According to a study by Larry Lewis, adviser to the military’s Joint Staff, and Sarah Holewinski of the non-governmental organization Center for Civilians in Conflict, U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan result in significantly more civilian deaths than regular fighter jets “per engagement”. Afghanistan, of course, is the global center of drone operations – and like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, remains a black hole for information after the U.S. military decided not to parse out manned/unmanned statistics to the public, following a “bumper year” in 2012.
Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research group with close ties to the US military, studied air strikes in Afghanistan from mid-2010 to mid-2011, using classified military data on the strikes and the civilian casualties they caused. Lewis told the Guardian he found that the missile strikes conducted by remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones, were 10 times more deadly to Afghan civilians than those performed by fighter jets
Holewinski said the disparity reflected greater training by fighter pilots in avoiding civilian casualties.
“These findings show us that it’s not about the technology, it’s about how the technology is used,” said Holewinski. “Drones aren’t magically better at avoiding civilians than fighter jets. When pilots flying jets were given clear directives and training on civilian protection, they were able to lower civilian casualty rates.”
Yet the demand for additional drone strikes by commanders in the war zone creates pressure to reduce training, Holewinski and Lewis note.