The AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile was developed as an anti-tank weapon back in the days when the primary threat against the United States was thought to be the Soviet Union and their T-62 and T-72 tanks. When I entered the Army in 1976, it was already in development and its versatility provided staying power long after the Berlin Wall was torn down and the wars for oil in the Middle East had faded into the background. During the Global War on Terrorism, Hellfire missiles have been mounted on Predator and Reaper UCAVs, or combat drones, and used in targeted attacks on terrorists that have included U.S. citizens, as well as members of al-Qaeda. The Hellfire missile and the U.S. policy on use of drones in the Global War on Terrorism has resulted in the deaths of non-combatants, and that is a problem.
Some deny that non-combatants have been killed in Afghanistan. The United States Central Command issued a 2,100 page report, a five page summary of which can be found here. There is no question that non-combatants have been killed by drones. U.S. policy that resulted in deaths that included children have been properly called into question and deserve scrutiny.
On Feb. 4, a document describing the Department of Justice legal case for using drones was leaked to NBC news. A group of Democratic and Republican Senators has asked President Obama for transparency about the targeting of U.S. citizens. The senate request is related to the hearings on John Brennan’s appointment as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The irony for right wingers is that a Brennan appointment may ease drones out of CIA. In any case, it is about time people started asking questions about our government’s use of drones to target terrorists.
Mistakes happen during military operations—any soldier can tell you that. What needs to be addressed is what the hell are we doing with our Hellfire missiles, and how can we justify the deaths of non-combatants in pursuit of the war on terrorism? That Chuck Grassley and Al Franken can both agree to ask questions about the drone policy is a positive development, providing hope that the issues of drone warfare policy and targeting of terrorists will get some transparency.