Since 2008, the US has dramatically increased its lethal targeting of alleged militants through the use of weaponized drones—formally called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Novel technologies always raise new ethical, legal, and practical chal- lenges, but concerns about drone strikes have been heightened by their role in what might colloquially be termed “covert drone strikes” outside the established combat theater of Af- ghanistan. Airstrike campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are conducted with a degree of government secrecy enabled by the fact that there are few supporting US ground troops and/or CIA agents in these countries.
Political and public debate has fed on a growing catalogue of news reports and books, which themselves are based primarily on leaks by unnamed government officials. Accounts are sometimes conflicting and leave basic details unclear. US drone operations have been ac- knowledged by the Obama Administration in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. However, the government has declined to clarify the division of responsibilities between the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and the various policies and protocols governing civilian protection in the strikes. This report does not focus on possible drone operations elsewhere in Africa or in the Philippines, as public information is not corroborated, and the extent of US involvement is disputed.
This report details two strains of concern stemming from US covert drone operations. The first and most often cited is secrecy, which has implications for accountability in the use of force; second, the inherent limits of using drone platforms outside of full-scale military operations, which has implications for civilian protection and harm response.
Human Rights Clinic & Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC),
The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions,
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/human_rights_institute/54