civilians with them.

With that being said, there is no way we can cut off the flow of ammunition to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. First of all, there are so many weapons caches and they are so spread out that it would take an entire army to find and destroy enough to make an impact. Even if we could do that, we’d still have to find a way to prevent more from coming in as there is no shortage of AK47s and RPGs to be bought, and the Taliban has no shortage of cash to buy them. This of course ignores the fact that many weapons caches are hidden in mosques, schools, homes, etc etc. These are not ones we can just hit with a JDAM — we would need boots on the ground to secure the places and dispose of the weapons appropriately, which is not an option in Pakistan.

This is an extremely complex problem that can only be solved with support from the civilian population. I don’t think that Obama intends to win the war with Predator strikes, it’s merely a means of disrupting the Taliban and Al Qaeda as much as possible until other, more permanent solutions can be implemented. Even if the strikes are generating more militants than they kill, it is likely that our leaders have assessed this possibility and determined that, for the time being, the benefit of killing mid and high level leaders is outweighs the cost of generating new Taliban grunts.

The first thing you have to realize is that Al Qaeda is well prepared for their insurgency. Their insurgency is dependent on the US being worn down at home, not their strategic victories. Yes these UAV strikes most likely take out civilians, show me a war when civilians weren’t killed, but Al Qaeda places these civilians in harms way. Furthermore they are dependent on these strikes to create civilian casualties whether they actually happen or not. The key is to cut off their technology so that they can’t exagerate or create casualties that weren’t there.

I do think that civilian casualties are terrible and should be avoided however terrorists conduct their campaigns without regard to civilian or military target. I’ll give a great example that happened on September 11, 2001 when over 3,000 civilians were killed by a flying object. If we want to counter their press we should reshow those planes smashing into the towers to remind America that we were thrown into this war, not on a mission to destroy everyone and that they didn’t care about us.

These strikes are also extremely helpful to US forces on the ground. I know because I just got out of Kunar Province a year ago where without UAVs the insurgency would be winning instead of stalemated. I don’t know about the Pak side because the ODA forces are handling that, but prior to any warheads being placed on foreheads intel is there and not to mention that the UAVs via IR technology can literally identify weapons and activities of the “suspects” from well above them. I do wish the military would release, and our mainstream media show, that there have been numerous occasions when insurgents have placed women and children on rooftops as they shoot at US forces. There are videos out there from Dateline I think where they actually show that happening. Type Kunar Province into a search engine and it should pull it up. The question then is if they’re shooting at us and are knowingly placing civilians in the way shouldn’t we defend ourselves? The answer according to most ROEs is yes, yet our troops don’t always shoot especially if they are not effective. Yet this doesn’t make it onto the news everynight, rather the opposite of us being the badguys when we do have to make those decisions.

Solution to this problem: take away their ability to communicate with the outside world. Western Journalists are more than willing to exagerate stories and get the truth so the report will still be there, but it hopefully won’t be taken to the extremes it has in the past.

It’s just as if not more important for us to get Americans back involved in the war effort. Remind them we were attacked and that our civilian casualties from one day were more than they’ve experienced over a few years maybe that will help us out. Or we could just sit on our hands and wait for the next attack which is out there waiting for us and go through this entire process again.

“Alex is correct that actual casualty figures are irrelevant…”

Well, then, someone better tell Kilcullen that, because casualty figures were apparently the centerpiece of his presentation!

I shouldn’t say that casualty figures are irrelevant, because they aren’t entirely. What I meant to say was that REAL casualty numbers are not important. The Taliban can go blow up a house full of civilians, claim it was an American bomb that did it, and the Pakistanis will be out in the streets protesting by the thousands burning the American flag. The end result is that we might as well have blown that house up, because the fallout is all the same.

Quoted text from the “Call off the drone war” Wired​.com
“Kilcullen doesn’t think all UAV attacks are bad. “While ever al Qa’ida remains active and can threaten the international community from bases within Pakistan, the need to strike terrorist targets on Pakistani territory will remain. But our policy should be to treat this as an absolute, and rarely invoked, last resort,” he notes.

All strikes should be carried out in consultation with Islamabad, in “an area outside of effective Pakistani sovereignty,” and a time when “the target is positively identified and clearly distinguishable from surrounding populations, reducing the risk of collateral damage to a level acceptable to elected political leaders.”

That last bit may be the toughest part. Before U.S. Air Force drones hit targets in Afghanistan as part of pre-planned operations, lawyers and intelligence officers in the Combined Air and Space Operations Center match it with cell-phone intercepts, informants’ tips, and “pattern of life” analyses on the intended targets. Other airmen estimate the likelihood of civilian casualties, with “Raindrop,” a classified simulation tool that models local traffic patterns, structural compositions, and bomb blast patterns. It’s a process so rigorous that even Human Rights Watch says that the chances of civilian casualties are near nil, when it’s followed.(The problems — and the slaying of innocents — come during last-minute, so-called “troops-in-contact” scenarios.)

But the UAV attacks in Pakistan are spearheaded by the CIA, not the Air Force. It’s unclear whether the spy agency takes the same precautions, when it unleashes the killer drones.”

I want to see the data.
I want to see the metrics.
I want to see the data agathering methods.
I want to know the arbiters of the data.

Until then I’m calling it BS…because I can’t believe even the Christians In Action could get it THAT wrong. This smells like part of an ‘insurgency’ of different sort altogether, so I also want to see the ‘axe’ that the Aussie Poli-Sci wonder-warrior is carrying.

Funny that few people here know this guy or his real world credentials.

SMSgt Mac,
You are correct to question the data, it was clearly misquoted, misunderstood, or intentionally distorted. As an Operations Research guy, my bet is on misunderstanding of how to read statistical data, it is more sensational that way. From the published reports of David Kilcullen’s testimony that I could find, roughly 40 attacks by UAVs have occurred in the Pakastani tribal areas since 2006. In those 40 attacks, 14 mid and high value leaders (the intended targets of the UAV campaign) have been killed and 700 other people, only some of which were Pakistani civilians, have been killed.
OK, lets break it down a little. That means that 14 of 40 attacks hit the intended target of the campaign. Of course, the other 26 attacks did not neccessarily hit non-valuable targets, just not the high level operatives being targeted by the campaign. For instance, if you hit a meeting of lower minions in al Qa’ida that you thought included a mid-level leader, is that bad? Put another way, if you attack a bridge with a bomb and inadvertantly destroy a tank crossing the bridge and a flak gun protecting the bridge, is that bad? Of the 40 attacks, each one killed roughly 17 people which sounds about right for order of magnitude for Hellfire missiles attacking point targets which by the press reports say are usually houses or compounds. Since it stretches the bounds of reason to assume the leaders were all by themselves surrounded by innocents when attacked, and if you assume that each mid-level leader had 10 to 20 active fighters with them, then even if you assume that all attacks that did not hit a high value target hit civilians instead, then at most you would say roughly 350 civilians and roughly 270 active terrorist were killed. Still not as good as you would like but better than 2pct by far. I would guess there is a somewhat higher ratio of fighters to innocents but that is just me. Against those numbers you have to weigh the exceptionally effective tool you have against the bad guys sanctuary. Every al Qa’ida terrorist must always assume that they are being targeted at all times.
The biggest problem I see is that the Pakistani government and others used the attacks for political purposes. If the Pakistanis do not like the fact that US drones are “illegally” flying over their country, they could send F-16s to shoot them down! After all, it is their country and airspace and it is not like the drones have any defense! The fact that they haven’t indicates tacit approval if not outright support of the attacks. Given the reported attrocities, indiscriminate use of artillery and airstrikes, and the use of human shields reported in the recent fighting in Swat, this may actually be a case of real world events overtaking and making largely irrelevant the news from a week ago.

John the civi,

Kilcullen is an Aussie who was senior advisor to Gen. Petraeus on counter-insurgency strategy and tactics. An intelligence contact pointed out to me two years ago Kilcullen was granted the higest level clearances for a foreigner this source had ever seen extended when the Aussie was advising chief strategist for the Counterterrorism Center at the State Department. During the last Quadrennial Defense Review, Kilcullen served as a special advisor on irregular warfare and counterterrorism and received the Defense Department’s Medal for Exceptional Public Service for his service. Until about a year ago, Kilcullen kept a fairly low profile. Now he has a book out and is hitting the high road.

I agree.

The AF and Navy way of war is to sit in airconditined splendor and have remote attacks with no risk to person.

This is not war.. The army does war. Only with closing and destroying the enemy and helping our friends can we have success.

Ahhh, a book that needs publicizing.

BTW: After reading up on Kilcullen a little more he obviously:
1. Has strongly held views as to how warfare should be conducted.
2. Can get kind of prissy when his views aren’t held higher than other views.

- Sort of the Thomas P.M. Barnett of the Army.

I tend to think his is but one voice in a chorus of advisors. Says more about the quality of Petraeus’ as a warrior than the quality of Kilcullen’s advice. I would guess that Petraeus is a General Officer who prizes a spectrum of well-considered, honest, and sometimes wrong opinions vs. an echo chamber of ‘yes men’.

Hi Curt! Se you at MORS (maybe) in June.

Main question is where are the civilian casuality numbers being obtained. Taliban propoganda? Local newspapers? Unbiased international organizations (is there such a thing)? As previously discussed, weapons release is normally not authorized until there has been target confirmation. Civilian casualties will happen in war. Civilian presence on or near a target cannot be the deciding factor to bomb or not least we never overcome our opponents.

Well,well,well. Shades of Viet Nam. In politicizing the war, they have now found themselves restricted by their own prejudices. This war can’t be won or controlled by a politicized military force or a Congress which will try to run the war from Washington. The Obama can do is claim it’s all Bush’s fault. That might work for a while. Hell, it might work forever. But it won’t win the war and in the end the failure will be laid at Obama’s feet.

TY Clark for the heads up. I heard Kilcullen speak not to long ago. I was struck by his deep understanding of counter insurgency, as well as his modesty and intelligece.

Thats a good Quadratic analysis.…Therefore its
acting like a curse.…Egyptianism…

Actually…drones are a good thing. They find the naughty Taliban and end their existance on this planet. As for creating more bad guys, thats pure rubbish.

Got to agree that there is no way a Hellfire– firing drone would be creating that kind of collateral damage. But maybe the CIA is using Reapers and bigger bombs?

Reapers can carry 500lb JDAMs along with the Hellfires I believe, and possibly a single 2,000lb JDAM if necessary. I’ll have to double check that on the 2000lber though.

All this, whether the 2% is right or wrong points to the need for a well practiced UAV Corps, not just EVERYBODY flies willy nilly.

We have got to coordinate UAV warfare with normal flight ops. Independence is fine for recon special fire support, but day to day coordinated attacks are what may be the

With all of these UVA’s flying around, why haven’t we found or killed Osama bin Laden?

I am currently working along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Further, I have worked in Pakistan for a couple of years. My experience is that we are definitely creating more friends than enemies with our drones, which I have uploaded and downloaded. I have also been in the pilot’s control centers conducting close surveillance via tv monitors. The work of the drones is very precise.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda go into a village and cut off heads to terrorize and intimidate. Does anyone really think that whatever we are doing is creating more enemies than these monsters? All of the locals who work for or with me tell me of how their families are targeted by these madmen. Americans are the heroes of most of the local population. A few hundred protesters may fill a news photograph, but they do not represent the majority of locals any more than the protesters in the USA.

There is only one question that matters: do we have the stomach to do whatever it takes to not only survive but to remain the dominant power in a dog eat dog world?

Don’t fire until U see th whites of their eyes. An officer came into the classrooom and said;“Captain, English is for fruits and twinkletoes. I’m sendin U to Vietnam”! Sociology, how important it is in the strategic arena of peace keeping missions? Know your indigineous population. Understand them. Learn their ways, their folk ways, their moreys, their laws, their local customs, their sensitivities, their value systems. The locals can be an ally to your peace keeping mission. Understand them and you may hit on the wave length you need to accomplish your goals. It is difficult to keep in favor with the locals when their innocent children, families cousins and others are accidently blinded maimed amputated burned decimated by friendly fire. Scouts, patrol leaders, regimental battalion company platoon fireteam and surveillance robotics need to yes…seek locate identify estimate report and if possible neutralize the enemy forces. It is important to identify and to verify the target find. Even if everybody hated their own Kentucky cousin; if you hurt them or their relatives; they will band together and go against you. Not always but probably if you had done something really bad. Diplomacy timeing and accuracy can help make more friends than enemies. The enemy may use neutral friendly simple people as cover in the hope, the Good Guys don’t wack them. Turning a population against the Good Guys is something to prevent. Accidental killing innocent people can bear great cumbersome guilt upon the good guys. British soldiers grieved deeply when they went at war against their fellow British stock colonial country during the American Revolutionary war. Many British soldiers were very disheartened to war against their own breathern who’s common Mother country was England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. General Eisenhower majored in English. Nothing fruitty about that is there? Accuracy is important in gunnery practice. You don’t want a grieving 12 year old sniper picking off your patrols. May a misty cloud of sedative serendippidious happiness polarise all creating a Ghandi like innocence forgivness and a peaceful recourse. Know the psychological aspects when planning the hit on your target. Ticking off the locals is like giving psychological candy to the enemy because the locals turn against you.

I do NOT think that the problem is properly stated. The primary problem is that the Taliban has control of the media/communications with the local people, and the secondary problem is that they always LIE about the figures! (They always greatly inflate the civilian deaths and fail to report terrorist deaths! (ALL terrorist deaths are reported as civilian…any fool can figure that out!)

The greatest challenge for us is that OUR OWN media are too foolish to stop working for the enemy and accepting his numbers! We take great care to avoid civilian casualties and actually miss a lot of opportunities as a result! The failure of our media to establish the truth BEFORE simply accepting the figures of the enemy is the cause of this over-caution on the part f our military! In other words, because of the unprofessional behavior of OUR media, our military misses many opportunities and may be forced to stop using and effective weapon! Once again, the pen is proving to be mightier than the sword…and it is the pen of our anti-military media that is doing the damage!

I’ve been tired of “experts” that continuously quote statistics but have never set foot in a an area where his or her life might be in danger. I can’t speak ill of the Aussies. Their SAS are some of the best I’ve served with. Their problem is the same as ours… their politicians and “experts” that offer quick cures to problems they have no understanding of.

P.S. Senior advisor to “Betraeus” is not exactly a position to brag about.

SMSgt Mac: I concur…

ClairemontWhooska: Yup…that’s why the Taliban lies about the U.S. killing [innocent] civilians.

An interesting note, recent reports indicate that an additional 8 (at least) Taliban leaders/militants were killed in another CIA backed predator attack in Pakistan. Not a word of complaint from Pakistan, no significant claim of civilian deaths. In fact a claimed witness said all the victims were Taliban and he didn’t seem to overly disappointed by it. It is amazing what fighting a common enemy can do for perspective. You can be a bastard as long as you are our bastard. Then it is even encouraged.

Kilcullen’s is in line with other counter-insurgency experts, especially Les Grau, who concluded that high tech firepower usually is more of a liability than an asset against insurgents-and this view, expressed 20 years ago, from Afgahn-Soviet War studies. Successful counter-insurgency requires manpower: like McArthur in the Phillipines or the “concentration camps” of the Boer War-a lot of dirty, close combat-and lots and lots of it. It’s just too easy for the Taliban to change their tactics in response to a new techno-initiative, make us regret having ever thought of MRAPS, UAVS, TROPHY, whatever– But we just run back to the drawing board and haul another $$$billion blank check up the flag pole for Dynacorps, Boeing, whoever.
As far as our clear, hold and build “success” in Iraq goes-that remains to be seen!!!! Haliburton is about the only winner, so far.

I wonder how much of the non-combatant kills are due to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban operating amongst the non-combatants and storing munitions & supplies in their homes? The article doesn’t make it clear.

It would seem that some adjustments are in order, though.

Sock it to them any way or fashion. There is no way we can get more enemies then we have over there now. The drones are killing alot of the creeps so they are crying to other people about it. Thats way we get crap out of people that say it is not working.

when I read that this Aussie has been in tighter spots than“anyone reading this”, and knows all, I really have to laugh. was an airborne ranger advisor (mud level) in Vietnam and what “we“
that’s the royal “we” did ‚as did those who fought in Korea and Europe, would probably send this (high level) advisor packing. it’s been 40 years since I was in country and I watch our “kinder gentler” army making the same mistakes.

distressing to say the least ‚and then you get an “expert” like this to tell the pentagon that drones don’t work.
ask any of us that have participated in war at eye to eye level, you are supposed to kill the enemy.

In a war civilians are unavoidably victims, it has always been the case. Let us hope that less civilians suffer than did in New York in 9–11. Keep the fight as fair as possible until the war ends.

Any time combatants use innocents as human shields, the innocents will die…unless those charged with ridding the world of evil stand by and do nothing, afraid of taking the life of even one innocent.

The behavior of the Taliban is evil at its core. If ever there was a “villain” on this planet, they come the closest. And the job of those who love freedom, liberty, and justice is to destroy evil. However, our grief at the taking of even one innocent life must be tangible, so that those closest to those innocents can see that ours is a job that must be done, and it is for their benefit so that more innocents don’t have to die.

Or, to put it more bluntly, if there’s a dozen Taliban in a house with people being used as human shields, and those Taliban have the capability of mounting an attack, take ‘em out. And God be with the innocent people.

And oh, yeah, the article’s headline is misleading. You should at least attribute it to the data being presented. In that vein, you’re no better than the Taliban who claim civilian deaths that don’t exist. Follow the Friday principle — “just the facts.”

I don’t think anything we do can make these people hate us more. They hate us. Period. The strikes should be ramped up and include manned aircraft. Since the PAKI’s won’t, we should.

What was Killcullen’s position on Darfur? Do we care about Pakistani innocents more because they are nationals of a country that owns nukes?
Those innocent losses could be a recuitment tool perhaps, but won’t drastically improved living conditions cause greater hesitation when considering donning a vest of explosives? Do we belive that re-organizing Afghanistan and the Pakistan border will eventually bring improved living conditions for most inhabitants?

In a nutshell, Pakistan and Afghanistan appear to contain tribesmen, akin in education and societal advancement to those Nobel Savages of the American plains. But unfortunately they have access to modern weapons and are willing to host sophisticated religious fanatics that want to kill Americans.

Overlooking the sophistcated religious fanatics among them, what do the rest of them want? To continue to live in backwards ways, killing one another each spring for tribal profit, farming narcotics for cash, etc. What is the price for societal advancement? At what point is the whole body benefitted by the removal of the cancer, even if some healthy flesh is damaged in the process?

A democratic government, we hope, provides stability and advancement for Afghanistan. And a base for future operations.

It seems that none of us believe the propaganda of the enemy, regardless of whom it may come from in the news. It can be used for what ever sensational reasoning aspect that the initiator may want, but, we do not have to buy it or get caught up in trying to disprove it.

Ground level view doctrine should always prevail in the combined force game. Those of you on mission should not worry about the news view of any particular instance. We know that you are on your game. We all should be looking at what the best game should look like.

Most of the time we see the game, but can get sidetracked on the bleacher action. Be the scout
that looks for equipment that improves performance and plays that utilize the best players to win.

A few people in this forum are doing quite of bit of parsing: questioning whether or not civilians are actually innocent; raising the fact that the Taliban uses civilians as human shields; and pointing out how much worse the Taliban is than the US. Some of the parsing sounds almost legalistic, and therefore completely irrelevant to the daily confusion and messiness of war.

There are also a lot of complaints about the notion that we should try not to create more enemies. But doesn’t war require knowing your enemy? Isn’t that a lesson as old as Sun Tsu? This is much harder, actually: you have to know your POTENTIAL enemy as well as your enemy in counter-insurgency. Put yourself in a civilian’s shoes: you’re a 16-year-old boy, and a bomb has just blown up your family. Not only do you now hate the US (and no, it doesn’t matter if the US actually dropped the bomb — what matters is that it’s conceivable that the US dropped the bomb), but you have no means to support yourself. The best option out there is to sign up with the Taliban (whether you like them or not), which can pay you a competitive wage and feed you. And no, you can’t just go to the local Burger King for a job. What will you do?

To say, “hey, we kill fewer civilians than the Taliban” might be true, but it’s completely irrelevant. What are you doing to do — argue your case in an open forum, where all the facts are laid out and you get a full opportunity to defend yourself?

All the parsing speaks volumes — it makes the parsers sound like they think war is tidy. I’m a civilian, but when I was four we moved to Beirut, and at seven I was at the receiving end of a bomb planted by a terrorist who presumably didn’t like Western cultural influence. Luckily, he failed to kill anyone — he managed only to take out a piece of one man’s shin bone, and all I got was a bump on my head from a falling piece of a rafter. Except for the Syrians flexing their muscles with anti-aircraft firing practice and the Israelis flying jets overhead (all of this was a lead-up to the Israeli invasion in ’82), the terrorist’s bomb was about the only “action” I’ve seen, and it’s been enough for me, thank you very much. Still, I learned enough as a kid to know that war is NOT tidy. I don’t care how much intelligence is gathered, how many confirmations and signatures you get, or how “precise” any of these technologies are — a bomb is a bomb is a bomb, and people make mistakes all the time. We have to acknowledge the consequences of that, and determine whether or not to change tactics.

To say that none of this should be questioned, and that to question our tactics is some sort of liberal defeatism — or, worse, treason — is just about the dumbest thing I can imagine. It politicizes the discussion. Yes, the Taliban and al Qaeda are bad. Yes, they lie. No one disagrees on this. Those who dwell on that sound like whiners. Shouldn’t we move on from sputtering, “but…but they’re BAD”? Shouldn’t we figure out not only how to kill Taliban fighters, but also how not to create *new* Taliban fighters?

Pointing out flaws in a tactic is not defeatist — it’s aimed at improving our chances. You can disagree with the critic. But to decry that person’s case as “liberal nonsense” that’s part of Obama’s plan to “stop attacking the bad guys” (huh???)? Give me a break

By the way, I do not disagree with the notion that we should attack an enemy even if he uses a human shield. I just think that we should try to avoid hitting civilian targets when we don’t need to, and to avoid mistakes as much as we can. Is Kilcullen wrong? He might be, for all I know. I agree that we should question his data. But to say, “oh, everyone there already hates us, so just let ‘er rip” only makes a bad situation worse.

Nick: I can’t make heads or tails out of your post. Do you actually have an argument, here? You yourself admit that the insurgent does not tell the truth.

Killing India-Charlies [innocent civilians] is one of the most counter productive counter terrorism and counter insurgency warfare campaign collateral damage issues there is. Of course the bad guys love to hide in villages and urban slums and dare you to use the big stick. 100% so called surgical strikes are almost always not possible. But having said that we must always attempt to mitagate IC deaths and injuries. There is no perfect solution. Even highly trained SOF operators sometimes take IC lives or cause IC not deadly casualties.
From an IO or PSYOP standpoint that is why during CT and CI campaigns Civil Affairs and PSYOP [or IO] need to be integrated into all kinetic action to get the message out that it was the bad guys who used your village/urban slum as a hiding place and we are sorry and now that the bad buys have been hit we will bind your wounds…and by the way, call us next time before the bad guys dig in so we can take them out, maybe even when they are in transit to or from your village or slum. I know this sounds text bookish but it must be worked into all CT and CI campaigns. You loose the war in the villages and the urban slums when the folks in those places cease talking to you.

Don’t blame the Air Force or Navy for Pakastini activity. That is strictly some other agencies work. If you want to see what the air force does with drones go to Sixty Minutes website for last Sunday and see how it really works.

what would General Patten do? Kill all the donkeys and cammels and see who carries the arms.

3warLTC-Roger that! Perfect Battalion Time!

On a more humorous note, here is a case study against the use of UAVs…

Consider this… You’re a Marine F/A-18 pilot flying along in enemy territory. At a pre determined time, the crypto loads reset to the next day’s code list. This happens at the same time throughout the entire theater. Unfortunately for you, you realize at that time that the COMM/NAV guys screwed up and loaded the wrong codes. They are one day off.
Just then, every aircraft in theater stays green as you turn yellow (unknown) on every allied C2 display. Your wingman just happens to be a UAV who just noticed that you lack proper authentication. He now tries to visually ID you by sending video footage of your aircraft back to C2 for confirmation, but before it can slew the camera toward you, you begin taking AAA fire. A 57mm round explodes near the UAV on your side of it knocking out it’s antennas and causing damage to the airframe. The sensors on the UAV pick up the IR signature of the explosion. It’s computer interprets it as an air to air missile launch. Given the time between signature and damage considering its location in relation to the nearest unknown/enemy aircraft (YOU) and the UAV’s location relative to your nose (in degrees), its AI process interprets it as an AA-11 Archer IR missile launched by a MIG-29 with helmet mounted sight (YOU). Additionally, AI determines its lack of response from C2 (due to its antenna being MIA) to mean C2 is now a casualty.
It formulates a course of action based on scenario threads in its database. Its primary directives (no harm to coalition personnel or equipment) clear the course of action.
You then notice your wingman conduct a flawlessly executed barrel roll to your six o-clock position as it fires two AIM-9X sidewinders right up your tail pipes. You eject and watch the UAV do a victory roll (left over code from the computer science intern at Northrop Grumman who couldn’t resist sneaking his signature code into the OS).
You spend the next seven years in an enemy POW camp while technicians all over California celebrate the first air to air kill by their “flawless” weapon system. You are listed as missing in action and assumed dead. In an effort to promote more government spending in California (in the form of UAV orders), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger uses the case to argue that UAVs are superior to piloted aircraft because it defeated the enemy MIG-29 that YOU failed to see or avoid before it blasted you to pieces. (This assumption was made because the seaman who downloaded the mission data was pissed about his stop loss announcement. When the computer reported a discrepancy in the logical sequence of events for the mission, the seaman overrode the computer and selected the suggested solution, ie. you were destroyed by the MIG-29 before UAV engagement, even though the system marked it as “Unlikely.” He then said, “Screw the Navy!” and went to midrats.

Yea man… UAVs ROCK!!!

Lets keep men in the cockpit.


You must write action thrillers for pimple faced teen-age aged sky pilots. Your scenario represents the last pangs of keeping the big watch in the cockpit. I don’t work for Northrop, but I do work with UAS C4ISR and the technology that makes them work. Are we “there” yet? Almost.

Thanks for your service to country and all the countless hours you spent defending freedom, but it’s time to hang up the G-suit (right next to the calvary’s stirrups).

The next era is here…and there’s no ejection seat involved.


Airships for surveillance on the border. Cheaper and higher flying. Zepplins with high baud rates act as servers in the subspace network, and should augment the drones to confirm real time targets. We could run into more “control” and “jamming” issues for missed targets getting shredded and more drones getting ditched into unanticipated population cemters. This is not a good thing.

Self-destruct systems for drones should also be upgraded so user can abort real time without the staellite delays, and avoid these ditches.

It’s apparent to me, if to no one else, that these insurgents can wage war so much more cheaply than we can, that they can actually outlast us!!! And the more money we spend on this high-tech stuff, the faster we’ll bottom out. No matter how impressive the technology, none of it can kill enough, fast enough, than pretty straight forward ground ops, and even that doesn’t have a history of much success. Basically, when a major power gets into it with a nation that has nothing to lose,the major power is going to find, sooner or later, that it has nothing to win.

Drones are another example of conventional warfare, albiet a high-tech one. What we need to succeed in that part of the world is counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare — DUH!

Destroying the enemies strategic assets in an unconventional counter-insurgency operation doesn’t consist of killing him. What is THE key strategic resource for an insurgent? The population that supports and hides him. You don’t generally do that successfully by blowing up the population.….it tends to backfire.

any action creates an equal and opposite reaction.

drone fire doesn’t create more insergents? didn’t the 911 attack lead more Americans to join the army, who might not of joined had we not been attacked?

the only thing that slows down the reaction is the loss of energy (able forces). though, as long as we hold the technological upperhand (for now) we can bypass that loss of energy by using video game weapons.

think outside the cockpit on that one. think terminators.

Ed Reese is right…
[Drones are another example of conventional warfare, albeit a high-tech one. What we need to succeed in that part of the world is counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare — DUH!]

ok maybe “terminators” isn’t very p.c. sounding, so find a friendlier name. that is the goal, to find justice in an unjust region, WITHOUT HARMING THE INNOCENT! so, use upright-walking drones with their own transportation vehicles in teams and overhead surveillance, allowing the operator teams to conduct door-to-door missions just as foot soldiers do, but with aerial views as well as eye-level views. door-to-door terminators allow on-the-fly translated communication with the population. the operators control the uprights and professionally trained moderators talk to the population.

this is much safer of course. expensive? weight the cost over all. cost of loosing humans overall. machines are expensive but can carry more armor than a human and can translate for us. again, put all the cost in perspective. sure our soldiers can translate now, but how many and how fast?

thanks Ed for getting me thinking. Toyota and Honda have had success recently. now leave it to the US to make it able to take some war damage. I love the technology behind the terminator series (though not fond of the plot) and transformers. i’m studying mechanical engineering, and drive robots for a team. i’d love to be on a team like this and probably will if things keep going the way they are in the world. kind of sad. we could all be getting along if it wasn’t for so much idiotology.

These drone strikes are not an example of conventional warfare. It’s a conventional weapon being used in an unconventional context. Unfortunately, the drone strikes alone won’t win the war. What these strikes will do is help keep the enemy as disorganized as possible to prevent them from organizing major attacks against our troops in Afghanistan. What we need in conjunction with the predator strikes is an effective information campaign, but I suspect we would be largely dependent on the Pakistani military for that (i.e. controlling media to put out pro-west/anti-Taliban propaganda).

Two comments from an old Navy guy whose service was long ago:

(1) About 50 years ago the great cartoonist & Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Mauldin(creator of “Willie and Joe” — WWII GI’s)published an editorial cartoon. The cartoon showed a young jet jockey sitting dejectedly beneath his jet aircraft holding a newspaper with a headline reading ” Missles Make Manned Aircraft Obsolete”. Standing next to the pilot was a dog-face GI looking sympathetically at the pilot and sayiny “That’s OK kid, I’ve been obsolete for 40 years now!”

2) The late LCOL John Paul Vann, before he had his troubles, actually gave briefings on a successful strategy in Viet Nam, which was depicted in dramatic fashion in an old TV movie made from Neil Sheehan’s book about Vann — “A Bright, Shining Lie”. In the briefing when Vann would discuss prevailing in counterinsurgency warfare he would say when fighting your enemy use this — and hold up a bayonet — not this — and then show a slide of a flight of B-52’s dropping iron bombs (although, truth be told, the latter were effective against massed formations of NVA infantry).

All of us must not forget that once somebody is dead in the vicinity of a US air strike the corpse is automatically an “Innocent Civilian” even if they are a male 16–35 years old in terrific physical shape with clear pack strap marks across their shoulders. And the bad guys do deliberately bring in unwilling actual civilians or site themselves among unknowing civilians.

Learned this the hard way in the counterinsurgency business on two continents.



I found two sources to some what support the above story. Haven’t heard of “Pakistan Defence” forum before so cant say much about its credibility. But The News is a very prestigious Pakistan based English newspaper, and I cant deny what it reports that easily. Both the above links state that the US Drone accuracy has been less than 6%. Not 2% as stated above, but still, 6% is also very low. Lets assume for argument’s sake that this source is very much biased too, but even if it is, i cant see how the accuracy of Drone attacks can still be more than, say 15% as an estimate. Which again is too low. Its not really working out too well is it?

And about this entire Afghan-America war, lets just look at the history and then look at the odds. Afghanistan was founded in 1747, and we know The East India company backed by the British Empire took over much off the India and neighboring countries. British Empire was the super power of that time, just like America is now. Very strong, and virtually unbeatable. East India company also had state of the art artillery at the time, very much powerful compared to the Afghan artillery. Through out the Company Raj, the British Empire made several attempts to take over Afghanistan. They made continues effort between 18th and 19th century, and failed each time. Finally, the only way they they found to restore peace in the area was to sign a treaty with the Afghans, which they did.
Compare this to the current situation. USA has much better weaponry than the British Empire had at the time, but so does Afghans. USA has been trying to gain complete control of Afghanistan for years now, and its still trying. Afghans are a weird nation. they just don’t stop. They are persistent, i have to give them that. And they are guerrilla fighters, and guerrilla fighters can never be defeated by air strikes. You need to get down in the mountains to take them out, but even Russia couldn’t get out of their complex terrain once it decided to enter it, its a maze of mountain ranges. They know it best, no one else outside does. The only prediction i can personally make about this whole thing is, its going to end just like it ended with the British Empire. We might, hopefully soon, see USA and Talibans sign a treaty of peace and go their own ways, cause no one has ever defeated Afghanis before no matter how strong. America seems no exception by the way things are going.

Agreed with Nikoli.

Alvi,the afghans are a strong race of warriors.If you look at the history they defeat
the British Empire,the Ussr,and even Alexander the Great. They fight for generations and you don’t have the knowledge of the maze of mountain ranges that they have.I strongly agreed with you that anybody can defeat them in his territory and when you put a outsider they make a jihad.The taliban was defeated by the norther alliance when was afghans against afghans​.In the moment we put troops in the field we were doomed

With respect a man in the cockpit,we use remoted controled aircraft,the man is still in the cockpit .We gonna get a man in the cockpit at least for 50 years more IMHO because the tech for terminators only exist in Hollywood.I know that some day we gonna be there but no yet

True. The same will most probably go for USA unless her politicians change the policy fast. Obama seems like a sensible person in office for now, and i bet he has the withdrawing of troops, and signings of peace treaties in mind.

UAV’s don’t kill people, people kill people…and sometimes bears.

Whats going to happen is that the US economy will completely be wrecked fighting this useless war. The Waziris will keep adapting to the drone attacks and launching attacks on ISAF and the worthless Americans, meantime the Pakistani govt. will keep getting American tax payer dollars, and the us economy will go to shreds. Just wait a couple of years more. Case Closed.

jim: Well, of course! Obviously we must act immediately to contain the menace of Canadian bear infiltration. If we don’t act now we’ll wake up one morning to find a grizzly bear in our bed! WE MUST BE ETERNALLY VIGILANT AGAINST THE URSINE MENACE!

imran: We wrecked our own economy just fine without any help from the Pakistanis…

^lol! Hugo? Mahmoud? Vladimir?

imran, I don’t think you understand the size of the U.S. economy in relation to how much we are spending on the war in Afghanistan. It is a drop in the bucket, and has little or no bearing on how our economy is doing. If we stopped spending money in Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow, nothing would change here domestically, except maybe our administration would use that money to help ram through a health care bill that would do even more damage to our economy.

Many in the military seem to think that those of us against war are simply knee-jerk jerks against all combat. That’s not true, many of us are very aware that we need soldiers on our side, as long as their are soldiers (or terrorists) on their side. BUT we are completely against “collateral damage” and mystified/shamed that our “leaders” don’t seem to mind that so much. Why isn’t it OBVIOUS that it’s impossible to win hearts and minds when we’re killing their grandmothers?

Where is ben Ladin?

The Art of War is very clear about winning the hearts of minds of the populous. Indiscriminate killing of non-combatants will rally the enemy and give them the moral advantage.

Zabernism goes high tech. As the technology of killing becomes more and more dispassionate, so do those wielding the power. At some point, for all her wonderful ideals, America will become universially hated.

One note of good news is that AFTER Shock & Awe, the DoD sought to develope a 1/4Kg JDAM to reduced collateral damage.

1/8Kg would be better.

Much more descretion would be best.

Dean, the DoD has been developing weapons to minimize civilian casualties since way before Shock & Awe, and despite the fact that the killing process is becoming more dispassionate, we worry more about civilian casualties every day. All of the drone tech in the world won’t make us LESS averse to killing civilians, and there is certainly nothing out there to substantiate your ridiculous claim.

Alex, I beg to differ. The DoD developed 1000Kg JDAMs prior to Shock & Awe with every intention of using them on cities and they did. Delivering a 1000Kg munition very precisely does reduce the ratio of unintended to intended killed, but does not reduce the probability of innocent civilians being killed.

The 1000Kg JDAM has a kill radius of some 500+ meters. You probably live in suburbs, but most of the world lives in dense cities, like Baghdad, or New York. Even hitting the correct building with 1000Kg of hi explosives subjects those living in adjacent buildings to the carnage.

In 1940, the Germans carpet bomed London and killed civilians at the rate of 365/day in a campaign of terror — Shock & Awe killed civilians at 385/day with precision munitions.

” there is certainly nothing out there to substantiate your ridiculous claim.” Except the story to which we are commenting.

The use of drones is even better than the Milgram Experiment in that the button-pusher never hears nor sees his victims. Why have any qualms about pushing a button and destroying a village if you never see the carnage and home is still a 30 minute drive on the Beltway.

In some respects Lt. Calley is more forgivable.


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