4 Facts Of Life In A Town That’s Constantly Bombed By Drones
To date, President Obama has ordered nearly 400 drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan. That might have made him the deadliest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history... if Teddy Roosevelt also hadn't gotten one of those. The U.S. government says 116 of those killed in the strikes were civilians, which is roughly 116 too many. They mostly happened in Pakistan's North Waziristan area, where Muhammad -- an American student from New York State -- worked as an EMT for the Edhi Foundation. We talked to Muhammad about living in a sneak preview of a horrifying Skynet future, and he told us...
The Drones Create A Constant Buzz
You know that feeling when there's a mosquito somewhere in your room, but you can't find it? That's how it feels like to live with military drones over your head ... if the mosquitoes also carried nearly 4,000 pounds of explosives, and had the judgment and restraint of a sleep-deprived soldier locked inside a tiny fart-box for a few days.
"The first off-putting thing about Waziristan was a constant, inescapable buzzing," Muhammad recalls. "It was an annoying noise emitted by the drones scouting the area for terrorists to kill. It's a constant, low buzz, almost a hum, so subtle yet so present that it has become Waziristan's status quo, its not so silent silence. You eventually get used to it, but I sure was glad I spent my first two days in Miranshah's [the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan] only sound-proof hotel."
Eventually, you get used to the noise -- but that has its own issues. Muhammad explains: "When the natives would come home from a trip to the mainland, they'd talk about how the actual silence they experienced there was deafening. They experience pain when they hear true silence for the first time ... The humming carries along with them everywhere they go. In Waziristan, they never experience the purity of their surroundings, because they are constantly taking in the humming of drones."
They are basically addicted to the sound murder robots make. How's that for a Doctor Who plotline?
Drone Strikes Are Ridiculously Terrifying On The Ground
"One night, my partner woke me up at 2 in the morning for a call," Muhammad told us. "At first, I thought it was another terrorist attack. Once we got to the site though, there was an interesting crowd forming. Usually, people are running way from the bomb. Whatever struck Miranshah today was not a bomb. It was a drone strike ... We are actually taught not to go to the aid of people in a drone strike, because there is usually a second drone strike 5 to 10 minutes later to make sure the job is done. From the stories I've heard the second drone strike can sometimes be even hundreds of meters away from the first."
Fortunately, that night, the second strike never came -- but only because they were sure the first one already took out the intended target. "From the looks of it," Muhammad says, "the drone was targeting an elder tribal gathering in an already rundown building. If that was the case, then the strike was pretty accurate. It didn't leave huge craters at all but the building and everyone in it were gone."
This was more of an exception than the rule, though. According to one report, it once took the military seven drone strikes to kill Baitullah Mehsud, a terrorist leader responsible for the murder of Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Despite their $13 million price tag, drones apparently aren't that precise. Well, not with the explosions anyway. But they're very good at one thing...
Drones Are A Fantastic Recruitment Tool For Terrorists
Leading experts have repeatedly stated that, for terrorist groups like ISIS or the Taliban, the omnipresent fear of drones is a better recruitment tool than free freshly baked cookies at every Murderous Asshole Meeting. Muhammad witnessed that firsthand, when he arrived at the scene of that bombed tribal meeting.
"When I asked them what happened," he recalls, "everyone said that Wazirs were killed by the 'terrorists.' 'Terrorists?' I thought. And then I realized they meant Americans. They had just witnessed a foreign force kill their compatriots and everyone was saying they were just an innocent family ... So naturally, they called us, the Americans, the terrorists, just as we call suicide bombers terrorists."
Shortly after the drone strike, a town hall meeting was called where a local big shot, who Muhammad suspects had ties to terrorist groups, gave a passionate plea for everyone to help the Mujahideen fight against "Western oppression."
"There are almost no women and middle-aged men at these things," Muhammad says. "Kids, typically delinquents and orphans, and older men come to these meetings. Thus, there is a clash of generations, but the older men use that to their advantage. They rile the teenagers up in masses. They talk about having a purpose in life, one beyond collecting scrap metal to make ends meet. The children have never had a goal bigger than getting food in their lives, so they jump aboard," and the uniform for their first real job is a suicide vest.
Obviously there's no negotiating with most terrorists, but for every one of them that a drone strike takes out, it creates two new ones, and that's basically the motto of HYDRA. Generally not good when your combat strategy syncs up with that of a supervillain group.
"When I see violence in the news, and the live cell-phone videos show up, I have to turn down the volume because of the unbearable screaming of the victims and the onlookers. In Miranshah this does not happen. Violence is the norm ... After an attack, there is no screaming. Parents let their kids roam the streets, letting them collect rubble because kids don't make sand castles here. They stash piles of rubble and lay claim to a hill of stones. Then they play all day trying to take their friend's stash and protect theirs."
And here we thought that making children terrified of clear blue skies (it's perfect drone weather) was depressing enough.
"The kids here are really weird in how they talk about violence," Muhammad says. "They are not afraid to die. This sort of desensitization to violence comes from living alongside drones their entire lives, makes them even more susceptible to the violence of jihadi mullahs ... They actually look forward to dying for a cause. They don't want to die in drone strikes or suicide bombs, they want to be martyrs in the jihad against all that is trying to kill them."
It actually makes a weird kind of sense. When you leave somebody with two options -- die in a random explosion, or die in one you caused -- the latter actually sounds pretty tempting.
Drones Instill A Never-Ending Sense Of Fear
"The Edhi Foundation asks us to do well checkups at night to search for stray dogs and cats that need help," Muhammad explains. "One time I shined my flashlight down the well, and I was startled to see kids down there."
That's how most horror movies start. But this was only terrifying in the existential sense:
"I asked them to come out. The next day, I saw the same kids in the well, this time in broad daylight. I told them to come out again. But, they wouldn't, they didn't want them [the West] to 'steal their faces.' They said the drones can see them and they weren't climbing out till sunset prayers ... Wazirs in general don't look at the sky because they are afraid the drones might photograph or follow them."
"I tried to reassure the kids that drones are not capable of identifying individuals from such heights ... But, they don't trust me. To them all foreigners, even if they are from another part of their country, are untrustworthy," so they would rather spend every day hiding in a well.
Somewhere around the time your actions force children to fear the sun, you gotta wonder if you might not be 'the good guy.'
Muhammad is a contributing writer for Cracked. He attends an Ivy League School and is an aspiring neurosurgeon. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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