Back in the news this week: armed drone strikes. The United States killed the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a CIA drone strike in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday. He was one of America’s most wanted terrorists.
The use of armed drones, 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. And there are many questions about whether these attacks are legal.
In November 2021, the Pentagon acknowledged a drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan as a tragic mistake, after investigations from the New York Times. But in the first six months of 2022, drone strikes affecting civilians did not stop. The non-profit transparency watchdog Airwars documented multiple civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq from drone strikes controlled by Turkey, and civilians injured by an alleged US drone strike in Yemen. And the use of drones by both sides in the Russian invasion of Ukraine also raises concerns.
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?
In September 2021, we brought a couple of women who are real experts in this area together to get a picture of the size and shape of drone warfare 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 2021 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 Colour Advancing Peace and Security.
In the meantime, they’ve been reading books about finding your purpose. Jessica is into ‘Ikigai: the Japanese secret to a long and happy life‘, and Aditi has been reading Audre Lorde’s ‘Zami: A New Spelling of My Name‘.