Reckless Use of Drone Strikes: Can the Biden Administration Turn Things Around?

Bryce Dunio '22, Guest Writer

There is a moderately popular meme format one today can find that intentionally deceives you with a phrase or statistic in order to show you an ugly truth. The post that created this format focused on the phrase “Obama 90%,” claiming that the number was his popularity in the Middle East. The meme then implores the reader to google this phrase.

When one googles “Obama 90%,” however, the suspense abruptly ends as you’re faced with a grave statistic from the Drone Papers leaked by The Intercept in 2015: that during a “five-month period… nearly 90% of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended target.” 

The papers explain how these five months from 2012-2013 composed the duration of Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan, a symphony of military might where drones under the Obama administration and Afghan forces “killed more than 200 people… [when] only 35 were the intended targets.” Of the strikes that are committed by Afghan forces, they are conducted using American-made drones and piloted aircrafts and usually in cohesion with a joint US-Afghan operation.

These strikes are not limited to the Obama administration either. In 2008, the New York Times reported that a Bush-era drone strike “hit a wedding party in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.” 

While the New York Times was waiting on the US military’s response to this incident as it was “investigating the reports,” another New York Times journalist was reaching out to a local hospital directly. A doctor there reported they had so far admitted 22 women and 6 children from ages 1-11, and that of those patients, many claimed “up to 90 people had been killed or wounded in the attack and that some were buried under the rubble.”

The Trump administration carried on this tradition of murder with haste. Brown University released a report last year titled “Costs of War.” The report found that in 2019 alone, “airstrikes [from US and Afghan forces] killed 700 civilians – more civilians than in any other year since… 2002” – the first full year of the war in Afghanistan.

The US and Afghan airstrikes “killed an average of 582 civilians each year” from 2007 to 2016. Under the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019, however, they “killed an average of 1,134 civilians each year, a nearly 95% increase.” These deaths include women, children, the sick, the elderly, and anyone else unfortunate enough to be remembered as another number in the collateral damage statistic.

The Biden administration needs to end this pattern of recklessly irresponsible conduct in the Middle East if it hopes to safely leave Afghanistan any time soon. We have been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades now, and yet the Taliban’s grasp holds firm. We have given them recruiting power by hitting weddings, hospitals, and civilian centers across Afghanistan over these two decades. We have taken thousands of innocent lives in the name of counterterrorism. President Biden can either cease this trend, save lives, and more responsibly address our strategy in combating the Taliban’s terrorist agenda, or continue playing the grim reaper with Reaper Drones.