Taking on the drones

The article in The Saturday Paper  27 January 2018 – Australia and drone warfare – by Karen Middleton was prompted by the following essay by Dr Nouria Salehi and Alex Edney-Browne. We hope this will be the start of a campaign to end the use of militarised drones for all the reasons outlined below.


You hear them before you see them. A villager gathering fuel on a hillside, a woman preparing to milk her goats, a shepherd boy driving his sheep, they hear them, look up, freeze with fear and listen for the explosion. The villager is killed, the woman sees her family killed on their way home for lunch, the shepherd never arrives at his destination and his flock is killed.[1]

Drones have been used in counter-terror operations, they were said to be more accurate than conventional airstrikes, but a recently unclassified report from a US military adviser says not: drones kill ten times more civilians than manned aircraft because drones cannot discriminate.[2] Estimates of the daily number of deaths vary from very few to hundreds. Statistics are difficult to gather: drones cannot assess who’s who among the dead, but the US military still labels men, women and children as “Enemies Killed In Action”.[3]

Drones seem easy to use. Air Force drone operators sit in safety and push buttons. No bodies come home in flag-draped coffins, although minds may never recover: anxiety, depression and PTSD is found to be rife amongst drone operators.[4] Meanwhile, people living under the threat of drones are injured, killed and psychologically traumatised.

Drones are mooted as the future way to win wars: The great powers are seeking to increase the influence of drone strikes in battlefields, such as Afghanistan.[5]

The Australian government, according to its 2016 Defence White Paper, [6] is planning to spend between four to six billion dollars on drones.[7]  Compare: $A4 – $A6 billion on purchasing military drones to the Foreign Aid Budget of $A3.8 billion in 2016-17, slashed from A$5.1 billion in 2012-13.[8] Since then, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has absorbed the formerly independent agency, AusAid.[9] Now all Foreign Aid is tied directly to the policy of the Government of the day and real needs in real places are being overlooked.

NGOs typically do sensitive work in areas of need that governments cannot. They have deeper knowledge of grassroots issues and closer contact with local communities. Some, like the Afghan-Australian Development Organisation, have been involved for over a decade, working towards national reconstruction in Afghanistan. They have a proven track record, are free from corruption, have the human contacts inside the country and yet, despite seeking it, have never had a cent from the Australian Government.

Drones are a clumsy, deadly and immensely expensive alternative to reconstruction through education, capacity building and local development. We believe that powerful nations should invest more heavily in reconstruction and development in aim of establishing peace and security, as opposed to indiscriminate military technology. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is the opposite.

Dr Nouria Salehi, Executive Director the Afghan Australian Development Organisation

Alex Edney-Browne, University of Melbourne PhD researcher Alex Edney-Browne travelled to Afghanistan this year to interview victims of drone attacks.


Please write to these ministers and your local member expressing your objection to using military drones in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Minister for Foreign Affairs – https://foreignminister.gov.au/Pages/contact.aspx

Minister for Defence – Senator.Payne@aph.gov.au


[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-18/perspectives-from-the-front-line-of-the-drone-war/8793400

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/02/us-drone-strikes-afghan-civilians

[3] https://www.reprieve.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Obama-Drones-transparency-FINAL.pdf

[4] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/drone-pilots-are-quitting-record-numbers/ https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-watchers-airmen-who-surveil-the-islamic-state-never-get-to-look-away/2017/07/06/d80c37de-585f-11e7-ba90-f5875b7d1876_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_drone-730pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&u&utm_term=.44249d639fbd

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/us/politics/cia-drone-strike-authority-afghanistan.html

[6] http://www.defence.gov.au/WhitePaper/Docs/2016-Defence-White-Paper.pdf http://www.defence.gov.au/WhitePaper/Docs/2016-Defence-Integrated-Investment-Program.pdf

[7] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-02/reaper-drone-defence-accused-lack-transparency-israeli-company/8866036 ; http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-07/australias-military-prepares-to-buy-lethal-drones/8333748

[8] https://theconversation.com/factcheck-what-are-the-facts-on-australias-foreign-aid-spending-71146

[9] http://theconversation.com/savage-budget-cuts-pull-australia-down-in-foreign-aid-rankings-58854