On Sept. 7, 2000, in the waning days of the Clinton
administration, a U.S. Predator drone flew over Afghanistan for the first time.
The unmanned, unarmed plane buzzed over Tarnak Farms, a major al Qaeda camp.
When U.S. analysts later pored over video footage from this maiden voyage, they
were struck by a commandingly tall man clad in white robes. CIA analysts later
concluded that he was Osama bin Laden.
From that first mission, the drone program has grown into
perhaps the most prominent instrument of U.S. counterterrorism policy-and, for
many in the Muslim world, a synonym for American callousness and arrogance. The
U.S. has used drones to support ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and,
particularly under President Barack Obama, to hammer the high command of al
Qaeda. A recent study by the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C.,
estimates that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 2,000 to 4,000
people. Other countries are trying to get into the act, including Iran, which
U.S. officials say has flown drones over Iraq during the current crisis there.
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