ON January 23rd 2009, just three days after his inauguration, President Barack Obama authorised his first drone strikes. The targets were two houses in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, a semi-autonomous area covered by jagged mountains.
The first drone dropped a missile on top of one of the homes, searing a hole through the roof and killing five suspected al-Qaeda militants. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a British-based news outlet that compiles reports on drone strikes, the second hit the wrong target, killing at least five civilians.
America’s armed forces began using drones away from battlefields in 2002, under George W. Bush. After taking office Mr Obama scaled up the programme, authorising over 470 drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Read more: The queen and her drones | The Economist