Killing is easy.
My specialization is the AGM-114 Hellfire, and the AIM-92 Stinger missiles. I operate the MQ-1 Predator drone, and have flown missions in Yemen and Somalia. Our operations base is in Djibouti, but the exact location of our base camp there is classified.
Most of our missions have been successful. Using a proprietary “disposition matrix”, our team processes a “kill list” – a list of individuals that the US military really wants dead. We are closely affiliated with the JSOC – The Joint Special Operations Command – that in turn has close links with the CIA, and a direct line to the president himself. Every major missile hit is sanctioned all the way to the highest political and military offices.
The MQ-1 predator has advanced avionics, and with a range of over 1,000 kilometers, gives our team plenty of time and resources to annihilate any target. Its cruise speed is a comfortable 130 kilometers per hour – good enough to reach target locations, and soar above them, as we gather telemetry. And when we finally have a lock on the target, a well-defined protocol of accuracy checks and counter-checks ultimately results in the release of the Hellfire missile.
The Hellfire Missile descends towards the target at Mach 1.3 – over 1,500 km/hr. Its laser homing ensures an accuracy of within one foot squared, even from a distance of more than 5 kilometers. And upon impact, it transforms everything within 10 meters radius of the target into a soup of mangled metal, bones, blood, and gravel. We call it “bug splat”. Nothing can survive a hit from the missile. Not even tank armor.
So the mechanics – the actionable parts – of killing are easy. Point, range, account for signal travel time and wind speed, and press the release lever. Bombs away. Three or four seconds later, in the center screen, within the control room, the targeted location suddenly turns into a huge, dusty cloud of obliteration. As the cloud clears off, what was initially buildings and streets and humans scurrying around shows its new configuration: bug splat. A shallow crater in which the 21st century has just looped backwards into the Stone Age.
And yet, every once in a while, misfortunes do occur. Misfortunes that end up haunting me, and my colleagues. Sometimes, truly saddening collateral damage occurs. In the aftermath of the bombing, bodies of young children have been discovered, in several missions. How they happened to be within the military camps of terrorists remains a mystery. And once, a Hellfire missile uncovered a huge, underground gas tank, which hadn’t appeared on our reconnaissance data. The resulting explosion extended the blast site to more than 100 meters on all sides. The body count went over fifty, instead of the targeted three. Such events haunt us for days.
Still, the work has to be done. Some of the strikes have stopped notorious terrorists that would have otherwise killed hundreds of innocent people. Often, what keeps us going is the age-old question: what is more moral: to kill one or three people, and prevent the loss of hundreds more, or to desist from taking any action, and let the terrorist claim those hundreds of lives? We, in that control room, and all our military colleagues, believe in reducing evil upon mankind. Sometimes, we fail at preventing the loss of innocent lives.
But most of the time, we do succeed.
And we take heart at this, and push on.