Duane Shank 7-18-2012

Talks between the U.S. and Pakistan on drone attacks will resume this month, including a visit by the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency to Washington. The U.S. continues to see the strikes as essential to its counter-terrorism efforts, and Pakistan continues to see them as a violation of its sovereignty. Associated Press reports:

"They start at an impasse, with the U.S. already determined to reject Pakistan's demands to end CIA drone strikes. Pakistani officials will also be pushing a plan to replace the CIA drone campaign with Pakistani F-16 strikes, and eventually its own armed drone fleet — a proposal that U.S. officials say they have rejected many times before. The divergent views reflect the deterioration in U.S.-Pakistani ties over the last 18 months, and the hardening of positions on both sides."

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN adds this from a “senior Pakistani security official” via Agence France-Presse: “This visit comes against the backdrop of extensive consultations between civilian and military leadership and the general has been authorised to take a firm stand on drones issue during his talks,”

Duane Shank 7-13-2012

Members of Congress with common interests often create a caucus to advocate for that interest. Some have become permanent institutions – think the Congressional Black Caucus – others are more short-term. One of the more recent, reported by Arizona Public Radio, is the Unmanned Systems Caucus. Its role?

“Primarily, the caucus advocates for drones — those pilot-less planes infamous for their role targeting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re used as a spy tool in Iran, a drug-fighting tool in Mexico and an anti-smuggling tool along the U.S.-Mexico border. …

The drone caucus — like the technology it promotes — is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to help save money on defense, better patrol the country’s borders and provide a new tool to U.S. law enforcement agencies and civilians.”

And that advocacy is being rewarded. The report cites Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, a D.C.-based company that analyzes lobbying data:

“Many of the drone caucus members are well supported by the industry they endorse. According to Bronstein-Moffly’s data, the 58 drone caucus members received a total of $2.3 million in contributions from political action committees affiliated with drone manufacturers since 2011.”

Duane Shank 7-13-2012

Over the past several weeks, the U.S. has been expanding its military presence in the Persian Gulf, increasing its capability to act if hostilities begin with Iran. Minesweepers are intended to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and additional fighter jets increase the ability to launch strikes into Iran.

The latest development, reported by the Los Angeles Times, sea drones.

“The Navy is rushing tiny underwater drones to the Persian Gulf to help find and destroy sea mines as part of an American military buildup aimed at stopping Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.

Only 88 pounds and 4 feet long, the unmanned, remotely guided submersibles carry a TV camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge for what amounts to a kamikaze mission: When it detects a mine, the undersea craft obliterates itself as well as the mine.

The Navy bought dozens of the little-known German-made devices, known as the SeaFox, in February after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, for more minesweeping capabilities in the region.”

Duane Shank 7-12-2012

Unpiloted drone aircraft are already being used for some purposes in the United States, and plans are being made for greatly expanded use. Alongside these plans, efforts to control and regulate this use are also growing, bringing together libertarians and civil liberties organizations.

One of the most conservative state legislators in Virginia, Delegate Todd Gilbert,  and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are working together to pass legislation that would regulate the use of drones. The Associated Press reported:

"The increasing use of drones as a surveillance tool by police and government agencies has prompted privacy concerns nationwide. A trade group for drone manufacturers recently unveiled its first code of conduct to reassure a public leery of the possibility of drones monitoring them in their homes.

However, Gilbert said he and the ACLU believe drones should be strictly regulated to protect Virginians’ privacy and civil rights. …

Gilbert said his bill would require police to get a warrant before using drones. It also would impose public monitoring and accountability standards and require the destruction of any pictures acquired by drones unless they are part of an authorized investigation."

Duane Shank 7-11-2012

The Washington Post reports:

The Pentagon is considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield.”

If the medals are approved, that makes killing people from a computer in the U.S., thousands of miles from a combat zone, “distinguished warfare.”  Will hazardous duty pay come next?

Duane Shank 7-10-2012

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reports that in an interview with CNN, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman said her government has not approved continuing drone strikes.

“There’s no question of it. We also consider it, the drone program, we consider it counterproductive to all our goals in the sense that it radicalizes for the, it radicalizes foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region. And what we see, really, is that increasingly Pakistan is feared as a predatory footprint. The concerns over drones can’t just be brushed aside.”

She said that the government considered the strikes to be a violation of international law, and that the damage done by the strikes outweighed the claimed benefits.

“It is something that is not only radicalizing large swaths of the population and it is also seen as predatory. It’s seen as against the law. And it continues to challenge a relationship that can actually accomplish a lot more on the ground than we are doing today in eliminating terrorism.”

Duane Shank 7-07-2012

The first news stories Friday afternoon (from AP and AFP) wrote of 4 suspected militants killed by two missiles fired from a drone in northwest Pakistan. It was soon updated to 9 dead, which is what we reported at the end of the day.

This morning, I checked my Reader and found 30-some new stories overnight (many just repeats of updated wire stories.) But the stories and death totals were all over the map. Some still echoed the earlier AP story; there were also reports of 12 deaths, or 15, or 21, and a few 24.  The most comprehensive stories told of three drones. According to the Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

"The initial strike on a house killed 13 militants, five more were killed in a second attack when they drove to the site to recover dead bodies, and a third drone killed six more five minutes later, a senior security official in Peshawar said."

Other stories also recounted the 3 drone strikes, but gave varying numbers of deaths in each of the three.

Here is a more detailed version from DAWN, another Pakistani newspaper, which tells of multiple drones and 20 deaths:

"According to sources, six missiles hit the fortress-like residence of tribesman Muhammad in Zoi Nari locality of tehsil Dattakhel at around 8:45pm.

Local people rushed to the site of the attack and started rescue work while drones continued to hover over the area. They retrieved 17 bodies and two injured persons from the rubble of the house.

At about 10:30pm, the drones fired another two missiles on the compound, some 35km from the agency’s headquarters of Miramshah, when tribesmen were still carrying out rescue work. Three people died and two others were injured in the attack.

Local tribesmen feared the number of the people killed or injured might go up because they had to stop work due to the hovering drones. They said most of the bodies retrieved were mutilated beyond recognition."

These details raise two questions:

First, will we ever know how many deaths there were on Friday? And if they were militants, civilians, or both?

Second, even if  one accepts the U.S. rationale for targeting militants (which I don’t), if it is true that after the initial strike, a second strike was launched some time later against rescue and recovery efforts, experts consider that a violation of international law – a war crime.

Perhaps in another day or so we will get the complete story, with timeline and casualty totals.  But what is already clear is that these attacks must stop.

 

Duane Shank 7-06-2012

The Associated Press and Agence France Press  (via The Nation in Lahore, Pakistan) are reporting this afternoon that a drone strike killed at least nine suspected militants in a small village near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal district. At least three others were injured.

AP reports “The militants were believed to be fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a militant commander whose forces frequently target U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. A similar drone attack on Sunday killed eight of Bahadur's fighters.”

As always, the necessary disclaimer is that we may never know whether all or only some of these “suspected militants” were in fact militants. Remember that the U.S. definition is that anyone in a strike area is assumed a militant unless there is clear evidence after the fact. And after a direct hit from a Hellfire missile, there may not be any evidence left to examine. 

Duane Shank 7-06-2012

Talks between the U.S. and Pakistan that concluded with a U.S. apology for a mistaken airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers resulted in the reopening of supply routes into Afghanistan. Talks on the expanded U.S. use of drones to attack militants inside Pakistan are continuing. While the public line of the Pakistani government is to demand a halt to the strikes, The Express Tribune reports a different picture behind the scenes.

"Pakistani authorities are not pushing the US to halt drone strikes inside its tribal regions and are instead seeking control of human intelligence on the ground for target specification of their choice.

“This is the maximum they have been seeking. Nothing more,” said an official privy to talks held this week between civilian and military leaders from Pakistan and the US that culminated in breaking a seven-month deadlock on the resumption of Nato supplies.…

Control on human intelligence, or Humint as it is technically called, would give Pakistani secret outfits a chance to select targets of their choice to be hit by drones."

Duane Shank 7-06-2012

Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent, writes in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about the training of drone operators at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

"Stationing pilots in the United States has saved the Air Force money, and pilots at Holloman who have flown drone combat missions speak glowingly about a lifestyle that allows them to fight a war without going to war. Craig, an Air Force captain who is a trainer at the base, volunteered to fly Predators while in flight school. He calls his job “the perfect balance of mission and family.”

And yet this balance comes at a cost. Pilots have flown missions over Afghanistan in the morning, stopped for lunch, fought the Iraq war in the afternoon and then driven home in time for dinner. Lt. Col Matt Martin, formerly a trainer at Holloman, wrote about the disorienting experience of toggling among different war zones in a memoir, “Predator,” calling the experience 'enough to make a Predator pilot schizophrenic.'"

Duane Shank 7-05-2012

Bloomberg reports:

"The Pentagon is seeking congressional approval to shift as much as $641 million in funding for intelligence and surveillance to priorities such as expanding Afghanistan operations of a Boeing Co. (BA) drone for Navy commandos.

The request for the 'reprogramming' of previously approved military intelligence funds was submitted [Monday] to the four congressional defense committees in a 20-page document."

 

Specific funding requests include:

“The $94.2 million sought for the ScanEagle drones made by Chicago-based Boeing would provide more ground stations. Six sites operated by contractors in Iraq would be moved to Afghanistan and ground stations operated by Navy SEALs would be doubled to eight from four.”  Also requested is “"$2.6 million to purchase hardware and software for an intelligence-gathering and dissemination system the U.S. Africa Command can use to share data with partner nations."

Duane Shank 7-05-2012

The Methodist Church in Britain has agreed to ask that the U.K. government urge the U.S. to stop using drones in killing suspected terrorists. One concern expressed by church leaders was that increased reliance on unmanned weapons could make military interventions easier. On other concerns,

"A working group of policy experts submitted a report to the Methodist Conference highlighting moral concerns surrounding the use of drones, recognising that armed unmanned aircraft has the potential to transform the use of air power in conflict and counter-insurgency. 

Steve Hucklesby, a Methodist policy adviser and member of the working group, said: "If there is a legitimate use for this technology we need a much clearer idea of the boundaries for its use.  Terrorists function outside the law. It is vitally important that the UK and its allies do not do so as well. The targeted killings carried out by the CIA in northern Pakistan demonstrate only too clearly the ethical challenges that will face us as this technology proliferates more widely."

Following the Methodist action, The United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain voiced their support for the Conference's decision.

Duane Shank 7-03-2012

The Associated Press reports a drone strike in Yemen earlier today: 

"A Yemeni official says a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed two al-Qaida militants in a car in Yemen's south. Tribal officials there said four militants were killed."

Duane Shank 7-03-2012

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down and the Pentagon budget cuts likely, U.S. weapons manufacturers are looking for ways to keep their profits up. The Los Angeles Times reports that exporting drones might be the next step.

"Despite concerns about U.S.-made drones ending up in enemy hands, American military contractors are lobbying the government to loosen export restrictions and open up foreign markets to the unmanned aircraft that have reshaped modern warfare.

Companies such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and other arms makers are eager to tap a growing foreign appetite for high-tech — and relatively cheap — drones, already being sold on the world market by countries such as Israel and China."

If changes are made in export regulations, expect to see drones becoming common weapons in areas of conflict around the world. It’s a dangerous possibility, but … it’s all about the money.

Duane Shank 7-03-2012

One of the most respected sources of investigative reporting on drones is The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization based in London. As part of its research, TBIJ tracks drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Yesterday, TBIJ released its summary for June. The major conclusions:

  • As relations between Washington and Islamabad continue to falter, Bureau data shows fewer civilians are being killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan than at any time in the Obama presidency.
  • US military action in Yemen is at its bloodiest ever, with the strike rate and reported casualties the highest yet recorded.
  • The true extent of US action in Somalia remain unclear, despite many claims of attacks.

The report also provides a comparison of the first six months of this year with 2011.

Duane Shank 7-02-2012

As killing by drone continues, anti-drone groups organizing protests against the policy are growing. Last week, 15 people were arrested in a protest outside a New York Air National Guard base near Syracuse. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard

Fifteen people, including a woman in a wheelchair, were arrested for trespassing today during a protest at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field.

The members of the Upstate Coalition To Ground the Drones and End the Wars staged their protest for almost two and a half hours this afternoon, from 11 a.m. to about 1:40 p.m., as New York State Troopers and DeWitt Police stood by appearing to confer with members of the military.

The protestors stood in front of the base’s main gate off Molloy Road, blocking vehicles that attempted to enter.

“There’s war crimes here,” protestor Ellen Grady hollered at a blue Chevrolet Impala as it tried to turn in. “We have to close the base.”

Duane Shank 7-02-2012

The Associated Press reports

U.S. missiles fired from a drone in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border killed eight suspected militants early Sunday, officials said, as the controversial American strikes continue despite Islamabad's persistent demands that they stop.

Unidentified Pakistani intelligence officials said that four Hellfire missiles were fired at a house in the North Waziristan tribal area used by suspected militants. The eight dead included suspected members of a Taliban faction and some suspected members of the Turkmenistan Islamic Movement.

Duane Shank 6-27-2012

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reported this morning that the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF), a national NGO, has appealed to the U.S. to stop drone attacks. NRDF has been promoting polio vaccinations in the tribal area where the strikes occur. The appeal follows a Taliban decision to ban the vaccinations due to fear of their possible relation to CIA intelligence gathering for targeting drones.

Tehseenullah Khan, NRDF coordinator, told DAWN that “The ban will adversely affect 318,000 children in the two agencies.”  He continued, “Stoppage of drone strikes by the US could safeguard children against host of diseases. Fata [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is the only active hub of active polio virus transmission in the country that has contributed more than 50 per cent of the total polio cases this year.”

Duane Shank 6-26-2012

Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press are reporting that a U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in northwest Pakistan late on Tuesday, killing at least four (AP) or five (AFP) Taliban militants.  All those killed were associated with local Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a security official told AFP. A week ago, the New York Times noted Bahadur as one of those who had banned a polio vaccination campaign, citing his “fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage.”

One wonders if today’s strike is proof of his fears?

Duane Shank 6-26-2012

According to Guardian, a third Taliban leader has banned polio vaccinations in the area he controls, citing fears that health workers are gathering intelligence for use in targeting drone strikes. From the report:

"Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata) accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies. "In the garb of these vaccination campaigns, the US and its allies are running their spying networks in Fata which has brought death and destruction on them in the form of drone strikes," the leaflet said."

It would seem that the concerns may have some merit. Shakil Afridi, a doctor who ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign, used it as cover to provide the CIA with intelligence that assisted in locating Osama bin Laden. Is that mixing of health care with intelligence gathering continuing?