Let's begin with this news report
Two Yemeni families have filed a petition against the US government over the “unlawful” killing of 34 relatives, including nine children, in counter terrorism operations between 2013 and 2018. Human rights group Reprieve, submitted the petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the families last January 26th, said the families suffered enormous loss of life and property in six drone strikes and a special operations raid.
To understand the meaning of counter terrorism, we need to understand its root:, which is 'act and 'react''. The meaning of 'act' is 'do something' while the meaning of 'react' is 'act in response'.
But, when do we say it is 'act in response'? It is when the response is the immediate act to an act. It is no longer such when the choice to decide to re-act exceeds the time span of what is considered as immediately, for example when the act against an act takes place three days later or much longer.
It is no different to 'attack' and 'counter attack', whereby acting in aggressively and violently manner is the meaning of 'attack', and counter attack is doing the same but against 'attack'. Any war, no matter against who and what, is just like that.
Then, we have 'terror' and '-ism'
The meaning of 'terror' is 'extreme fear' while '-ism' is a suffix added to the end of -in this case 'terror'- to indicate that 'terror' represents a specific practice, namely the persuasion of certain aims. That can be political, military or even both. Terrorism is the umbrella that covers all activities leading to the practice, military tactics, techniques, and strategy with the intention to spread extreme fear, to combat against whoever to pursue certain aims.
Counter terrorism in sense of military tactics is a vague term. Because, 'tactics' is a collective term incorporating the acts of premeditating, establishing and enabling. It must NOT include 'activating' as terrorism is by civilians and therefore to be handled by law enforcement, not by members of any military.
The history of counter terrorism has its roots here:
... and on September 20, 2001
George W. Bush was then President of the United States, so the head of state, which is an official and public position. And, when you declare war during an official ceremonial event, which the State Of The Union is, your declaration becomes formal, so official, because it is announced during an official event. You can no longer speak in terms of counterterrorism because 'war' has officially been used.
In simple terms: there is war but not against terrorism as 'terrorism' has not been used in the declaration, and is since September 20, 2001. It has never been lifted since then. This means that the United States is oblige to apply to the Laws Of War that is part of the International Humanitarian Law.
Based on the data as showed below in a screenshot of a webpage, there are three points the United States systematically have ignored:
visibly verifying and confirming that the target is of military objective.
visibly verifying and confirming that distinction of civilians and military objective are guaranteed
the use of unconventional weapons -armed drones are unconventional weapons- is forbidden
- respect the sovereignty of any other country's airspace: sending an unmanned aircraft whether armed or not, into the airspace of a country without consent of this country, is intrusion.
It doesn't matter what reason or motive has been used to defend war on terror. It simply remains declared war. Those who operate these drones are not operators but participants in such war as it about acts of remote combat.
The numbers of civilian casualties just simply represent the committing of war crimes.