President Barack Obama is being asked to reevaluate his use of drone strikes by four former pilots who say the strategy is fueling hatred toward the West and spurring the expansion of militant groups.
The group of former military airmen wrote an open letter to Obama to rethink the policy which critics say can engage innocent civilians and drive angry survivors into militancy, Reuters reports.
“You harm these people, and they’re going to want revenge,” former Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant, who operated drones for the US Air Force Predator program between 2007 and 2011, said at a news conference in New York.
Supporters of drone strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq say they are highly accurate and that they spare American soldiers from the dangers of on-the-ground combat.
A representative for the Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.
Bryant and the other former airmen said they often killed non-combatants inadvertently and had the impression they were considered cowardly by relatives of victims, and that the survivors often sought revenge on the West for what they considered pointless deaths.
Bryant, who has spoken out against the strikes since leaving the program, described their negative effects on Americans who control drones to execute deadly strikes.
Michael Haas, a former senior airman who trained other US drone pilots, said operators become desensitized because they conduct strikes from a distance, sometimes half a world away from their targets.
As an example of the callousness they developed, Haas said operators sometimes used the term “fun-sized terrorists” to refer to children in target areas.
In response to the psychological trauma, Haas said many operators developed alcohol and drug addictions.
“This isn’t a video game,” Haas said. “When you fail and kill the wrong guy… you [can't] start over again.”
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