“When the US began drone strikes in Pakistan in 2006, drone attacks were notoriously inaccurate,” wrote retired Pakistani military officer Shaukat Qadir at Counterpunch in an article about the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis.
Their kill ratio was approximately 2 militants to 8-10 'collateral damage'. . . . However, from about March/April 2008, they became increasingly accurate, probably due to more accurate HUMINT [intelligence on the ground]. In recent times, the kill ratio swung dramatically; 8-10 militants to 2 in collateral damage.
Then Qadir explained
About a month ago, some helicopter-borne snipers killed nine children in Afghanistan who were out gathering firewood. An ex-marine turned journalist accused the snipers of deliberate murder. He argued that, with the technology available, it was impossible not to be able to differentiate between children aged nine to thirteen, carrying sticks, and armed militants.
But another reason beyond improved technology led Qadir to conclude that a subsequent drone attack, on March 17, in which 41 individuals, including women and children, were killed, was deliberate.
. . . the CIA was furious over the deal negotiated between the two militaries [Pakistan and the U.S.] to oust them from Pakistan. Given their record of pretty consistent accuracy for over two years, during which, never more than a total of twenty people have been killed, the majority being militants, and the manner of the attack, no other credible conclusion comes to mind.
In other words, Qadir maintains that the March 17 attack was a petty vendetta. Meanwhile, at Wired's Danger Room Richard Wheeler wrote last week of U.S. Air Force attempts to improve targeting:
The Air Force has problems distinguishing men from women and adults from children. Which means pilots sometimes target — and kill — the wrong people. The air service's solution: a nationwide contest, to help the military pick out kid from grown-up.
With the “Remote Human Demographic Characterization” challenge, the Air Force is looking for descriptions of a system “that can determine approximate age (adult, teen, child) and gender of small groups of people at a distance.” The challenge “requires a written proposal only.” So if your idea works and you can get the technical details right, you could walk away with $20,000.
Along with manned aircraft attacks, this system is intended for use in drone attacks. But the military better file it under Watch Out What You Wish For. Once designed and implemented, accidents will look even more deliberate. Whatever remains of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan will go the way of the wind.