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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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”

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