Thursday, 14 October 2010

Der Spiegel: Obama's Shadowy Drone War

Lately we have been hearing attacks on suspected Al-Qaeda/Taliban operatives in Pakistan's Waziristan province bordering Afghanistan by CIA armed drones which are unmanned aircraft controlled by operators on the ground using satellite communication links. These drone attacks had also caused the lives of many innocent civillians and would likely only stop after the American forces finally withdraw completely from Afghanistan.

For those interested what follows is an article from the German Der Spiegel written by By Klaus Brinkbäumer and John Goetz.:

Obama's Shadowy Drone War
By Klaus Brinkbäumer and John Goetz

Part 1: Taking Out the Terrorists by Remote Control

In the 21 months since his inauguration, President Obama has ordered or approved 120 drone attacks on Pakistan. There were 22 such attacks in September 2010 alone, reportedly killing more than 100 people. In contrast, Obama's predecessor Bush ordered just 60 attacks in eight years.

Obama has made drones the centerpiece of his strategy in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. These terrifying weapons circle over Afghanistan and Pakistan, changing the war and making it colder and more anonymous than before. They pose a constant threat, can be operated with the push of a button and, according to the CIA, are precise -- at least most of the time.

The drone war is being waged by the US Army, by the US Air Force and, most of all, by the CIA. It is taking place in a shadowy realm beyond the reach of war tribunals, public debate and the media. The only time it made headlines recently, and then only for a day, was when it resulted in the deaths of a number of German citizens. The men, who were killed in a drone attack on Oct. 4, were presumed terrorists who were passing through the town of Mir Ali in the Pakistani region of North 

Graphic: Afghanistan and Pakistan
No Americans Killed

The CIA's drone war allows the government in Islamabad to act as if it had no knowledge of what is going on, and it allows Obama to wage a military campaign on the territory of an ally without having to send troops to the country.

When it comes to their support for the program, the two main American parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, are in rare agreement -- mainly because the drone war doesn't claim American lives.

The CIA doesn't release any numbers -- not about its successes and certainly not about civilian casualties. It attacked Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, 16 times. In other words, either informants or the drones' cameras identified Mehsud's location 16 times and the drones fired 16 times. The first 15 tries failed. Then, in the last attempt, when the report was correct and Mehsud was in fact at his father-in-law's house, Mehsud and 10 friends and relatives were killed. According to sources in Islamabad, CIA drones killed some 700 civilians in 2009.

read in full Part 1 here.

Part 2: How armed drones were invented.

Graphic: The MQ-9 Reaper

Retired US Air Force General John Jumper, 65, is a military visionary and a creative force of war. A former fighter pilot in Vietnam, Jumper also served in Europe during the Balkan wars. At that time the Americans, hoping to improve their reconnaissance capabilities, formed a task force at the Pentagon that was called "Predator 911." The orders were issued, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US military's R&D division, designed the first "Predator" drone, an unmanned aircraft that was 9 meters (29.5 feet) long and propelled by a small engine.

The device was quiet and barely visible from the ground. It flew at an altitude of about 3,000 meters, and it could stay up in the air for 24 hours without having to refuel. The cameras were the most important feature of the early drones, which, as intelligence-gathering tools, were intended to provide information. Jumper's job was to figure out what else the device could do.

He had the propellers replaced and gasoline engines installed. Then he had new wings made, with small perforations through which chemicals could flow to protect the drones from icing up. At the time, no one thought of arming the drones.

But then, in 1999, during the Kosovo war, Jumper saw his drones taking off and delivering high-resolution photos. He saw Air Force pilots climbing into their jets and flying into battle. And he saw all the information the drones provided. The only problem was that the pilots flying into the combat zone didn't see the information obtained by the drones until later, when it was much too late to do them any good.

Read in full Part 2 here.

Part 3: The Accountability Vacuum

The evolution of warfare means that many countries are now building drones. Some 40 nations already have them. Did the United States open a door, once again? Sounding somewhat cautious, Jumper says that naturally the weapons are attractive.

On what basis, and by what right, is the CIA acting in Pakistan, on the territory of an ally? "I don't think that this (new kind of warfare) imposes any new strains on the legal system that don't already exist today," says Jumper.

There are others who aren't just concerned about the legal implications, but also the moral consequences of Jumper's idea. The United Nations has a "special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions," a post held until a few weeks ago by the Australian Philip Alston, a clever man who also teaches law at New York University. Alston is soft-spoken and parts his white hair on the left, and his glasses are constantly sliding off his nose. In a 29-page report he wrote for the UN Human Rights Council, he argues forcefully that the United States should exercise restraint in the use of drones.

His line of thought is clear, ending in the theory that if everyone starts using drones, it will spell the end of civilization. International law will no longer exist, because any nation will take it upon itself to declare person X a terrorist or a trainer of terrorists or a sponsor of terrorism, and then person X will simply die -- without so much as a trial or any further investigation.

Alston singles out Israel, Russia and above all the United States as trendsetters. According to Alston, all three countries argue that they are fighting "asymmetrical wars" and "terrorism," stretching the law in the process. "The result has been the displacement of clear legal standards with a vaguely defined license to kill, and the creation of a major accountability vacuum," he writes in the report.

Read Part 3 here.

Part 4: Al-Qaeda Strikes Back

No one had expected that those being hunted by drones would strike back. It is part of the very essence and definition of the drone war that the United States does the attacking while remaining inaccessible to the enemy.

But the enemy is learning. On Dec. 30, 2009, it responded by attacking the headquarters of the CIA's drone war in Afghanistan.

Read Part 4 here.

I understood the Drone Attacks in Pakistan better now after I read  the above article, I think it is a very cruel way to kill innocent civillians from the sky. Expect more revenge attacks on American and Nato Targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan until these killings stopped.

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