drone pilot
© Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times
A drone pilot at the base at Hancock Field, near Syracuse, working the controls of a craft flying over Afghanistan.
Intimate look at Afghan family life from above does impact execution of 'duty,' say US drone pilots

In a profile piece in the New York Times on Monday, interviews with military operators of US drones operating in the skies over Afghanistan and Pakistan reveal a class of pilots who remotely control the targeted killings of human beings thousands of miles away.

"I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer," says Colonel Brenton, one of the pilots profiled who works out of a dark control room in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York.

But, when it comes to engaging the target and after stipulating this means that the children and mothers away from the fire zone -- for example, "out at the market" -- he says: "I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy. I have a duty, and I execute the duty."

Citing a study conducted by the US military last year investigating the stresses on drone pilots, the Times reports that "of a dozen pilots, sensor operators and supporting intelligence analysts recently interviewed from three American military bases, none acknowledged the kind of personal feelings for Afghans that would keep them awake at night after seeing the bloodshed left by missiles and bombs."

But, it said, "all spoke of a certain intimacy with Afghan family life that traditional pilots never see from 20,000 feet, and that even ground troops seldom experience."

The profile, which recognizes the expansive nature of the US drone program, sharpens the reality that along with the proliferation of pilotless aerial warfare, the US military is training more and more remotely-located pilots it can ask to target "militants" by day and return safely home to their familes at night.

As is clear, the opposite is likely true of their Afghan counterparts, who -- after reading reports like this -- may only find fear, if not some sense of solace, when their children and families leave for "the market."

The full profile, A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away, here.