THE FIRST drone strike authorized by President Barack Obama took place in Pakistan just three days after his 2009 inauguration. Though the supposed target was a Taliban safe house, the missile discharged by remote control from one of the 60 American drone command centers dotting the globe landed on the home of Malik Gulistan Khan, a tribal elder who belonged to a pro-government peace committee. The bomb killed Khan and four of his family members.

Three years later, as the U.S. struggled to contain the fallout from a conventional airstrike that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers, Obama asserted in an online town hall meeting that a war-weary public had nothing to fear from “collateral damage” caused by drones. “Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” said Obama. “For the most part, they have been precision strikes on al-Qaeda and their affiliates. It is important to understand that this thing is being kept on a very tight leash.”

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