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Former US drone operator: 'We always wonder if we killed the right people'

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Navy X-47B drone takes off from aircraft carrier
Navy X-47B drone takes off from aircraft carrier

As the debate over military drone use rages on, The Guardian has published an unexpected voice on the topic, that of a former US drone operator who openly questions the program. An imagery analyst for the Air Force from 2009 to 2012, Heather Linebaugh says the people making decisions about the drone program are mostly ignorant of the brutality of the casualties inflicted. "I wish I could ask them a few questions," Linebaugh writes. "I'd start with: 'How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?'"

Linebaugh says the imaging quality involved is so low that operators often can't distinguish between an assault rifle and a shovel, casting doubt on every strike."We always wonder if we killed the right people," she writes, "if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian's life all because of a bad image or angle." She says at least two of her colleagues were driven to suicide because of the mental toll, and that the army does not report suicide statistics for precisely this reason. The program has become increasingly controversial in recent months, with the Defense Department effectively canceling a drone piloting medal. Earlier this month, a strike in Yemen mistook a wedding party for an Al Qaeda gathering, mistakenly killing at least 13 civilians.