"It was above Afghanistan and Iraq where the US Air Force and its British allies learned how best to use this revolutionary weapons system. Friendly troops on the ground were originally fearful, concerned that operators thousands of miles distant would be less able to protect them. Yet over time – and as armed drones became ubiquitous – the Predator and Reaper emerged as key assets. Convoys of troops and materiel would often be accompanied by a drone providing top cover, seeking out ambushes or tell-tales for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the route. The aircraft were also crucial to the intelligence revolution now taking place in US warfighting. Terabytes of surveillance data were being sucked up daily from the War on Terror's many battlefields, with armed drones often at the forefront of that program. Uniquely they were then able to act immediately on any findings, a situation which led to the increased use of targeted killings on the regular battlefield. According to former military intelligence officers, assassinations became commonplace in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Back home in the United States, the Air Force readily embraced the remote warfare revolution. Many conventional warplane squadrons were transitioned to unmanned aircraft, with thousands of remote operators and intelligence analysts now fighting their wars from concrete boxes, far from the frontlines. With recruitment difficult, the Pentagon thought this to be a plus – surely personnel able to fight their wars by day and then return home to families at night would be happier? They were not. Removed from the battlefield, remote operators were unable to decompress from difficult missions. Working hours were grueling. A six-month stint in Afghanistan for manned crews could be as long as three years for those in Nevada or New Mexico. And the very intimacy which drone operations allowed – the ability to observe unseen the most intimate of human acts – also carried its own horrors, with operators forced to watch powerless as atrocities were committed far away. Psychologists are having to invent a new language to describe the damaging effects of this remote warfare on military personnel.
"For a few short years, the United States and Israel had enjoyed an extraordinary duopoly in the manufacture and use of armed drones. It was a select club, with only Britain invited to join. Yet proliferation was inevitable, with dozens of nations aggressively pursuing their own programs. More ominously, so too were terrorist and militant groups. In the hours before the United States began its own attacks on Syria, a little-noticed announcement by Hezbollah in August 2014 claimed that the Lebanese militia had itself successfully fired missiles from a drone at Sunni radicals across the border. The future of drone warfare promised to be far more chaotic – and far more deadly. America's own use of armed drones during the War on Terror would likely set the template – for good and for bad – of what would follow."