The ever expanding drone wars

Drone attacks are a common feature of contemporary wars – and growingly outside conflicts. In the past 20 years, the U.S. has carried out more than 91,000 drone strikes. They have killed between 22,000 and 48,000 civilians. Apologies for mistakes – such as the recent one by a U.S. general for a drone attack in Kabul last August – are rare. Someone’s pulling the trigger. But who makes the decision? Where is accountability? Who has it? Our partners at Asymmetrical Haircut have invited Jessica Dorsey and Aditi Gupta to discuss the lack of transparent rules and secrecy of states in deploying armed drones. “There are so many flaws in the system that you don’t have any means for the civilians on the ground to report on allegations that harmed themselves.”

Military U.S. drone in Afghanistan
© Shah Marai / AFP
1 min 28Approximate reading time

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Armed drones have been around for many years, and their use, especially by armed forces of countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, has grown as part of what is known as the ‘war on terror’. But civil society has complained again and again that civilians in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen are dying in wrongly-targeted drone strikes. Now a top US military commander apologised for a mistaken drone strike in Afghanistan.

Is this now time for a real discussion about the principles of transparency and state obligations to follow the laws of war when deploying armed drones?

We brought a couple of women who are real experts in this area together to talk about it. They helped us to understand the size and shape of what’s been happening, and consider whether advocacy can challenge the secrecy of security policies.

Jessica Dorsey is Assistant Professor at the University of Utrecht, Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Managing Editor of Opinio Juris. Here’s a recent paper she co-wrote for Chatham House on drones. Aditi Gupta is the director of the all-party parliamentary group on drones and deputy director of the UK chapter of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security.

Asymmetrical Haircuts podcastASYMMETRICAL HAIRCUTS

This podcast has been published as part of a partnership between and Asymmetrical Haircuts, a podcast on international justice produced from The Hague by journalists Janet Anderson and Stephanie van den Berg, who retain full control and independence over the contents of the podcast.

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