Der Spiegel has an illuminating profile of a drone pilot for the United States Air Force, Brandon Bryant, and what the work entails:
When he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser. The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact.
With seven seconds left to go, there was no one to be seen on the ground. Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. Then it was down to three seconds. Bryant felt as if he had to count each individual pixel on the monitor. Suddenly a child walked around the corner, he says.
Second zero was the moment in which Bryant's digital world collided with the real one in a village between Baghlan and Mazar-e-Sharif [in Afghanistan].
Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach.
"Did we just kill a kid?" he asked the man sitting next to him.
"Yeah, I guess that was a kid," the pilot replied.
"Was that a kid?" they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.
Then, someone they didn't know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. "No. That was a dog," the person wrote.
They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?
"I saw men, women and children die during that time," Bryant told Der Spiegel. "I never thought I would kill that many people. In fact, I thought I couldn't kill anyone at all."
At least 176 children have been killed in U.S. drone strikes in nearby Pakistan alone, with more than twenty more in Yemen and at least one in Somalia, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
In Afghanistan, though, children can apparently be legitimate targets. After NATO called a 12 year old, a 10 year old and an 8 year old killed in a Marine airstrike "innocent Afghan civilians," the Marines took umbrage. The children were digging a hole, which could've been used to place a roadside bomb. "In addition to looking for military-age males, it's looking for children with potential hostile intent," a Marine general explained. "Military-age male" is already pretty much the only requirement to label someone killed in a drone strike a militant so including children is just a matter of revising the meaning of "military age" downward. Forward!
h/t to db for the link