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Drones: Has the US opened a Pandora's Box?

Fast forward a decade. Drones are everywhere. The Russians are using them to take out Chechen warlords. Israelis are eliminating Palestinian militants. Arab despots are picking off their enemies. Innocent victims are killed in the collateral damage.

Is that where America's use of drone warfare is heading? Has Washington opened a Pandora's Box by using pilotless aircraft as the weapon of choice against al-Qaeda?

That is certainly the fear. There's a growing chorus of legal and political opinion demanding that America better explain the legal basis of its strategy of targeted killing.

Without a clearer justification, rooted in law, the US will be in no position to judge other nations who use drones to kill their enemies.

The essential problem for America's counter-terrorism officials is an enviable one. The drone programme has been stunningly successful.

The strikes have decimated al-Qaida's leadership; they have destroyed the network's cohesion; and virtually eliminated the militants' ability to take the offensive.

But as a result of this success, the White House is now over-reliant on drones. They are a seductive platform, killing the enemy without risking US lives.

Yet they have so outraged local opinion in Pakistan and Yemen that they have become counter-productive. It begs the question: for every militant killed in a strike, how many others are recruited in the aftermath?

Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda leader was allegedly killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan on Monday Credit: IntelCenter

There is also a disturbing image to ponder, far from the battlefield. For who gets to select the kill-list?

The answer: President Obama.

He is personally going through the files and authorising each lethal strike. Is that how we want the American President to spend his days?

Playing God and deciding who should live and who should die, without any judicial or Congressional oversight?

The US drone attacks have been authorised by President Obama

So the drone strikes continue without a pause.

The White House justifies them as acts of self-defence.

But wise men and women are asking for the first time whether the programme is under sufficient control, whether it is setting a dangerous precedent, and whether it is really consistent with US and international law.