6. The Future of Drone Warfare: Striking at Home

Photo: U.S. Air Force

The Future of Drone Warfare: Striking at Home

The United States and the United Kingdom have used drones to kill their own citizens abroad. Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria, and Turkey have struck militants within their borders, and Israel has conducted strikes within the occupied Palestinian territories. The legality of drone strikes is unclear under international law, and the legal status of using drones to kill citizens abroad—or within controlled territory—is even less so.

Where Citizens of the United States and United Kingdom Were Targeted

Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted and killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011, along with three other al Qaeda militants. One of these three was Saudi-born American citizen Samir Khan, editor of al Qaeda’s English language online magazine, Inspire. Anwar al-Awlaki’s American-born son, 16- year- old Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in an October 14, 2011, drone strike on an outdoor cafe in Shabwa, Yemen. The target of the strike was reportedly not Abdulrahman, but Egyptian al-Qaeda leader Ibrahim al-Banna. According to a BBC report, a memo from U.S. Assistant Attorney General David Barron to Attorney General Eric Holder “cited a 2006 Israeli Supreme Court decision that targeted killings were a legitimate form of self defence[sic].”

Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-born British ISIS member known as “Jihadi John” was killed on November 12, 2015, when his vehicle was targeted by British and American drones in Raqqa, Syria. His car was hit with a hellfire missile fired from an American Reaper drone. Two British citizens, Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin, were killed in a targeted RAF drone strike in Raqqa, Syria on August 21, 2015.

Where Pakistan Conducts Strikes at Home

On September 7, 2015, Pakistan conducted a drone strike—using an indigenously built drone—in Shawal Valley in North Waziristan, a semiautonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Three “high-profile” terrorists were killed, according to the Pakistani Army’s spokesman.

Where Iraq Conducts Strikes at Home

On May 25, 2016, Iraq’s Army Aviation unit published a video on YouTube that showed four drone strikes that reportedly killed 10 ISIS fighters. The Iraqi military conducted the strike with China’s Caihong 4 (CH-4).

Where Nigeria Conducts Strikes at Home

On February 3, 2016, Nigeria reported the military’s first use of an armed drone, striking at the militant group Boko Haram. Nigeria used the Caihong 3 (CH-3) to conduct the strike.

As export laws loosen internationally and drone technology proliferates, nations mired in internal conflict (i.e. insurgent and terrorist threats) may choose to strike within their own borders at higher rates.

Where Turkey Conducts Strikes at Home

In 2016, Turkey deployed armed Bayraktar TB2 drones in domestic counter-terrorism operations against PKK militants in the southeastern Hakkari province. According to Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, the drones killed 72 people in strikes on militants in the first two months of their deployment.

Where Israel Conducts Strikes within Controlled Territory

Israel has made extensive use of armed drones in the Gaza Strip. Israeli drones have targeted a number of Hamas leaders, including senior military commander Ahmed Jabari, who was killed on November 14, 2012.