Drone warfare: Jere Van Dyk describes what it is like to find yourself underneath a UAV

by JERE VAN DYK, CBS News  |  published on March 9, 2013

“We only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.” – John Brennan, February 7, 2013.

President Obama’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency uttered those words as he defended the drone program which he helped build. Drones, along with Brennan’s feelings on water-boarding, dominated his recent Senate confirmation hearings. The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on his confirmation, and is expected to approve him.

On May 8, 2002, “The New York Times” reported that the CIA, using “a missile fired from an unmanned surveillance drone,” tried to kill Gulbudeen Hekmatyier, leader of Hezb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), the second most powerful militant group after the Taliban in Afghanistan. He survived. According to the paper, the attack, “was carried out by a Predator drone carrying Hellfire antitank missiles… a new tactic in the war.”

As of March 6, according to the New America Foundation, the U.S. had fired 420 missiles in the tribal areas of Pakistan and, more recently, in Yemen. The frequency has increased tremendously under President Obama compared to the previous administration. The Obama administration has used the drones, with success, to target suspected al Qaeda and Taliban commanders and militants, killing some senior commanders in recent months.

Opponents of the program argue that hundreds of civilians have also been killed by the strikes, including many children, but the U.S. government claims civilian casualties from the strikes has been reduced to almost zero during the past year.

The first time I found myself underneath a drone was late November 2007, in the mountains south of Tora Bora on the Afghan-Pakistani border. It was 10 p.m. and I was sitting in a car on a dirt track with a small group of Afghans, waiting for word from a tribal chief — in whose hands I had put my life — that the Taliban, higher up in the mountains on his land, would meet with an American journalist.

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