The US-led Drone War – THE REMOTE KILLING OF PEOPLE INCLUDING CHILDREN IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES
by Syarif Hidayat*
In regions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia as well as Sudan–all are Muslim countries— children are having to live with the fear that they could be killed at any point in time while they are sleeping or playing by unmanned drones patrolling the sky.
The US-led western regimes Drone Operators in their air-conditioned rooms in Nevada, the US and Lincolnshire-based drone-command, UK, direct drone operations and launch bombs strikes “using joysticks” against targets more than 9000 miles away like “playing video games”. They don’t see the real genocides and destruction they have caused to the civilians, houses and buildings as well as public infrastructures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia!
The wars that use this kind of technologies are more dangerous for human beings and all other creatures on this planet and the fate of this planet itself because the operators of the games could not see the real genocides and destruction they have caused on the targets down there on the face of earth!
What are drones?
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They are aircraft which are either controlled by pilots on the ground, often thousands of miles away from the action, or are programmed to function autonomously without any direct human control. Drones can be used for reconnaisance and surveillance or to drop missiles and bombs.
Pilotless aircraft have been experimented with since the World War I. The first ‘aerial torpedo’ was the Kettering Bug first flown in 1918 but developed too late to be of use in the war. By World War II, radio-controlled surveillance and assault drones had been developed by the US Navy. In 1942 an assualt drone successfully delivered a torpedo attack from a distance of 20 miles but their utililisation remained limited.
The use of drones for reconnaissance took off during the Vietnam war but it was the 1980s which saw a significant development in their military use. The Predator RQ-1L, made by General Atomics was deployed in the Balkans in 1995, in Iraq in 1996 and Afghanistan from 2001. This was followed by the development of the Reaper, (also known as Predator B) which became operational in 2007.
MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV
The drones used in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are controlled from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada which is home to the 432d Wing pilots who fly the MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircraft in support of US and Coalition troops.
The drones are used for three main purposes: to support ground troops under attack by launching missiles and bombs from the air; giving a 24 hr a day surveillance of the ground and observing the ‘pattern of life’; to conduct targetted killings.
The CIA also, reportedly, controls a fleet of drones from its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in coordination with pilots near hidden airfields in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The drones are reportedly flown by civilians, including both intelligence officers and private contractors (often retired military personal) and the list of targets approved by senior Government personnel, although the criteria for inclusion and all other aspects of the program are unknown. The CIA is not required to identify its target by name; rather, targeting decisions may be based on surveillance and “pattern of life” assessments.
Drones are increasing the remote and robotic nature of modern hi-tech warfare. They are encouraging a ‘Playstation Mentality’ amongst the troops where killing is simply watching the movement of figures or vehicles on the ground, pushing a button and seeing them engulfed in an explosion plume. There is a huge margin of error, often because of faulty intelligence, and civilian casualties are mounting.
According to Pakistan body count, 2867 people have been killed or injured by drones in Pakistan alone, with a 2.5% success rate against Al-Qaida. Figures for Afganistan and Iraq are unknown. There is also no measure for the terror and psychological damage being done to the millions of children and adults who are in the constant sights of these unmanned systems.
The MQ-9 Reaper carries a variety of weapons including the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles (including the Thermobaric version AGM- 114N), the AIM-9 Sidewinder and recently, the GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) Testing is underway to support the operation of the AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missile. The Reaper can remain for 14 – 16 hours in the air.
UK use of drones
The Royal Air Force operates General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, carrying GBU-12 Paveway 11 precision guided bimbs and AGM-14 Hellfire air to surface missiles. The Government is refusing to disclose how many of the 84 Hellfire missiles launched from Reaper drones have been the AGM-14N (thermobaric) missiles.
– There have now been over 190 drone strikes in Afghanistan by British Reaper crews
– Hellfire missiles are three times more likely to be uses than the 500lb bomb
A second RAF drones squadron is to be based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire in 2012. RAF pilots will control the Reaper drones currently flying in Afghanistan from there rather than from the US Air Force base Creech in Nevada as they do at present. The UK Reaper capability will be doubled to 10 aircraft.
The WK450 Watchkeeper UAV is a collaboration between Thales UK and Elbit. It will be deployed to Afghanistan in2012.It is currently unarmed but this could change at a later date. In the meantime it will be used by the Royal Artillery along with a ‘loitering munition’ prowler bomb- a bomb which is fired up into the sky where it can loiter for up to ten hours until it is given the signal to plunge.
Thales UK provides interim tactical UAV services using unarmed Hermes 450s leased from the Israeli firm Elbit.
NOT CLEAN AND NOR PRECISE
In a recent edition of The Times a correspondent writes: ‘In a war in which information and perception play as important a role as tanks and jets, the images of wooden coffins on the shoulders of grieving men will make uncomfortable viewing in London and Paris.’
The journalist, Deborah Haynes, is reporting from a frontline town in Libya. But she could, if you ignore the comment about wooden coffins, be writing about any recent war the West has embroiled itself in. Bosnia, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan. All subject to fierce media scrutiny.
This scrutiny is a problem for any developed nation pursuing war. Keeping the public on the government’s side is as important, in many respects, as supplying the troops on the ground. To this end, governments maintain powerful PR operations during wartime and beyond.
Journalists are embedded and vetted. Press conferences carefully regulated. There are very few photos of US body bags coming home. War is presented, where possible, as one where the enemy is quickly routed and ‘our’ troops are kept alive, healthy and well-fed.
So ideal is this image that warfare itself is being molded to adhere to it. And drone warfare has rapidly become the poster child for this type of fighting.
Drone strikes are largely not televised, as they happen in areas no film crew given western ‘credibility’ operates. No US soldiers are killed. It is ‘clean, precise and targeted’. And, compared to having actual soldiers on the ground, it is comparatively cheap too.
So ideal that the President of the US can even use drones in a joke about defending the honour of his daughter.
But it is too easy to accept this idealised image. The Bureau’s research, the result of many months of persistent analysis, lays bare the reality of the drone war.
Drone strikes are not discriminating. They kill children. They injure civilians. And they are on the increase.
This warfare is not clean. It is not precise.
Naturally, the evidence we have gathered will attract criticism as well as coverage. The PR machine of government might dismiss it or ignore it completely. When detractors engage, they will likely say one of three things. That our facts are reported elsewhere; they aren’t ‘new’. That our methodology is flawed. And that we act as biased apologists for militants in Pakistan.
In one sense, this data is not new. It is taken from a wide range of credible and existing sources. What is new is that we have taken it from a much wider range than some of the existing organisations that seek to cover this area. And we have done it with considerable resources. We have followed up stories to see if figures rise or fall over time. We have recorded also civilians amongst the numbers. And we have listed the numbers of injured. The other two major organisations that look at drone attacks have failed to do these things.
Our transparent methodological approach, open to peer review, is based on the same used by the widely-quoted organization Iraq Body Count. To dismiss ours is to dismiss the approach of many others.
Finally, any criticism that we are somehow working ‘for the other side’ does not bear up to scrutiny. On occasion we have been more conservative on the number of civilian dead in single attacks, despite the international press reporting otherwise. We have also identified individuals previously reported as being civilians as actually having been militants. And we have offered an open invitation to the US security forces to engage with us if they see something significantly wrong in our study. If they satisfactorily prove their case, we will amend our data.
Most of all, though, we may well get the quotidian response – ‘Didn’t we know this already?’
This sort of reaction to our story is dangerous. Wars today are won and lost as much in the battle for information as they are in numbers killed. The drone war is largely secretive and our study shows unequivocally that there are some serious questions to be asked. Numbers have to be collated in such an age.
Clearly civilians and children are being killed. As such, one has to ask whether these drone attacks are radicalising those who have lost loved ones as much as they are ‘taking out’ militants.
We show that they are not discriminating. As such, those forces involved in their use may well be in breach of the Geneva Conventions.
And, importantly, we are providing an unbiased, independent and journalistic examination of a war. A war that has hitherto been manipulated by governments, spun by thinktanks and often ignored by a media that– without pictures – finds it hard to report on the horrors of what is really unfolding in Pakistan.
U.S African Shadow Wars
Washington is quietly setting up at least two new East African drone bases, plus one on the Arabian Peninsula, to support the expanding U.S. shadow war against Islamic militants in Somalia and Yemen. An apparently new facility has been built in Ethiopia. In the island nation of Seychelles, a defunct airfield is being reactivated. A third base is being set up in or near Yemen.
The news, first reported by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, should come as no surprise to close observers of America’s shadow war on the borders of the Indian Ocean. But the base expansion could be met with outrage by the people most directly affected, especially Africans themselves. For years, Washington has insisted that it wouldn’t build new bases in Africa.
The new drone facilities are a small step for a Pentagon and CIA already heavily invested in the Indian Ocean region. While mercenaries and U.S. allies — “proxies” — do most of the fighting in Somalia and Yemen, American warships, aircraft and special operations forces also play an important role. U.S. Reaper or Predator drones have struck militants in Yemen at least six times total in 2010 and 2011.
In Somalia, drones have attacked at least twice since 2007. U.S. forces have also hit Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic group a total of six times, that we know of, using cruise missiles and Special Forces helicopters.
The American base in the tiny country of Djibouti, north of Somalia, provides food and fuel to the warships and serves as a launching pad for the unmanned vehicles and choppers. The Djibouti base has been around since 2001. U.S. Special Forces operated from a small base in Kenya beginning “a few years” prior to 2007, according to military consultant Tom Barnett. American commandos also launched attacks from an unspecified Ethiopian location in early 2007. The Seychelles drone base was open for business in 2009 and 2010 before temporarily shutting down.
Amid all this activity, Washington insisted it had no plans for new African bases. “I want to dispel the notion that all of a sudden America is, you know, bringing all kinds of military to Africa. It’s just simply not true,” then-President George W. Bush told reporters in Ghana in 2008. Bush was trying to reassure African audiences that the new U.S. Africa Command would not mean an expanded U.S. military presence in Africa. Africa Command kept its headquarters in Germany, but the U.S. presence expanded anyways — though many of the forces operate outside of Africa Command’s purview.
For Washington, the rationale for new bases is clear. “We do not know enough about the leaders of the Al Qaeda affiliates in Africa,” a senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal. “Is there a guy out there saying, ‘I am the future of Al Qaeda’? Who is the next Osama bin Laden?” If finding and killing the next bin Laden means breaking a promise over African bases, the U.S. seems content with going back on its word.
America’s Secret Empire of Drone Bases
A ground-breaking investigation examines the most secret aspect of America’s shadowy drone wars and maps out a world of hidden bases dotting the globe.
They increasingly dot the planet. There’s a facility outside Las Vegas where “pilots” work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth that almost no one talks about at an air base in the United Arab Emirates.
And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide.
Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous — until now.
Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases — some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment — are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war.
They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad — in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign “footprint” and little accountability.
Using military documents, press accounts and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by AlterNet has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations. There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.
A Galaxy of Bases
Over the last decade, the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has expanded exponentially as has media coverage of their use. On September 21st, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military has deployed missile-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones on the “island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia.”
A day earlier, a Washington Post piece also mentioned the same base on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago, as well as one in the African nation of Djibouti, another under construction in Ethiopia, and a secret CIA airstrip being built for drones in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (suspected of being Saudi Arabia).
Post journalists Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock reported that the “Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”
Within days, the Post also reported that a drone from the new CIA base in that unidentified Middle Eastern country had carried out the assassination of radical al-Qaeda preacher and American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen.
With the killing of al-Aulaqi, the Obama Administration has expanded its armed drone campaign to no fewer than six countries, though the CIA, which killed al-Aulaqi, refuses to officially acknowledge its drone assassination program. The Air Force is less coy about its drone operations, yet there are many aspects of those, too, that remain in the shadows.
Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes recently told AlterNet that, “for operational security reasons, we do not discuss worldwide operating locations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, to include numbers of locations around the world.”
Still, those 60 military and CIA bases around the world, directly connected to the drone program, tell us a lot about America’s war-making future. From command and control and piloting to maintenance and arming, these facilities perform key functions that allow drone campaigns to continued expanding as they have for more than a decade.
Other bases are already under construction or in the planning stages. When presented with our list of Air Force sites within America’s galaxy of drone bases, Lieutenant Colonel Haynes responded, “I have nothing further to add to what I’ve already said.”
Drone wars expanding into Africa
The US use of drones is helping to extend the war on terror into Africa whilst evading accountability to congress under the provisions of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. For example, US operations in Libya have not involved “…sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve U.S. ground troops.”
Thus war is not war if US troops are not in the line of fire. The Obama administration is devising a new tactic – that of long-range missiles and the increasing use of the CIA and Joint Service Operations Command (JSOC) to conduct drone strikes and be the invisible army on the ground. (Tx/E1/P03)
*Editor of Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)
1. International news agencies
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)