For the first time, the United States has confirmed that it is undertaking drone strikes in Pakistan.
Many may feel that this has long been an open secret as unnamed officials regularly take to the press about CIA drone strikes. However the admition by President Obama during a ‘Google online hangout’ will no doubt have legal and political implications. In september 2011 a Federal Judge dismissed an ACLU lawsuit seeking information about CIA drone strikes in Pakistan as the CIA would not confirm or deny the drone strikes took place.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) have continued their excellent work exposing US drone strikes in Pakistan by publishing extensive new research. According to their research, more than 160 children are among at least 2,292 people reported killed in US attacks since 2004. In addition they suggest that there are credible reports of at least 385 civilians among the dead. Full details including a searchable database of drone strikes is available on thebureauinvestigates.com.
Clearly rattled, US officials have gone on the PR offensive and challenged the figures (AFP reported an anonymous US official saying “The numbers cited by this organization are way off the mark”) and US officals have also attempted to discredit the report by suggesting that a source, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who is suing the Central Intelligence Agency on behalf of civilians has an “agenda” and has ‘possible links with Pakistani Intelligence agencies’. However a New York Times editorial on the drone strikes this weekend challenged the CIA’s claims that no civilians have been killed saying “We find that hard to believe”. So do a great many people.
As well as the US military going on a PR offensive, the drone industry too is trying to challenge the ‘killer drones’ image. According to National Defense Magazine
“the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International hosted a news conference at the National Press Club on August 10 to talk about the warm and fuzzy side of robotic machines [with] several executives on hand …to discuss the humanitarian roles of robotic equipment.”
There was much press coverage in the run-up to the test flight of DARPA’s new Hypersonic drone, the Falcon, last week, including this piece in the Guardian. The Falcon drone, built by Lockheed Martin at a cost of about $320 million, is designed to fly at twenty times the speed of sound and undertake strikes anywhere in the world in less than one hour. Red faces all around then when the test failed and the Falcon crashed into the Pacific. Back to the drawing board!
I wrote most of this post last night before the announcement that US special forces entered Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden and members of his family. It is noteworthy that drones were not used to attack the compound where Bin Laden was staying – were they not see as reliable? – but no doubt they were flying overhead recording the attack.
There has also already been much speculation about what impact this will have on drone strikes in Pakistan with some arguing that with Bin Laden death the strikes should cease. Others are arguing, however, that Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan justifies further strikes. There will, no doubt , be more on this….
As we have detailed over past months, there has been growing anger in Pakistan at the continued CIA drone strikes and even senior Pakistani military and political figures are now calling for an end to the CIA’s drone strikes. It should be remembered that the CIA Predator drones are a different ‘fleet’ of drones than are being used by the USAF in Afghanistan.
The killings caused outrage in Pakistan coming on top of the hated CIA drone strikes and there were public demonstrations calling for Davis to be hanged. Meanwhile the US put enormous pressure on Pakistan to release Davis arguing that he had diplomatic status. Aid budgets were threatened and the drone strikes were halted – at least for the first month of his incarceration – in an attempt not to further inflame anger.
The casualties from the attack included six tribal elders who were overseeing the jirga, which was apparently to discuss the ownership of mineral rights, a number of children who were brought by their families to the gathering, and several members of a pro-government militia the tribe helped organize.
Don’t normally repost other people’s articles here but this is an illuminating piece from Newsweek on how, as it says in the article “the formal process of determining who should be hunted down and “blown to bits” by a drone is undertaken.
It was an ordinary-looking room located in an office building in northern Virginia. The place was filled with computer monitors, keyboards, and maps. Someone sat at a desk with his hand on a joystick. John A. Rizzo, who was serving as the CIA’s acting general counsel, hovered nearby, along with other people from the agency. Together they watched images on a screen that showed a man and his family traveling down a road thousands of miles away. The vehicle slowed down, and the man climbed out.
A moment later, an explosion filled the screen, and the man was dead. “It was very businesslike,” says Rizzo. An aerial drone had killed the man, a high-level terrorism suspect, after he had gotten out of the vehicle, while members of his family were spared. “The agency was very punctilious about this,” Rizzo says. “They tried to minimize collateral damage, especially women and children.”
The broad outlines of the CIA’s operations to kill suspected terrorists have been known to the public for some time—including how the United States kills Qaeda and Taliban militants by drone aircraft in Pakistan. But the formal process of determining who should be hunted down and “blown to bits,” as Rizzo puts it, has not been previously reported. A look at the bureaucracy behind the operations reveals that it is multilayered and methodical, run by a corps of civil servants who carry out their duties in a professional manner. Still, the fact that Rizzo was involved in “murder,” as he sometimes puts it, and that operations are planned in advance in a legalistic fashion, raises questions. [[Article continues on Newsweek site here]]
Many news outlets are covering the story that the recent mass drone strikes in Pakistan have foiled a ‘Mumbai-style’ terror attack on UK, France and Germany. The suggestion that mass drone strikes in Pakistan are justified because of intelligence of a possible terror attack in Europe are simply ludicrous. Let’s set aside for a moment the notorious unreliability of such ‘intellegence’, particularly the kind that is so crucial that it is leaked to the media in a style reminiscent of the now notorious ‘Saddam WMD 45 minutes away’ threat.
The idea that armed drones can be let loose to “‘pre-empt possible terror plots” by unaccountable security and intelligence agencies is extremely worrying, as is the way that much of the mainstream media seems happy to acquiesce with this fallacy.