Despite President Obama’s outspoken praise for the intelligence community in the wake of revealing a pair of Western hostages killed in January, the drone war which has become a centerpiece of his foreign policy is often carried out in an intense fog.
There have been occasional inquiries in the past about “signature strikes,” the administration’s policy of carrying out strikes on totally unidentified people they think are acting like terrorists might act.
All this language really means, however, and it’s something that’s becoming increasingly apparent, is that when President Obama signs off on a strike and some CIA agent pushes a button, the US often has no real idea who they’re about to kill.
The January hostage killings reveal this in more ways than one, as the US struck what it figured was an “al-Qaeda compound,” which is the official way of saying they blew up a house. They had no idea who was inside, except that there might be al-Qaeda.
And in this case there were. The strike killed six people, including the two hostages. Also killed were a pair of American al-Qaeda members, neither of whom had been put on the president’s already legally dubious kill list, meaning they were likewise extrajudicial killings of American citizens.
Indeed, after all this we still don’t know who the other two out of the six were, though the fact that the administration isn’t presenting this as an “all’s well that ends well” situation indicates they, like most of the victims of US drone strikes, were nobody of any consequence.
That’s the US drone war all over. A lot of people are killed, only a handful are ever identified at all, and when the US does happen to kill some real al-Qaeda leader, they seem as surprised as anybody, because they sure didn’t know they were aiming at him.