Afghanistan is one of the most drone-affected states, however, very few scholarly studies of drone use there exist. This article uses original fieldwork data in a strategically important area of Afghanistan, eastern Nangarhar province, to analyse drone effects in context. It raises important concerns about the ability of the US to attain stated counterterrorism and counterinsurgency goals. Our results show contextualised analysis of drone use necessitates appropriate enquiry into policy, doctrine, and local circumstances. It also reveals serious incoherence, inaccurate assumptions, and insufficient appreciation of local circumstances and dynamics not only in US policy and doctrine, but also numerous scholarly studies of drone use effectiveness. This has far-reaching policy, operational, and research implications, including regarding local communities’ governance, relations, and resilience to insurgent and terrorist encroachment. Therefore, we contribute to debates about how to analyse and assess drone use and its effects, why drone analysis needs to change, and what more effective forms of research and analysis can reveal.