A remote-controlled war

Where is the ethical debate about the use of attack drones in Pakistan?

President Barack ObamaâÄôs planned troop increases in Afghanistan got a lot of press last week, but part of the administrationâÄôs escalation of the war is a dramatic expansion of CIA attack drone operations in the area. Drones like the âÄúPredatorâÄù are small, unmanned robotic aircraft that are controlled remotely from halfway around the world. Although they have been used for reconnaissance since the 1990s, many drones now are armed with Hellfire missiles and used for âÄúprecision strikesâÄù against terrorist targets. Such strikes have been responsible for the deaths of numerous al-Qaida and Taliban militants âÄî including some prominent leaders. But despite their success, reports vary widely about the number of civilian casualties they incur. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already been unprecedentedly silent and distant to the American mind. We need to be asking what it means for our country that the CIA can wage a covert war across the globe without ever having to leave their offices at Langley. Further complicating the issue is the fact that American drones are being used especially widely in Pakistan, whose governmentâÄôs complicity in the matter has been ambiguous. For their part, the Pakistani media are calling the strikes a violation of national sovereignty and claim civilian casualty levels that far outstrip official estimates. The ethical implications âÄî both of remote-controlled war and of the silent creep of American military operations into Pakistan âÄî are deeply troubling. It is time for a robust national dialogue about the boundaries that are being crossed in the way we wage war, largely without the knowledge or support of the public.