NEW DELHI: Earlier this week, the Guardian ran a story on 13-year old Mohammed Tuaiman, a young boy in Yemen who became the third member of his family to die in a US drone strike. Before his death, Tuaiman had told the Guardian that he lived in constant fear of the “death machines” in the sky that had already killed his father and brother.

“I see them every day and we are scared of them,” said Mohammed Tuaiman, speaking from al-Zur village in Marib province, where he died on January 26. “A lot of the kids in this area wake up from sleeping because of nightmares from them and some now have mental problems. They turned our area into hell and continuous horror, day and night, we even dream of them in our sleep.”

Tuaiman, unfortunately, is one amongst several others like him, as US drone strikes have killed at least 2,400 people in the six years since they were launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ)

Although the US administration maintains that a majority of those killed are “militants” the problem itself lies in the definition of the term. The US administration assumes that military age males in strike zones are militants, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Further, the local population is considered “guilty by association” and will be defined as a “militant” if they are seen in the company or in the association of a terrorist operative. In February 2012, TBIJ reported that 50 civilians had been killed in strikes during efforts to rescue victims of a previous drone attack; these family members and associates were considered “guilty by association” by the US administration.

“Signature strikes” are also another example of indiscriminate killings being ratified as official policy. Individuals are targeted without any knowledge of their identity, if they are seen in engaging in what is deemed as “suspicious activity.” Suspicious activity is itself very loosely defined, prompting a senior State Department official to note that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp.

This points to the fact that the number of civilian casualties are probably far higher than any of the estimates arrived at above, as many are defined as “militants” without adequately clear evidence to support that claim.

Despite arguments proving that drone strikes accentuate long term costs by promoting short term gains -- by alienating a population and compromising the legitimacy of the country’s government, amongst other reasons, they still remain very much part of US military and foreign policy.

If the data from analysts and experts is not convincing, statements from the people who live in the areas where drone strikes a routine reality demonstrate the harrowing costs of such strikes.

The Global Post put together some of these statements, which are being reproduced here:

Zubair Rehman

"I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies," Zubair, a 13-year-old boy from North Waziristan, Pakistan, said in a testimony before Congress in October 2013. "The drones do not fly when the skies are gray ... When the sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear. It's something that a 2-year-old would know ... We hear the noise 24 hours a day.”

Zubair’s grandmother was killed by a drone strike on Oct. 24, 2012, as she was picking okra in a field. He testified together with his father and 9-year-old sister.

Rafiq ur Rehman

"Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day," said Zubair's father, Rafiq ur Rehman, a Pakistani primary school teacher. He described his deceased mother, Momina Bibi, as the "string that held our family together."

“As a teacher, my job is to educate. But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand? How can I in good faith reassure the children that the drone will not come back and kill them, too, if I do not understand why it killed my mother and injured my children?"

Aziz Mabkhut al-Amri

"As we were driving to the site, I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness," said Aziz. His brother Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri’s wedding in Rada’a, Yemen in December 2013 made headlines when four hellfire missiles struck it. "That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason."

Saeed Mohammed Al Youseffi

"People were really terrified," said Saeed Mohammed Al Youseffi of Ma'rib Province, who was set to get married two days after the tragedy in Rada’a. "People are afraid now to attend any large gathering — weddings, funerals. Everyone is just trying to survive."

Oum Saeed

"We don't know who is with Al Qaeda," said Oum Saeed, a middle-aged mother of 10, "but the drones know."

Faisal bin Ali Jaber

“Yemen is losing an entire generation to drones,” said Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an environmental engineer in Yemen who lost two family members in a 2012 drone strike. He said leading a normal life is impossible “when you have a drone hovering above your neighborhood."

Malik Jalal

“Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more,” said Malik Jalal, a tribal leader in North Waziristan. “They turned the people into psychiatric patients. The F-16s might be less accurate, but they come and go.”

Nazeer Gul

"The drones are like the angels of death,” said Nazeer Gul, a shopkeeper in Pakistan. “Only they know when and where they will strike.”

Testimonies have also been put together by Living Under Drones, an initiative by the University of Stanford and New York University that aims to shed light on the costs of human life associated with drone strikes. Some of these are reproduced below:

Sadaullah Wazir, teenager, former student from the village of Machi Khel in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, was severely injured in a September 2009 drone strike on his grandfather’s home. Sadaullah has filed a complaint before the UN Human Rights Council.

“Before the drone strikes started, my life was very good. I used to go to school and I used to be quite busy with that, but after the drone strikes, I stopped going to school now. I was happy because I thought I would become a doctor.” Sadaullah recalled, “Two missiles [were] fired at our hujra and three people died. My cousin and I were injured. We didn’t hear the missile at all and then it was there.” He further explained, “[The last thing I remembered was that] we had just broken our fast where we had eaten and just prayed. . . .We were having tea and just eating a bit and then there were missiles. . . . When I gained consciousness, there was a bandage on my eye. I didn’t know what had happened to my eye and I could only see from one.” Sadaullah lost both of his legs and one of his eyes in the attack. He informed us, “Before [the strike], my life was normal and very good because I could go anywhere and do anything. But now I am not able to do that because I have to stay inside. . . . Sometimes I have really bad headaches. . . . [and] if I walk too much [on my prosthetic legs], my legs hurt a lot. [Drones have] drastically affected life [in our area].”

Waleed Shiraz, 22, was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and taking various foreign language courses before he became disabled.

“My father was asleep in the hujra as usual after a normal day, and I was studying nearby. . . . I had liked studying in the hujra, because it is peaceful and quiet. There was nothing different about our routine in the prior week.” Waleed recounted the subsequent sequence of events. “[When we got hit], [m]y father’s body was scattered in pieces and he died immediately, but I was unconscious for three to four days. . . . [Since then], I am disabled. My legs have become so weak and skinny that I am not able to walk anymore. . . . It has also affected my back. I used to like playing cricket, but I cannot do it anymore because I cannot run.”

“I have two younger brothers, who are both unemployed, and I don’t have a father and I am disabled. I have been completely ruined. . . . [My brothers] can’t go to school, because I can’t afford to support them, buying their books, and paying their fees. They are home most of the day and they are very conscious of the fact that drones are hovering over them. [The presence of drones] intimidates them.” “If the drones had not become routine and my father had not died and I hadn’t lost my leg, today I would have completed my MA in Political Science.” Waleed explained, “I can’t dream of going back to college.”

Dawood Ishaq is a father of four young children who works as a vegetable merchant in North Waziristan.

“I was going to [a] chromite mine for work. On the way, as the car was going there, a drone targeted the car. . . . All I remember is a blast, and that I saw a bit of fire in the car before I lost consciousness. The people in the back completely burned up, and the car caught fire.” Dawood was taken to several locations for treatment, before he awoke in Peshawar. “[The] driver and I lost our legs . . .”

Tahir Afzal’s brother died in a drone strike.

“It was in the afternoon around two o’clock and he was on his way to work. They were in a car. A drone struck and four people died in it, including children who were walking on the road. . . . There were lots of drones wandering over that day. They were wandering all over, and as the car passed by, it was targeted.” Tahir told our team, “He was my older brother, and I miss him a lot.”

“[Before, e]verybody was involved in their own labor work. We were all busy. But since the drone attacks have started, everybody is very scared and everybody is terrorized. . . . People are out of business, people are out of schools, because people are being killed by these drone attacks.” Tahir emphasized, “It’s not a [fictional] story. It’s brutality that we are undergoing and that needs to be stopped.”

Khairullah Jan’s brother was killed in a drone attack.

“[One day, [m]y brother was coming from college . . . . dropping his friend to his house, which is located behind our house a few kilometers away. . . . I was coming from Mir Ali Bazaar . . . going to my house. That’s when I heard a drone strike and I felt something in my heart. I thought something had happened, but we didn’t get to know until next day. That’s when all the villagers came and brought us news that [my brother] had been [killed] . . . I was drinking tea when I found out. [My] entire family was there. They were crying . . . . [T]o lose such a young one; everybody is sad and it also affects the tribe, our community, as well. My mother is really affected. She is sad all the time, and my father is also heavily affected. At times he used to go to Peshawar or Karachi, he was outgoing, but now he sits at home.”

“I have been affected. The love that I had for studies—that has finished. My determination to study—that is also gone. . . . if, for instance, there is a drone strike and four or five of your villagers die and you feel sad for them and you feel like throwing everything away, because you feel death is near— [death is] so close, so why do you want to study?”

#Not ABugSplat

To raise awareness on the issue, a group of Pakistani artists launched a project titled #NotABugSplat last year. The project’s title is a direct response to an oft-used term in drone pilot lingo, “bug splat,” used to refer to how victims appear through video cameras.

The image released as part of this project was taken by a mini-helicopter drone and depicts a young girl who lost both her parents in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkwala province. Hoping to instill “empathy and introspection,” one of the artists of the organising collective told AFP, “We tried to replicate as much as we could what a camera from above will see looking down,” said one of the artists of the collective, who did not wish to be named individually. You will see how tiny people are and they look like little bugs, we wanted to highlight the distance between what a human being looks like when they are just a little dot versus a big face.”