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The human cost of drone warfare: A look at some of the world’s biggest drone attacks

Given drone warfare is well on its path to emerge as one of the most important international security developments of this century, it is important to understand the death and destruction a weapon-laden UAV can cause. To provide more insight, here is a list of some of the biggest and most noteworthy drone attacks till date.

June 28, 2021 / 08:54 PM IST
This Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. Yemen's Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oil field Saturday, sparking huge fires and halting about half of the supplies from the world's largest exporter of oil. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

This Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. Yemen's Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oil field Saturday, sparking huge fires and halting about half of the supplies from the world's largest exporter of oil. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

An Indian security establishment was attacked by a terror outfit using a drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for the first time ever on June 27. An explosive-laden drone was used to target an Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Jammu and Kashmir.

While both the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) are currently probing the terror strike and trying to identify the militant organisation behind the attack, the latest terror strike brings to fore the possibilities of a likely shift in how grey-zone warfare played out until now.

Barbed wires, high walls, and guards may prove barely effective if drone attacks become the future of warfare and call for a complete tactic overhaul.

Drones allow precision attacks from a safe distance and have been often used by the United States to maintain peace in conflicted zones such as Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

That apart, the Houthi rebels – a US-designated terror group -- have claimed regular attacks on Saudi Arabia in the recent past, including the September 2019 strike on Aramco’s Abqaiq oil-processing plant and Khurais field. The attack had caused disruption in the supply of nearly 5.7 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia and is considered one of the worst drone attacks to date.

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Given drone warfare is well on its path to emerge as one of the most important international security developments of this century, it is important to understand the death and destruction a weapon-laden UAV can cause. To provide more insight, here is a list of some of the biggest and most noteworthy drone attacks till date:

In 2020, a Turkish-made explosive-laden drone attacked Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya. It was the world’s first recorded case of an autonomous drone attack on humans.

The 2006 Damadola airstrike carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency using unmanned predator drones had killed 18 civilians in Pakistan’s Damadola village located in a tribal zone along the Afghanistan border. The drone attack was supposed to target then al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri.

America’s 2011 Datta Khel airstrike killed 44 people in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan. It was another attempt to kill militant tribal leaders and this time it successfully eliminated Sherabat Khan Wazir, a top commander of Hafiz Gul Bahadur's Taliban faction. Eleven of the persons killed in this US drone attack were reportedly Taliban terrorists; the rest were civilians.

The 2009 Makin airstrike carried out by the US is considered one of the deadliest drone attacks in history. Authorities had pitted the number of deaths between 60 to 80. The drone attack was aimed at killing militants holed up in Pakistan, but the main target -- Baitullah Mehsud – had reportedly escaped unhurt.

A United States Air Force drone aircraft had carried out an airstrike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan’s Miramshah in September 2008. Three women, two children, and seven militants were killed in the drone attack.

The January 2019 Anad base drone strike was carried out by the Houthis near Yemen’s port city of Aden. Six people attending a military parade were killed in the attack, including the head of Yemeni Intelligence. It left 25 military personnel, including senior officers, Yemen’s chief of staff, and a government official wounded.

The US carried out an airstrike at the Baghdad International Airport in 2020 to assassinate Iranian major general and commander of the Quds Force Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani died in the drone attack alongside five Iraqi nationals and four Iranian nationals.



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Jagyaseni Biswas
first published: Jun 28, 2021 08:54 pm
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