Drone operator reveals emotional toll of watching victims bleed
A drone operator has revealed the emotional toll years of remotely aiming missiles at people on the other side of the world has had on him. For more than five years Brandon Bryant worked as a U.S. Air Force drone operator, firing missiles remotely from a Nevada base.
But the 27-year-old said watching the grisly consequences of his actions unfold on a computer screen led to drinking, depression and finally a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
'I can see every little pixel if I just close my eyes,' Mr Bryant, who believes he is responsible for more than 1,600 fatal hits, said.
His experiences have been shared as two human rights groups raised serious concerns about the consequences of drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, CNN reported.
While the U.S. argues that the strikes are vital in the fight against terror, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said some attacks, which have killed scores of civilians, could amount to war crimes.
For Mr Bryant, who described being in 'zombie mode' as he monitored drone cameras, the effect of the strikes caused personal problems because he could never escape the deadly impact of his work.
The Montana native, who signed up to the Air Force when he was 19, made his first kill in 2007, an event he remembers in vivid detail. After aiming a Hellfire missile at three men on a dirt road in Afghanistan, Mr Bryant watched the aftermath unfold on a monitor.
'The smoke clears, and there's pieces of the two guys around the crater. And there's this guy over here, and he's missing his right leg above his knee,' he said in a November article for GQ. 'He's rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg, and it's hitting the ground, and it's hot. His blood is hot,' Mr Bryant said. 'It took him a long time to die. I just watched him. I watched him become the same color as the ground he was lying on.'
While the U.S. continues to back its drone program, even under international criticism, Mr Bryant said remotely operating the devices led to his decision to quit the air force and turn down a $109,000
'People say that drone strikes are like mortar attacks,' he told NBC News. 'Well, artillery doesn't see this ... It's really more intimate for us, because we see everything.'
As Mr Bryant came near to the end of his drone service he was presented with what amounted to a scorecard showing the number of fatal hits he had made.
'I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper. I've seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it's not pretty. It's not something that I want to have - this diploma,' he said.
Among the many upsetting scenes Mr Bryant witnessed was an incident when his drone recorded insurgents burying a roadside bomb in the path of U.S. soldiers. 'We had no way to warn the troops,' he said, adding that three servicemen were killed after driving over the device. He also remains haunted by the image of a small figure running towards a building he had just aimed at in Afghanistan.
Mr Bryant was convinced the figure was a child, but his superiors told him it was a dog. He claims that in the final report of the strike, neither a child nor dog was mentioned.
His experiences left Mr Bryant 'feeling like a sociopath', he said.
'I don’t feel like I can really interact with that average, everyday person. I get too frustrated, because A) they don't realize what's going on over there. And B) they don't care.'
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