More Drones, More Bombs, More Deaths—Our Machine of Military Intervention Grinds On

A soldier died in Afghanistan over the Thanksgiving holiday. Why are we still there?


Military funeral
Zhang Jun Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

Previous presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama ordered deadly drone strikes in countries where military action is formally authorized and in countries where it is not, and President Donald Trump doesn't seem to be interested in stopping.

Spencer Ackerman of The Daily Beast has crunched the numbers. For the first two years of Trump's administration, the military has increased the number of drone strikes in countries America is technically not at war in: Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Trump's administration has launched 238 strikes in those places since 2017. During his first two years, the Obama administration launched 186. (As always when talking about secret drone strikes, these figures should be considered estimates.)

In particular, we saw a huge jump in drone strikes in Yemen—relevant given that America's interventions in that country are so heavily tied with Washington's relationship with Saudi Arabia. There is some good news, though: Drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are now dropping again as we approach the end of 2018. The surge may have been a temporary spike, not a "new normal."

One reason drone strikes increased is that the rules have been loosened up: Now drone strikes are allowed when there's a "reasonable certainty" of hitting a particular senior terrorist rather than the "near certainty" previously required. As a result, there have been 35 drone strikes in Somalia in 2017, more than the 33 that took place there during Obama's entire term.

Trump's team has continued the trend of declaring anybody killed an enemy combatant unless independent sources raise enough of a stink. The administration isn't even bothering to even give us the extremely undercounted tally of civilians killed by drones that the Obama administration half-heartedly put out during the final two years of his administration.

Meanwhile, in countries where military strikes are actually authorized by Congress, like Afghanistan, the bombs are falling like rain. In Trump's first year as president, we bombed Afghanistan more than ever. As Reason's Brian Doherty noted earlier in this month, this tactic is intended to minimize our troops' direct military contact in the country. We've seen more military strikes but fewer actual flights.

But we're still risking military lives in Afghanistan without any evidence that we're making anything better over there. On Saturday, Sgt. Leandro A.S. Jasso, 25, of Leavenworth, Washington, was killed in the Helmand Province, apparently after getting shot. The details are thin and his death is still under investigation. We do know that this was Jasso's third deployment to Afghanistan after enlisting in 2012. That means he was barely of legal age when he joined the Army and yet had been sent to a war zone three times by the time he hit 25.

As Doherty thoroughly documented in Reason's August/September issue, our involvement in that country has become an incubator of costly boondoggles and dangerous corruption, not the "reconstruction" being sold to us.