Journalism in the Public Interest

War & Military

Transcript: Covering the Frontlines of the Drone War

Pakistani tribesmen carry the coffin of a person said to have been killed in a US drone attack. (THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The officially secret drone war, carried out in some of the world’s most dangerous regions, is extremely challenging to report on. Several thousand people have been killed in hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and other attacks carried out beyond the battlefield in Afghanistan, but from legal memos to casualty estimates, the government has made little hard data about the wars public. (ProPublica has been covering the lack of transparency about the drone program.)

Mark Mazzetti, New York Times national security reporter and author of "The Way of the Knife," and Adam Baron, who reports from Yemen for McClatchy, the Christian Science Monitor, and others, joined ProPublica's Cora Currier to share their experiences covering drone strikes. Some key takeaways:

  • Though the U.S. says it will only kill when capture is not feasible, sources on the ground say many targeted killings are of people that could have been arrested. "It does appear that in Pakistan, the tribal areas have basically been declared a 'no capture zone,'" Mazzetti wrote.
  • The term "drone war" doesn't cover the strikes in Yemen carried out by manned aircrafts. "It seems like public opinion in the U.S. seems to focus on the issue of the unmanned drone, while in Yemen, the issue is largely the idea of airstrikes itself," Baron explained.
  • Getting details in the aftermath of a drone strike is a huge challenge. Strikes often happen in remote districts, and there can be lots of misinformation about who was killed.

See the full transcript of their conversation here:

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