A former drone operator who helped kill 1,626 targets says he’s haunted by the carnage he witnessed from behind his computer screen.
Brandon Bryant, 27, served as a drone operator from 2006 to 2011 at bases in Nevada, New Mexico and Iraq. It was a desk job of sorts, but unlike any other, it involved ordering unmanned aircraft to kill faraway targets while he watched.
In an interview with NBC News‘ foreign correspondent Richard Engel, Bryant recalled one operation where his team fired two missiles from a drone at three men in Afghanistan.
‘The guy that was running forward, he’s missing his right leg,’ he said, recalling what he saw of the scene through the thermal images on his screen. ‘And I watch this guy bleed out and, I mean, the blood is hot.’
He recalled watching the mens’ bodies grow cold, as slowly the red color detecting the heat of their bodies grew smaller.
‘I can see every little pixel if I just close my eyes,’ he said.
Bryant is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his five years as a drone operator. He said he sought help for the emotions he was experiencing on his job but ‘one of the weird things about the whole drone community is you don’t talk about anything that you’ve done. You just don’t,’ he told NPR.
Bryant recalled to NBC when an Air Force recruiter told him that as a drone operator, ‘he would be like the smart guys in the control room in a James Bond movie.’
But that wasn’t the case.
He said he began feeling paranoid that he was killing innocent people, not Taliban insurgents. And he felt that it wasn’t his place to question the people giving him orders to launch the missile attacks.