It’s been a year since we published Drone Wars: The Next Generation, which gave our assessment of who is operating armed drones. This update adds four new States to those with the ability to operate large MALE or medium sized armed drones, as well as an update on significant exports, use, new models and proliferation controls over the last year. Read more
Over the past few years States, international organisations and civil society groups have expressed concern about the increasing proliferation and use of armed drones. To illustrate what is happening, Drone Wars has compiled details of the use of armed drones in the first three months of 2018. Due to both the lack of transparency by operators and the difficulty of reporting strikes from the remote locations where they often occur, this survey is undoubtedly incomplete. In addition the fact that multiple nations are operating armed drones to launch strikes against differing groups in Syria (US, UK, Israel, Turkey and Iran) and Yemen (US, UAE and Saudi Arabia) makes attribution and accountability for strikes there almost impossible. Nevertheless this short survey (1 Jan 2018 – 31 March 2018) gives something of an insight into the use of armed drones by multiple operators to launch strikes in multiple countries. Read more
A new wave of users have launched drone strikes either on their own territory or across borders over the past 15 months.
While the majority of attention on armed drones has focused on US use (and to some extent on the UK and Israeli), growing proliferation of these systems has meant that a number of other countries have acquired or developed armed drones and are beginning to regularly use them to launch strikes.
We reported two weeks ago on the killing of 16 year-old Yemeni teenager Abdul-Rahman, the son of Anwar al-Alwaki who was himself the victim of a drone strike a few weeks previously. However Abdul-Rahamn was not the only 16 year-old killed in a drone strike this month.
A few thousand miles away 16 year-old Tariq Khan and his 12 year-old cousin Waheed were killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan on October 31. A few days before being killed, Tariq had attended a meeting on the drones organised by British human rights group, Reprieve with the aim of encouraging local people to document the strikes taking place in their area. Lawyer and campaigner, Clive Stafford Smith talks about the Jirga and meeting Tariq in his piece for the New York Times piece:
Tariq was a good kid, and courageous. My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government. And Tariq’s extended family, so recently hoping to be our allies for peace, has now been ripped apart by an American missile — most likely making any effort we make at reconciliation futile.
Two thousand miles west and Israeli drones fly constantly over Gaza with the latest strike killing seven members of Islamic Jihad. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an eye-opening interview this week with a ‘Lt Col Ido’ (his surname was withheld for security reasons) who teaches ethics to Israeli drone operators. The Lt Col says “When people are killed by mistake, we are tormented, and that’s how it should be… I’ve met some people who had a very hard time with it. Some coped, and others wanted to leave. I told them, ‘This is dirty work. Who would you like to have do it? We would all like to be professors.'”
The whole article, looking at how Israel uses drones for “everything from gathering intelligence in what the air force calls the “third circle” – namely, the Iranian sector and its satellites – to assisting fire-fighters in the Mount Carmel forest fire and guarding worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus” is well worth reading. Israel is also about to deploy the giant Eitan drone for use in Gaza and Lebanon as Ynet news reports.
Fifteen hundred miles south of Israel is the Ethiopian city of Arba Minch from where, according to a recent report in the Washington Post, the USAF are flying Reaper drones over Somalia. While the US say the drones based in Ethiopia are for surveillance purposes only (the Ethiopian government are refusing to admit the drones are even in Ethiopia) US drones are undertaking strikes against al-Shabab in Somalia.
Meanwhile it has been confirmed this week that US drones in Iraq are to be move to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey from where they will be used to ‘monitor’ Kurdish separatists in Iraq and presumably Turkey.
But it is not only the drones that are circling the globe. Resistance to the drones is growing and going global too. We have repeatedly reported on the anger in Pakistan against US drone strikes and the many protests taking place there, the latest of which saw some 2,000 people protests outside the Parliament building in Islamabad.
For the first time (as far as we know) anti-drone protests have also taken place in Yemen, with some extremely brave people coming together in Sana’a to protest the strikes there (see video below)
In the US, protestors have recently gone on trial following a civil disobedience action at the main entrance of Hancock Air National Guard Base on April 22, 2011, where 38 people were arrested at a die-in protesting the drones. The verdict will be handed down on 1st December (see http://www.upstatedroneaction.org/ for lots more info.
And in London tomorrow (16 November) protestors will gather outside a hotel in central London where the drone industry will gather for two days to discuss, plan and, as there publicity states discuss ‘how to stop the public hysteria surrounding UAV operations in the 21st Century?’ As human rights lawyer Jules Carey put it on twitter: There should be more hysteria about UAVs not less! At our protest we shall remember Abdul-Rahman, Tariq, Waheed and all the other victims of drone strikes young and old. Why not join us?
Meanwhile Iran also announced that it will unveil two new drone on August 22nd. The two hi-tech drones named ‘Ra’d’ (Thunder) and ‘Nazir’ (Harbinger) are capable of conducting long-range reconnaissance, patrolling, assault and bombing missions with high precision and are the first drones to roll off Iran’s new UAV production line set up in February.
There has been much speculation that the news about the new drones is linked to the announcement that Iran is due to start its nuclear power station at Bushehr on Aug 21st with fuel delivered from Russia (this has been approved by IAEA) not least because US neo-con John Bolton has urged Israel to attack the nuclear site:
“Once that uranium, once those fuel rods are very close to the reactor, certainly once they’re in the reactor, attacking it means a release of radiation, no question about it,” Bolton told Fox Business Network. “So if Israel is going to do anything against Bushehr it has to move in the next eight days.”
Meanwhile Israel is expecting a ‘boom time’ for its UAV’s according to a report in Aviation Week. The head of Elbit, Joseph Ackerman, is quoted as saying he wants to sell drones like a ‘Sears and Roebuck’ type operation.
“Our strategy is to build a range of UAVs up to 1.1 tons with the communications, sensors and intelligence payloads that let them do all the necessary missions at long distances,” say Ackerman.
However the rift between Israel and Turkey following the murder of Turkish activists on the Gaza means that Turkey may not get its US made Reaper drones. The US is putting pressure on Turkey to soften its stance against Israel – and as a punishment for voting against UN sanctions on Iran – otherwise it will not provide the drone which Turkey wants to use against the PKK.