War is ugly. One unit in Kansas has the task of “video-stalking” their ISIS targets thousands of miles away:
They agonize over those deaths. The most frequently heard phrase in drone combat, one airman says, is: “Don’t push the button.”
“You see [enemy combatants] kiss their kids goodbye, and kiss their wives goodbye, and then they walk down the street,” said a squadron chief master sergeant. “As soon as they get over that hill, the missile is released.”
The Americans wait to fire, he says, “because we don’t want the family to see it”.
These soldiers might not be in a war zone, but there is no doubt that they face risks of PTSD everyday. No one walks away from images like this unscathed, especially if their strikes killed civilians in the process.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, nearly 10,000 people are estimated to have died in 4,413 US strikes since about 2002, according to the watchdog Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The bureau estimates that as many as 1,488 were civilians, including up to 331 children.
These are the truly unsung heroes. They operated from within the country, but no one in the state knew their involvement until very recently. How does one go to work and not able to tell their neighbors what they have achieved?