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In a drone strike, an unmanned combat aerial vehicle fires a missile or releases a bomb at a target. The drone may be equipped with such weapons as guided bombs, cluster bombs, incendiary devices, air-to-surface missiles, air-to-air missiles, anti-tank guided missiles or other types of precision-guided munitions. Since the turn of the century, most drone strikes have been carried out by the US military in such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen using air-to-surface missiles.
Drone attacks can also be done by weaponized commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as being loaded with dangerous payloads, and crashed into vulnerable targets or detonated above them. Payloads could include explosives, shrapnel, chemical, radiologial or biological hazards. Anti-UAV systems are being developed by states to counter the threat of drone strikes. This is, however, proving difficult. According to James Rogers, an academic who studies drone warfare, "There is a big debate out there at the moment about what the best way is to counter these small UAVs, whether they are used by hobbyists causing a bit of a nuisance or in a more sinister manner by a terrorist actor."
Drone strikes by the United States
Ben Emmerson, special investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council, said that U.S. drone strikes may have violated international humanitarian law. The Intercept reported, "Between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes [in northeastern Afghanistan] killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets." In the United States drone strikes are used to lessen the number of casualties since there is no-one that has to physically fight in combat. Being able to send drones to fight reduces the number of American lives lost substantially. The U.S had increased the use of drone strikes significantly during Obama's presidency compared to Bush's.
In August 2018, Al Jazeera reported that a Saudi Arabian-led coalition "battling Houthi rebels [in Yemen] secured secret deals with al-Qaeda in Yemen and recruited hundreds of the group's fighters. ... Key figures in the deal-making said the United States was aware of the arrangements and held off on drone attacks against the armed group, which was created by Osama bin Laden in 1988."
Drone strikes by the Islamic State
Small drones and quadcopters have been used for strikes by the Islamic State. A group of twelve or more have been piloted by specially trained pilots to drop munitions onto U.S.-backed ground forces. They have been able to evade ground defense forces.
During the battle for Mosul, the Islamic State was able to kill or wound dozens of Iraqi soldiers by dropping light explosives or 40-millimeter grenades from numerous drones attacking at the same time.
U.S. officials acknowledged that this was possibly the first time since they were fighting in the Vietnam War that the U.S. military was mostly powerless against the enemy's aircraft.
FBI Director Christopher Wray stated at a Senate hearing that "We do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones...We have seen that overseas already with some frequency. I think that the expectation is that it is coming here, imminently."
Notable drone strikes
- Damadola airstrike
- Datta Khel airstrike
- 2009 Makin airstrike
- Miramshah airstrike
- Caracas drone attack, allegedly by weaponized commercial drones, while Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela, was addressing the Bolivarian National Guard.
- Anad base drone strike
Notable deaths from drone strikes
- Sally-Anne Jones
- Abdul Rauf (Taliban governor)
- Abdul Rauf Aliza
- Abdulrahman al-Awlaki
- Abu Khayr al-Masri
- Abu Muslim al-Turkmani
- Abu Umar al-Tunisi
- Ali Awni al-Harzi
- Anwar al-Awlaki
- Fahd al-Quso
- Harith bin Ghazi al-Nadhari
- Ibrahim Sulayman Muhammad Arbaysh
- Jihadi John
- Junaid Hussain
- Kamal Derwish
- Mangal Bagh
- Mohammed Atef
- Muhsin al-Fadhli
- Nasir al-Wuhayshi
- Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi
- Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi
- Said Ali al-Shihri
- Samir Khan
- Anti-aircraft warfare § AUDS
- Global policeman
- Presumption of guilt
- Public opinion about US drone attacks
- Civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes
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