A military drone
Military drone pilots are so burned out from life and death missions that they are quitting in drovesiStock

A group of 45 US military veterans have signed a letter appealing to pilots responsible for carrying out deadly aerial military drone strikes in countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan to stand down and deliberately refuse to carry out their orders.

The veterans that signed the letter include a retired high-ranking US army colonel, Ann Wright, who resigned in 2003 over the invasion of Iraq, as well as former members of a range of ranks from the US Navy, Air Force, Marines and Army.

The letter was submitted to US media outlets on 17 June by anti-drone group KnowDrones, pleading with drone pilots to refuse to fly surveillance and kill missions. The group has also paid for a series of anti-drone TV commercials that have been running on US TV channels since 31 March.

KnowDrones also wants to distribute the letters near military bases where drones fly from, which include the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in New York, Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and Beale Air Force Base in California.

The group claims in the letter that over 6,000 people have been killed so far in drone strikes, but no source is cited for the figure.

US Air Force cutting down on daily drone flights

KnowDrones' renewed efforts are in response to the news on 17 June that the US Air Force will be cutting down its drone flights from 65 to 60 a day, due to the fact that many of the first generation of 1,200 drone pilots have chosen to leave their positions now that their service time has ended rather than to continue for career advancement.

US Air Force 432nd Wing commander Col James Cluff told the New York Times that stress from the missions is causing drone operators to burn out, as it is difficult for them to switch from everyday life to missions where the fates of many civilians in a foreign country rest in their hands.

"After something like that, you come home and have to make all the little choices about the kids' clothes or if you parked in the right place," said Bruce Black, a retired lieutenant general who was part of a team that watched Al Qaeda founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for 600 hours before he was killed by a bomb from a manned aircraft.

"And after making life and death decisions all day, it doesn't matter. It's hard to care."

KnowDrones understands that asking drone pilots to disobey orders means that they will face prosecution, which is why leaving when their service is up would be a good idea.

Lack of drone pilots affects surveillance of Islamic State

The US military faces running out of pilots to carry out the many drone missions that are still required every day, and reporters were invited to the Creech base in Nevada so that Cluff could dispel any notions that flying drones is desensitising pilots to the violence of killing people with missiles from many miles away.

Hundreds of staff are required to run unmanned military drone missions, from pilots and sensor operators to intelligence analysts and launch and recovery specialists.

By cutting down the drone flights even by just five a day, this will impact the efforts of US security agencies like the CIA, which are using drones to monitor the activities of Islamic State in the Middle East and Africa.