Drone Surge

It’s increasingly obvious that the use of drones in Afghanistan has become a way to continue the war at a level of great intensity while “withdrawing” in terms of boots-on-the-ground. Here’s a report from Wired‘s Spencer Ackerman, noting that initial reports of drone activity in Afghanistan have been significantly upgraded:

The soldiers and marines are packing their bags. The pilots are sitting on the tarmac. But the armed robotic planes are busier than they’ve ever been: revised U.S. military statistics show a much, much larger drone war in Afghanistan than anyone suspected.

Last month, military stats revealed that the U.S. had launched some 333 drone strikes in Afghanistan thus far in 2012. That made Afghanistan the epicenter of U.S. drone attacks — not Pakistan, not Yemen, not Somalia. But it turns out those stats were off, according to revised ones released by the Air Force on Thursday morning. There have actually been 447 drone strikes in Afghanistan this year. That means drone strikes represent 11.5 percent of the entire air war — up from about 5 percent last year.

It’s not that surprising when you think about the politics involved. Americans tend to dislike wars in a precise ratio to the level of American casualties and/or troop deployments. Thus, Afghanistan aside, the drone surge raises unsettling questions about the propensity of the United States to wage war in a future where robots do the work and nobody here but a handful of critics is paying much attention to the physical or diplomatic damage. More from Ackerman:

U.S. special operations forces underwent a major command overhaul and now operate out of a private base run by the company formerly known as Blackwater. Super-sizing the drone war is fully in line with that broader shift. This may have been the year of the drone in Afghanistan, but the drones aren’t going home any time soon.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.