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Overview From blimps to bugs, aerial drones are transforming the way America fights and thinks about

its wars. United States intelligence officials call unmanned aerial vehicles, often referred to as drones, their most effective weapon against Al Qaeda. The remotely piloted planes are used to transmit live video from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to American forces, and to carry out air strikes. More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted under President Barack Obama than under President George W. Bush. The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago, and asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones in the 2012 budget. Drones have become more crucial than ever in fighting wars and terrorism. The Central Intelligence Agency spied on Osama bin Ladens compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a drone. One of Pakistans most wanted militants, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported dead in a June 2011 C.I.A. drone strike, part of an aggressive drone campaign that administration officials say has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the region. More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistans tribal areas have been killed by American drones since 2006, according to the Web site longwarjournal.com, which closely tracks the strikes as part of its focus on the war on terror. In September 2011, a drone missile killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, using live video on Yemeni tribal turf where it is too dangerous for American troops to go. It was another sign that, disillusioned by huge costs and uncertain outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration has decisively embraced the drone as the future of the fight against terrorist networks. President Obama authorized the use of drones early in the NATO-led air campaign against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafis forces in Libya. In October 2011, an American Predator drone and a French warplane hit two vehicles in a convoy feeling his hometown of Surt. Though neither vehicle carried Colonel Qaddafi, the rest of the convoy detoured and scattered; Mr. Qaddafi was soon caught by rebels and killed. Large or small, drones raise questions about the growing disconnect between the American public and its wars. Military ethicists concede that drones can turn war into a video game and, with no Americans directly at risk, more easily draw the United States into conflicts. Drones have also created a crisis of information for analysts on the end of a daily video deluge. The number of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes is unclear, and hotly contested. A report in February 2012 by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism said that drone strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan have repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.

The British and Pakistani journalists who compiled the report found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The report said that more than 20 other civilians were killed in strikes on funerals. The findings were published on the bureaus Web site and in The Sunday Times of London.

The bureaus findings were based on interviews with witnesses to strikes in Pakistans rugged tribal area, where reporting is often dangerous and difficult. American officials have questioned the accuracy of such claims, asserting that accounts might be concocted by militants or falsely confirmed by residents who fear retaliation. The bureau counted 260 strikes by Predator and Reaper drones since President Obama took office, and it said that 282 to 535 civilians had been credibly reported killed in those attacks, including more than 60 children. American officials said that the number was much too high, though they acknowledged that at least several dozen civilians had been killed inadvertently in strikes aimed at militant suspects. Drone Campaign in Pakistan and Beyond One of Washingtons worst-kept secrets, the drone program is quietly hailed by counterterrorism officials as a resounding success, eliminating key terrorists and throwing their operations into disarray. The program has generated public anger in Pakistan, and some counterinsurgency experts wonder whether it does more harm than good. The strikes have cast a pall of fear over North Waziristan, an area that was once a free zone for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, forcing militants to abandon satellite phones and large gatherings in favor of communicating by courier and moving stealthily in small groups. The Obama administration has argued that the drone strikes against Al Qaeda and its allies are lawful as part of the military action authorized by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as well as under the general principle of self-defense. By those rules, such targeted killing is not assassination, which is banned by executive order. The Pakistan military has done its best to shut down the drone campaign as relations with the United States have soured after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 by American commandos operating deep inside Pakistan. The killing in September 2011 of Anwar al-Awlaki shifted the terms of the legal debate in several ways. He was located in Yemen, far from hostilities in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, and he was an American citizen. The notion that the government can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens outside a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy. Rise of Drone War Predator spy planes were first used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. The Air Forces fleet has grown quickly in recent years. But despite their popularity, the drones have many shortcomings that have resulted from the rush to deploy them. Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their Predators have crashed. Complaints about civilian casualties have also stirred concern among human rights advocates. Though the political consensus is in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is; for the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.

In December 2009, the Obama administration authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.s drone program in Pakistans lawless tribal areas, to parallel the presidents decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Further escalation of strikes appeared to follow a suicide bomb attack that killed several C.I.A. agents in Afghanistan. In May 2010, in an unusually ferocious American attack on militants in Pakistan, about 18 missiles fired from pilotless aircraft killed at least 14 fighters and wounded four others in the tribal area of North Waziristan. The drone attack was the third following the failed car bombing in Times Square on May 1, and raised the number of drone attacks against militants in the tribal areas in 2010 to more than 30, almost all of them in North Waziristan. In October 2011, drone-fired missiles were used to kill Janbaz Zadran, a ranking member of the militant Haqqani network in northwestern Pakistan, and two other militants, according to a senior U.S. official. The Haqqani network is a top threat in Afghanistan and is widely believed to have been behind the siege of the American Embassy and NATOs headquarters in Kabul in September 2011. According to top-ranking American officials, the Haqqani network is supported by Pakistans spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Human Rights Objections In a June 2010 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, said that the growing use of armed drones by the United States was undermining global constraints on the use of military force, and warned that the American example would lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spread.a June 2010 report to the Mr. Alston called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, and proposed a summit meeting of key military powers to clarify legal limits on such killings. Warning that the technology is making targeted killings much easier and more frequent, the report raised concerns that drone operators, based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, risk developing a PlayStation mentality toward killing. Only a week before, the military had released a report faulting military drone operators for inaccurate and unprofessional analysis from a remote location, leading to an airstrike that killed 23 Afghan civilians, including women and children. The report also said that a targeted killing outside of an armed conflict is almost never likely to be legal. In particular, it rejected pre-emptive self-defense as a justification for killing terrorism suspects far from combat zones. Unarmed Drones to Shield Diplomats In January 2012, Iraqi officials expressed outrage about the use of small fleet of surveillance drones to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel.

The program foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. American contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering fielding unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a handful of other potentially high-threat countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave. The State Department began operating some drones in Iraq in 2011 on a trial basis, and stepped up their use after the last American troops left Iraq in December, taking the military drones with them. The State Department drones carry no weapons and are meant to provide data and images of possible hazards, like public protests or roadblocks, to security personnel on the ground. They are much smaller than armed drones, with wingspans as short as 18 inches, compared with 55 feet for the Predators. Surveillance and Microaviation Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the hours the Air Force devotes to flying missions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have gone up 3,100 percent, most of that from increased operations of drones. Every day, the Air Force must process almost 1,500 hours of full-motion video and another 1,500 still images, much of it from Predators and Reapers on around-theclock combat air patrols. The pressures on humans will only increase as the military moves from the limited soda straw views of todays sensors to new Gorgon Stare technology that can capture live video of an entire city but that requires 2,000 analysts to process the data feeds from a single drone, compared with 19 analysts per drone today. In February 2011, researchers unveiled a hummingbird drone, built by the firm AeroVironment for the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which can fly at 11 miles per hour and perch on a windowsill. But it is still a prototype. One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill. There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost. One American service member in Germany recalled how five soldiers and officers spent six hours tramping through a dark Bavarian forest and then sent a helicopter on a fruitless search for a Raven that failed to return home from a training exercise. The next month a Raven went AWOL again, this time because of a programming error that sent it south. The initial call I got was that the Raven was going to Africa, said the service member, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss drone glitches. In the midsize range: The Predator, the larger Reaper and the smaller Shadow, all flown by remote pilots using joysticks and computer screens, many from military bases in the United States. A Navy entry is the X-47B, a prototype designed to take off and land from aircraft carriers automatically and, when commanded, drop bombs. The X-47B had a maiden 29-minute flight over land in February. A larger drone is the Global Hawk, which is used for keeping an eye on North Koreas nuclear weapons activities. In March, the Pentagon sent a Global Hawk over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan to assess the damage.

Commercial Drones in U.S. Skies A new federal law, signed by President Obama on Feb. 14, 2012, compels the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones. But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are celebrating the opening of the skies to these unmanned aerial vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the drones will capture about lives down below and what will be done with that information. Safety concerns like midair collisions and property damage on the ground are also an issue. American courts have generally permitted surveillance of private property from public airspace. But scholars of privacy law expect that the likely proliferation of drones will force Americans to re-examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with. Under the new law, within 90 days, the F.A.A. must allow police and first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The agency must also allow for the safe integration of all kinds of drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses, by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules. The new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came after intense lobbying by drone makers and potential customers. The agency probably will not be making privacy rules for drones. Although federal law had previously prohibited drones except for recreational use or for some waiver-specific law enforcement purposes, the agency issued only warnings, never penalties, for unauthorized uses, a spokeswoman said. The agency was reviewing the laws language, the spokeswoman said. For drone makers, the change in the law comes at a particularly good time. With the windingdown of the war in Afghanistan, where drones have been used to gather intelligence and fire missiles, these manufacturers have been awaiting lucrative new opportunities at home. The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to double in the next decade, according to industry figures. Drones can cost millions of dollars for the most sophisticated varieties to as little as $300 for one that can be piloted from an iPhone.