A Drone-Wars, Targeted-Killing Primer– 1/2

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Note: Most of the content of this piece is sourced from the site of an admirable British NGO called Dronewars.net.

A Drone-Wars, Targeted-Killing Glossary

DronesOr Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in military parlance, are pilotless aircraft, flown by remote control, frequently from bunkers halfway around the world by operators recruited from among some of America’s finest computer gamers. There are both unarmed surveillance drones and armed killers. Lethal UAV attacks can be launched from anywhere with a sufficiently powerful communications connections but the principal launch spot for “daily overseas contingency operations” is at Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada.

WarsWars are armed conflicts undertaken by nations at least theoretically to redress grievances against other nations. In the western world they are under the democratic control of elected representatives. This controlling body in America is the United States Congress. Military actions outside of this context are rogue actions (such as every war the US has launched since World War II) which are illegal under international law.

TargetedThat word gives one a calming sense of security. Ahh, these strikes are “targeted,” precise, controlled, not willfully random nor irresponsible nor out of control. As for civilian casualties, they are kept to the absolute minimum. America’s armed drones are virtually humanitarian. Their strikes are “targeted.” Ho, ho, ho, during the Vietnam War they were telling us that low-flying B-52 tactical close-air-support strikes, with a payload of 70,000 pounds, were “targeted.” Here’s one now, with its full complement of tricks:

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Eight AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, four AGM-142 Raptor missiles, 51 500-pound bombs, 30 1,000-pound bombs, 20 AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM), 12 joint stand-off weapons (JSOW), 12 joint direct-attack munitions (JDAM), and 16 wind-corrected munitions dispensers (WCMD), according to Airforce-technology.com.

KillingKilling has a lot of modes, from eliminating noxious insects or slaughtering livestock for food, to school shootings in peaceful neighborhoods or the bombing of entire cities in wartime. This “carpet bombing” was seen as too horrendous even to consider in the early days of the Second World War, but that delicacy soon passed, just as all the unthinkable becomes ultimately thinkable. So where does “drone killing” fit into this continuum. Before deciding this question we must clarify the terms. “Drone killing” is actually a euphemism, employed to disguise the fact that American drone killing, often portrayed with the innocence and beneficence of crop spraying–is murder, the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.

Netly outside the legitimizing context of declared war and unsanctioned by any democratic process, the American freelance killing of people from the air by remote control enjoys no legitimacy to distinguish it from murder, nor its perpetrators from murderers. One of its early practitioners was President Barack Obama, who would sit down periodically with his Deputy National Security Advisor, John Brennan, to personally select victims for “targeted killing.” Obama later elevated Brennan, longtime CIA dirty-tricks master, to director of the CIA.

In June of 2011, Brennan claimed that US counter-terrorism operations had not resulted in “a single collateral death” in the previous year because of the “precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” even though the Bureau of Investigative Jounalism discovered 76 innocent drone deaths, including eight children and two women.  Later the NY Times revealed the convoluted “reasoning” that permitted Brennan to exonerate himself, his operations and his country from a year’s drone murders. It seems that Washington ‘counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’

No drone-casualty figures are actually trustworthy due to the secretive world they operate in.  One reliable source assures us that the percentage of innocent civilians among those killed by American combat drones may vary betwee one and 35%.

The American Drones Will Not Be Reined In

Despite the best efforts of activists like the Dronewars people in Britain, there is little room for optimism in the matter of banning killer drones. Fair enough, they’re unthinkably inhuman, brutal, illegal and immoral. Won’t that get them banned? No, actually. In its day the trebuchet, the ingenious medieval catapult used against fortified positions and capable of hurling a heavy stone more than 300 yards, was thought to be unholy. The same went for the longbow, used against the enemies of the English till the end of the 16th century. Its use was considered beyond the ken due to its range, punch and rate of fire, The same process of horror-acceptance-routine has continued until our own times. The machine gun was considered too much, not to mention the atomic bomb. Why should we suppose that killer drones might be any different?

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If you would like to know more about the US drone wars you can download this .pdf file of Dronewars’ 28-page “campaigners’ briefing.” The American drone think tank, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, takes another–characteristically American–approach. According to their website they’re more interested in exploiting drones: “By conducting original, in-depth, and inquiry-driven projects, we seek to furnish stakeholders, policy-makers, and the public with the resources to engage in a robust public debate and develop policies that best address those opportunities and challenges.”
You might also like to know what Israel is up to on the drone front. The document, also from Dronewars.net, is called: Precise Strikes: Fractured Bodies, Fractured Lives. The Israelis are modern-day drone pioneers and major exporters along with the US and China. Their long-hovering armed drones keep people from all over the Middle East living on tenterhooks.

Coming Soon: Part 2/2, Thinking Drones

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Doesn’t the US Notice They’re Nurturing Jihadi Terrorism

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Or Are They Doing It On Purpose?

Who is the greatest recruiter for anti-American terrorists around the world? If you think about it a bit it’s an easy question to answer. Who treats the entire world as a free-fire zone? Who bombs weddings and ambulances? Who flies attack drones over people’s heads, killing and threatening, obliging them to live in constant fear? Who fills their towns and fields with delayed-action cluster bombs? Who treats these same people’s valuable natural resources as their own? Who surrounds their countries with military bases and missiles? Who changes their sovereign governments on a whim?  Who creates false-flag operations and proxy wars against any country they fancy destabilizing? Who has the greatest military budget in the world (more than at least the next seven countries’ defense spending) to enforce this multi-pronged injustice? The evidence for all this wretchedness is in the public domain. They can’t deny it. 

What does the United States expect to gain with all this death and destruction? How do they try to cover it up? How do they try to justify it?

We are privy to very little of the US government thinking, Nor can we trust the news. Insofar as the government and the media form part of the same military-industrial-congressional team, the power elite doesn’t even have to persuade them to play ball. They’re already on board. But we are obliged to form our opinions based on what we see, what we can learn from whistleblowers, what we can read in books by dissenters and the alternative media. The Internet is an incredible asset in this endeavor, though it does require some navigation skills and solid criteria for separating the wheat from the chaff, and there is a lot of both.

What we can see clearly is that the United States has been functioning in permanent-war mode since at least as far back as the Korean War. Some 40,000 American soldiers died in that pointless war, which ended in the same place it started, the 38th parallel. The rationale behind that empty adventure? There were two, actually, anti-communism and, more importantly, world domination. In the beginning, the American authorities pussyfooted around this self-evident fact, using euphemisms, red herrings, and flashy distractions. Why has anti-communism been used so often to put patches on the worst transgressions of American imperialism? Could it be that it’s a message that Americans are predisposed to believe, thanks to decades of having their brains laundered?

The Greatest Irony in the “War on Terror”

Not only has the United States fomented terrorism indirectly by their aggressive lack of respect for other people and countries around the world, but they have also played important roles in the creation of the forerunners of some of the most deadly Islamic terrorist groups. It was a CIA program called Operation Cyclone that channeled funds through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the Afghan mujahideen. (Does “Osama bin Laden” sound familiar?)  After the fall of the Soviet Union the mujahideen, also known in the US as “Afghan freedom fighters,” morphed–with some strategic and ideological twists–into the Taliban.

The CIA was not the only friend of the mujahideen. An alleged meeting took place in the summer of 1988 among bin Laden; the leaders of Egyptian Islamic Jihad; and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, the father of global jihad. They agreed to use bin Laden’s money with the expertise of the Islamic Jihad organization and take up the jihadist cause elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. The result was al-Qaeda. (Source: Wikipedia)

Then There Was ISIS

ISIS is another offshoot of the American interventions in Iraq and Syria. On 8 April 2013, al-Baghdadi, the present leader of ISIS,  released an audio statement in which he announced that the al-Nusra Front had been established, financed, and supported by ISIL and that the two groups were merging under the name Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (referring to Syria).

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), as of January, 2018, 59 districts, approximately 14.5 percent of that charming Himalayan country where people weave rugs and chase kites, remained under the Taliban control. (Source: al-Jazeera.com) ISIL holds another piece of the country. As soon as the Americans have consummated President Trump’s recently-announced withdrawal from Afghanistan, ISIS and the Taliban will fight over the scraps. Even more blood on the streets of Kabul. Never has the United States taken so long to lose a war.

According to an article posted by The Intercept on January 29, 2018:

Had it not been for Bush’s catastrophic decision to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003, in defiance of international law, the world’s most feared terrorist group would not exist today. ISIS is blowback.

In December, 2018, in one of his many victory pronouncements, President Donald Trump declared the Islamic State to have been destroyed and announced that U.S. troops would immediately leave Syria. But even after Trump declared victory, the war against ISIS/ISIL continued. Today their cells remain scattered throughout Syria and Iraq waging a deadly insurgency. And thousands of American and European troops remain in parts of Syria controlled by the SDF hunting down those cells… (Source: The Daily Beast.com)

American Follies in Syria, Iraq and Libya

The American interventions in Syria consisted of two stages with two different objectives. The first, at the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, the Obama Administration considered various options for unseating Syrian President Bashar al- Assad. By 2013, at the direction of U.S. President Barack Obama, the CIA was put in charge of Timber Sycamore, a $1 billion covert program to arm and train anti-Assad rebels (whom they refer to as “the Syrian opposition”) which was decimated by Russian bombing and canceled in mid-2017 by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the US had managed to put together an international coalition whose mission was to combat ISIL in Syria. In 2015, US officials said that Timber Sycamore had become one the agency’s largest covert operations, with a budget approaching $1 billion a year.  As of August 2017, the coalition had flown 168,000 sorties in both Syria and Iraq, with a roughly 45/55 split between the two, respectively. (Source: Wikipedia)

In an article published in the Washington Post on February 6, 2019, Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, wrote:

On Tuesday night, President Trump told the American people that the Islamic State has been defeated — that the only thing left is “remnants,” which our allies will destroy. That is less a statement of fact than an expression of his eagerness to go down in history as the president who ended America’s military involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

What continues to drive the progress of Islamic insurgent movements across the Middle East? For one thing, the overthrow of secular Arab governments in Syria and Libya led to the rise of fundamentalist militias. And huge numbers of civilian deaths at the hands of aerial drone assaults have made ordinary citizens vengeful towards the west and caused them to embrace jihadi martyrdom.

Isolationist sanctions throughout the 1990s and 2000s led to the segregation of many Muslim countries from the rest of the world. Combining that segregation with regional poverty and strong ideological propaganda from Islamist organizations, it’s not hard to understand why groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban have spread so rapidly across the region. (Source: FEE.org)

What’s to Be Done?

One can make a convincing case that there is nothing to be done as long as a large part of the Muslim world, including both Sunnis and Shiites, feels it is being brutally accosted and exploited by the United States, its allies and client states. This stalemate is immensely complicated by oil and pipeline considerations.–“What’s our oil doing under their sand?”–There are other “business” issues in play, as well, such as the American need to feed their voracious permanent-war machine and to support their sinister allies in the region, e.g. Israel and Saudi Arabia. In all, it’s amply clear that the War on Terror is not the answer. The issues are far too complicated and intertwined for martial solutions. It seems that a viable end to the problem of Muslim terrorism in the Middle East and around the world may ultimately have to wait for global developments. That said, be careful what you wish for.

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How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–3/3

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The Abuse of Power Is a Downward Spiral

What we have seen in the transition from the Obama to the Trump administrations is that the abuse of power under one administration leads to the abuse of power under another. Trump may be driving it more recklessly, but he’s still operating a machine the Obama administration built.

During his last year in office, responding to increasing criticism, Obama gave a speech attempting to clarify the boundaries of his drone target selection and his “signature killings,” based exclusively on behaviors observed on the ground considered indicative of possible terrorist activity, whatever that means.

“America’s actions are legal,” the president asserted of the drone war, which he claimed was being “waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.” Self-defense? Obama might be able to claim the self-defense justification if he were killing enemies in the heat of battle in Ohio or Utah, but Iraq or Somalia? Not quite. This is just another case of clear and present bullshit. Continue reading “How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–3/3”

How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–2/3

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A History of Targets and Toys

Ironically some of the first drones were target vehicles used in the training of anti-aircraft crews. One of the earliest of these was the British DH.82 Queen Bee, a variant of the Tiger Moth trainer aircraft operational from 1935. Its apicultural name led to the present term “drone.” In the 1940s, the mass production of the American actor and inventor, Reginald Denny, and the engineer Walter Righter’s “Radioplane” target drone led to the widespread adoption of radio controlled aircraft by the military for not only training AAA gunners but also combat roles from the Pacific Theatre in WW2 through to the present day. The “Dennyplane”, a mid-1930s pre-cursor to the “Radioplane,” brought model airplanes to the masses in a post-depression, pre-war U.S. and was an important forerunner to modern drone technology.

The Drone’s Presence in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War (1964- 75) the U.S. Army flew the little-known BQM-34A drone, which racked up some 3,500 missions, at a cost of more than 550 drones lost. The BQM-34A launched AGM-65 Maverick missiles and GBU-8 Stubby Hobo glide bomb. The drone was flown by a ground operator in a remote control van using a nose TV camera: since the weapons were electro-optically guided the operator could switch screen from the “drone view” to the “weapon view” to guide it to the target.

In the 1980’s the world’s armies began to consider further updating of unmanned aircraft in a serious light. The Israeli victory over the Syrian Air Force in 1982 was thanks, in part, to the use of armed drones in destroying a dozen Syrian aircraft on the ground. Then, in 1986 the U.S. and Israel collaborated on the creation of the RQ2 Pioneer, a medium-sized reconnaissance unmanned aircraft.

Fifteen years later, near the end of the first year of the George W. Bush presidency, a small, remote-control airplane called a Predator left a base in Uzbekistan, crossed the border into Afghanistan and started tracking a convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying jihadi leaders along a road in Kabul. A group of officers and spies, monitoring the streamed images from inside a trailer in a parking lot at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, watched the convoy stop outside a building. With the push of a button in Langley, the Predator fired a Hellfire missile at the building, the back half of which exploded. Seven survivors of the blast were seen fleeing to another nearby structure. A second Hellfire destroyed that shelter, too. Among the dead was Mohammed Atef, al-Qaida’s military chief and Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law. Now, after the Atef killing, the modern era of the armed drone had begun. Continue reading “How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–2/3”

How Armed Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–1/3

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Sky Death Has Never Been So Effective, So Economical, So Safe Nor So Sinister

My first experience of death from the sky (admittedly second hand) was when I saw the video leaked by Bradley Manning and Wikileaks of the massacre of a dozen innocents, including a two-man Reuters news team, on the streets of Baghdad in 2007 by U.S. army Apache helicopters armed with 50-caliber machine guns. It was heart shrinking. And the most dramatic part was when the choppers did another pass to kill the people in a van that arrived to try to rescue the survivors.

Two children wounded in the van were evacuated by U.S. ground forces arriving at the scene as the helicopters continued to circle overhead. “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” one of the U.S. fliers was heard to remark over the audio track of the helicopter gun-sight video.

Yes, as you can understand, clearly it was their fault. Continue reading “How Armed Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–1/3”

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