It's hard to know if 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was a target or collateral damage.
Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was killed last fall at a barbeque with friends. His father, Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida supporter and also American-born, was killed in a drone strike two weeks earlier in Yemen.
The two of them, plus one more man, now make three Americans — three of thousands — who are believed to have been killed by America's top secret drone warfare program.
Drones transformed the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. But their use has been extremely limited in U.S. skies. The Federal Aviation Administration essentially bans the commercial use of drones, and government use is still highly restricted.
But that's changing.
For a long time, drones, which are formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, were exotic, expensive and out of reach for all but military users. Today, however, a clever hobbyist can have his own eye in the sky.
Without question, drones have become the U.S. weapon of choice in the fight against terrorism. Counterterrorism officials say they've come to rely on the pilotless aircraft for their surveillance capability and what officials say is precision targeting. That reliance has led to greater use in the past couple of years, especially in Pakistan and Yemen.
John Bellinger, a State Department legal adviser during the George W. Bush administration, says there are increasing concerns about the frequency of drone attacks.