AP studies drone strike casualties

Posted in Bombing Paupers at 10:57 am by George Smith

Pine View Farm once again has tipped me to the AP’s long new piece on drone casualties in Pakistan.

The news agency story is that civilian casualties are much less than thought by the Pakistani populace at large. Nevertheless, the perception that drone strikes kill more prevails, fueling hatred of the US.

Both premises are understandable.

It’s reasonable for a civilian population to be aggravated by attacks which cannot be fought, which come by surprise by a more wealthy and powerful country that is hated and envied.

It’s also not surprising that drone strikes, yes, do kill more militants than civilians. They’re not a strategic air campaign by B-52s over North Vietnam.

Nevertheless, the AP’s argument that drone strikes kill less civilians is drawn a little too finely, particularly since the agency goes to some length to account for all the civilians killed. It’s a significant number.


American drone strikes inside Pakistan are killing far fewer civilians than many in the country are led to believe, according to a rare on-the-ground investigation by The Associated Press of 10 of the deadliest attacks in the past 18 months.

Indeed, the AP was told by the villagers that of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent at least 138 were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17, 2011.

Excluding that strike, which inflicted one of the worst civilian death tolls since the drone program started in Pakistan, nearly 90 percent of the people killed were militants, villagers said.

[In 2011] a drone fired missiles at the guest room of a large compound in Hasan Khel, a village in the mountains dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Pakistani militant commander fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The strike killed 25 people, including 20 militants, three children and two women, said Mamrez Gul, who owns a shop near the site of the attack. The militants were staying in the guest room, and the civilians were sleeping in a nearby room that was also destroyed by the blasts. A funeral was held for the women and children, but the bodies of the militants were taken away, said Mamrez Gul.

One London-based group, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has published drone casualty figures based on media reports, witness testimony and other information. It said strikes have killed between 2,383 and 3,109 people, of whom 464 to 815 were civilians. That implies the percentage of militants killed was roughly 70 to 80 percent.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s breakdown aligns reasonably with the percentages offered today by the Associated Press.

Another AP story mirrors others on the push to expand and extoll drone industry and surveillance in the US.

Most of it focuses on all the allegedy wonderful uses of the machines.

Some of the instances are absurd pieces of prototype robotics, loved by the tech press, but which will probably wind up as nothing by apocrypha.

There’s the alleged hummingbird drone by a local SoCal company, a thing which performs nothing like a hummingbird. I’ve dumped on previously here.

“Drones come in all sizes, from the high-flying Global Hawk with its 116-foot wingspan to a hummingbird-like drone that weighs less than an AA battery and can perch on a window ledge to record sound and video. Lockheed Martin has developed a fake maple leaf seed, or ‘whirly bird,’ ” reads the AP report.

Indeed, small remote controlled fliers pop up in the news from time to time.

Last week it was reported anti-pigeon shoot activist Steve Hindi was in the news for an incident in South Carolina.

Hindi has been after pigeon shoots since at least the late Eighties. He’s been successful at it and his crew of protesters also dispersed the South Carolina shoot. In retaliation, the South Carolina pigeon shooters downed his remote-controlled observer, demonstrating you can fight back — or shoot skeet — against the smaller, unarmed and much cheaper models.

From the wire:

“Seconds after [the drone] hit the air, numerous shots rang out,” Hindi said in the release. “As an act of revenge for us shutting down the pigeon slaughter, they had shot down our copter.”

He claimed the shooters were “in tree cover” and “fled the scene on small motorized vehicles.”

Coincidentally, many years ago I covered the Labor Day pigeon shoot in Hegins, PA, and it is mentioned here and here.

The locals beat Steve Hindi and his followers at that event but he had the last laugh. The Hegins shoot was eventually halted.

But back to the so-called wonderfulness of domestic drones.

I’m betting the price breakdown is simple. If the drone is tiny and innocuous, a small remote-controlled model plane or helicopter with a camera, it will remain cheap and small businesses will (and do) buy them for various tasks. The big arms manufacturers really won’t be interested in that end of the market because, well, it’s not rich enough.

However, those drones developed using taxpayer money filtered through defense spending will never be cheap. They will be sold/leased to police forces and local governments through grants/subsidies handed out by homeland security.

I wrote about it here at GlobalSecurity.

An their contribution to employment and the middle class economy will be negligible:

In a Monday post at the Secrecy Blog, entitled “DoD Envisions ‘Routine’ UAS Access to US Airspace,” Steve Aftergood includes a claim by a member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International drone industry lobbying group:

“Over the next 15 years more than 23,000 … jobs could be created in the U.S. as the result of UAS integration into the [National Air Space.]”

When industry trade groups are boosting something they always include job creation claims as enticements.

Using simple arithmetic it is easy to put such claims in perspective.

Using the drone industry’s own figure on job creation,. that’s 1,533 and one third jobs/year. Spread over a country the size of the United States at 311.5 million.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the employment/population ratio is 58 percent, which means 180.7 million people in the labor force this year.

Here’s the calculation:

1,533.33 divided by 180,700,000 = 8.48550083 10-6

That is, drone work is projected to contribute 8.48 x 10 to the MINUS SIXTH POWER, in terms of relative percentage to the current labor force.

And the inimitable and very singable official Dick Destiny drone song is here. You should post it on your website. It’s more pleasant and humorous than watching any tech nerd idiot video of little flying machines.

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