Rise of the Drones
> Francis Broderick
> June 11, 2012 at 6:42
A few years ago, everybody would have associated them with some kind of
science-fiction horror movie. In 2012, they make headlines on a daily basis,
and people seem to have accepted their growing impact without too many
questions. They hunt their prey across Pakistan, Yemen and countless other
countries, before raining down destruction in a short, deadly burst of
violence. '10 killed in drone strike on compound in North Waziristan'. One
takes a fleeting glimpse at the headline before moving onto the next one.
There were 4 headlines like that already this week - it's become far too
normal to be interesting anymore.
The United States is using unmanned aerial vehicle or drone technology,
primarily to strike terrorist targets in Pakistan without putting its pilots
in danger. That's the interesting and perhaps disturbing thing about the
drone concept. An American pilot can head to the office in Nevada, take
control of the drone, destroy a terrorist installation and go home for
dinner with his/her family that very evening. On the ground in Pakistan, a
low buzzing sound reverberates across the sun-baked landscape of goat
herders, dirt tracks and mud huts, decades behind 21st century technology. A
distant thud confirms the drone has found its target. The cutting-edge
killing machine has made its mark on the medieval population below. They
don't pay too much attention. It's becoming normal for them too.
The drone war initiated by President Bush has been continued by President
Obama, at a much higher tempo.
since-2004/> Since 2009, drones have struck in Pakistan at least 250 times.
The political sensitivity of using drones over Pakistan coupled with the
CIA's intense involvement ensures that the US government tries to stay
silent on the drone front. The White House did comment officially on the
death of Yahya al-Libi, Al-Qaeda's second in command, killed in a drone
strike last week. This is not unusual - officials have been keen to
emphasize the success of the offensive, commenting on the death of multiple
high-level Al-Qaeda officials as well as the destruction of countless
training camps. For the most part however, the drone war is conducted in
absolute silence. There are no official records of who has been killed,
questions are left unanswered and criticism is ignored - it has become a
classic clandestine conflict.
After the death of Yahya al-Libi, Pakistan officially reprimanded a top US
diplomat, stating that such attacks were a violation of its sovereignty. The
strikes have proved deeply unpopular in Pakistan, which has constantly
voiced its opposition, backed up with claims of civilian casualties. Murmurs
of discontent are also increasing in the US, with some questioning the
legality of the use of drones. A report entitled 'Drone Attacks,
International Law, and the Recording of Civilian Casualties of Armed
Conflict', was published last year by a team of international lawyers,
chiefly stating that there is a need to identify, record and bury the dead.
Magazine recently revealed that the Associated Press carried out an
investigation this year, revealing that the drone strikes were killing far
fewer civilians than many Pakistanis believed and most of the dead were
Despite international questions and objections, the use of drones has
continued unabated, expanding into Yemen. Some have claimed the strikes
constitute murder but the secrecy and denials keep transparent moral
conclusions out of reach. However, people are indeed starting to ask the
obvious question: does the United States now have 'a license to kill?' This
sophisticated weapons system has been placed under the control of the CIA -
they have the power to strike who they want, where they want and when they
want, without restraint.
a.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=world> The New York Times published a story on
May 29, providing an overview of Obama's highly aggressive counter-terrorism
policy, whereby Obama himself would oversee a list of individuals to be
targeted. If the target's family was in the area, the President would make
the final attack decision. Such facts may seem disturbing, but the American
government claims this is an absolute necessity to defend the country.
Reaction to the New York Times article was mixed, indeed some media sources
labeled Obama 'America's Executioner in Chief'.
Two types of drone stalk the Pakistani tribal regions - the Predator, which
entered service in 1994 and the newer Reaper. The CIA were keen to arm the
Predator in the late 1990s and Osama Bin Laden was even spotted on a drone's
video feed in 2000. After 9/11, the potential of armed drones was explored
and today, the Reaper can carry hellfire missiles and 500lb bombs, a similar
payload to an F16 fighter aircraft - at a fraction of the cost. The newest
American fighter plane, the F22, costs a staggering $350 million. The Reaper
on the other hand comes in at around $10 million and is much cheaper to
The human cost is also important in warfare and with regard to drone usage,
that's zero for the Americans. The pilot visits an air-conditioned
cabin/building in the Nevada desert and views the engagement on a monitor,
filmed through the drone's high-definition surveillance equipment. It is a
comfortable way to fight, something the Pakistani tribesmen of North
Waziristan do not understand. They accuse the Americans of cowardice,
claiming they are afraid of casualties, afraid of a real fight. The possible
political ramifications of captured American pilots in Pakistan or Yemen
seem to provide enough justification for pushing forward with drones. The
risks - financial, material, personal and political are much lower.
After a decade of warfare with thousands of lives lost, this seems to be the
future for the Americans. Fighting from afar, without casualties. Some might
call it cowardice, but it is highly effective. The drone offensive has
plunged the Al-Qaeda leadership into chaos, with nowhere to hide from the
soaring killing machines high above. Drone warfare is still evolving and the
US Navy are testing a new device called the multi-mode sensor seeker which
will be attached to a Firescout robotic helicopter. It is hoped this
technology will assist in the fight against pirates off the Somali coast.
The Firescout would autonomously seek out pirate targets using high
definition cameras and infra-red sensors, comparing them to a target
database in its computer system.
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Received on Mon Jun 11 2012 - 12:29:40 EDT