Old soldiers who once fought on the beach at Anzio in what was then a death trap are quick to note that we seem to be changing the way we fight wars. The drone reflects one such change. Warfare evolves with time, and with changes in technique and weapons. Some of the tactics employed at Anzio are probably useless these days.
The drone use makes an old infantryman look at war like it has become a computer game. Seldom is the foot soldier bogged down in the rain and mud, getting calloused hands from digging foxholes, dodging shells and bombs, eating K-rations, trying to get some sleep, and praying to God to protect him from enemy fire.
Infantrymen were once the backbone of the Army; drones have now grabbed the headlines. Foot soldiers like James Arness, Bill Mauldin and Audie Murphy were at Anzio in close contact with the enemy. It was a place of one of World War II's bloodiest battles, which took four months and cost over 30,000 casualties. Infantry soldiers did most of the fighting and dying at Anzio.
Today unmanned aerial vehicles, called Predator Drones, have replaced foot soldiers in some areas and have become the most effective weapon against al-Qaida. America has thousands of these weapons and some are flying over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan transmitting live video to operators elsewhere, who then carry out air strikes against specific targets. Drones go to places foot soldiers are unable to go, or are not accessible, such as certain tribal areas.
In Pakistan alone about 1,900 insurgents have been killed in tribal areas by drones. Foot soldiers were not placed at risk as drones fought these terrorists.
Pakistan's foreign ministry condemns drone strikes claiming they are illegal, a violation of sovereignty and against international law. The United States' view is that these strikes are "too useful to stop." In the past eight years, some estimate 26,000 people have been killed in Pakistan by drone strikes.
Some drone attacks have been flown from Langley, Va. No foot soldiers are sent to the tribal areas, but a Combat Systems officer sits at a computer, watches a screen in a foreign land, picks a target and, at the right time, pushes a button and fires a rocket from a drone. The drone may destroy an enemy insurgent or his base of operations. Boots on the ground will always remain important, but if the lives of our infantrymen can be saved, why not send a drone whenever possible?
Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.