Months before 9/11, U.S. Air Force captain Scott Swanson patrolled the skies over Afghanistan with a Predator drone. Swanson and his team were hunting Osama bin Laden. And they found him. But this was months before the new drones could fire missiles, and the pilots could only watch as bin Laden walked away. On Jan 23, 2001 – just three days into George W. Bush’s presidency – a Predator drone test fired a Hellfire missile for the first time. A new age of war had begun. Swanson is the first human to use a Predator-fired Hellfire missile to take a life. From a trailer truck in a garage behind CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Swanson loosed a missile from a drone roughly 7,000 miles away in Kandahar. The missile struck its target – a pickup truck outside a building that intelligence said was hiding Taliban leader Mohammad Omar. The missile hit and killed two of Omar’s bodyguards. This week on War College, we replay our conversation with Swanson. He walks us through the early years of the drone program, how it changed him, and how it changed the world. (Corrects distance from Langley to Kandahar from 2,500 miles to 7,000 miles in fourth paragraph)
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