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Their deaths shall haunt us as long as we live

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by Carly Johnson

Earlier this month, a drone strike in Khost City, Afghanistan killed 34 Taliban-affiliated individuals. However, local reports from the region indicate that this strike, which targeted a funeral prayer for a Taliban commander, also killed 15 civilians. These civilians include family members of the person for whom the funeral was being held; in addition to his Taliban affiliations, he was also a tribal elder. While this discrepancy does not confirm anything, it reveals the troubling extent of the inherent uncertainty in identifying the targets of drone strikes.

This is not the only recent instance of confusion in the aftermath of a drone attack. Earlier this week in Libya, a drone strike targeting al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar killed three individuals who could not be identified, according to the local officials. In the past, Libyan officials have prematurely reported Belmokhtar’s death, only for him to emerge in the public sphere; this has happened so regularly that these officials are hesitant to confirm that he was killed in this most recent strike for fear of another embarrassment. Also this week, the CIA announced that they had positively identified the victim of a drone strike as al Qaeda leader Nasir ­al-Wuhayshi; simultaneously, they also announced that they had not known that he would be among the individuals targeted in this particular strike.

A New York Times article from April 2015 reveals that the US Government has taken deliberate efforts to obscure the truth about the inconsistency of drone strikes from citizens. Drones continue to be touted as a more precise and efficient means of eliminating threats; the US government fails to mention the growing number of innocent civilian deaths as well as the astounding level of uncertainty behind the identities of the fallen.

“Those deaths shall haunt us as long as we live.” This is a nice sentiment from President Obama on the subject of civilian deaths as a result of drone strikes. However, he and his administration continue to use and build cultural approval for drone strikes. As a matter of policy, the CIA continues to use “signature strikes”, which permit the military to proceed with drone strikes based on military intelligence, without confirmation of the identities of the individuals they are attacking. The US military has grown alarmingly cavalier about the frequency and consistency of civilian deaths from drone strikes. When the US plays fast and loose with the lives of innocent civilians, it has a devastating effect on the people they claim to be protecting. Those of us who are residents of the US must demand greater transparency from our government regarding actions carried out on our behalf.

For any readers who are following US drone activity overseas and would like greater clarity, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has a page dedicated to tracking US drone activity in 2015 in Afghanistan. There are similar pages for drone activity in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.

Carly is a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sociology/anthropology. She has been a part of Voices since May 2015. She can be contacted at