Drone

Who is the US Killing with Drones?

As the news broke on March 7, 2016, that US drone strikes had killed 150 people in Somalia, the White House announced it will reveal, for the first time, the number of people killed by drones and manned airstrikes “outside areas of active hostilities” since 2009. The tallies will include civilian deaths. This is a critical first step toward much-needed transparency. But it will not go far enough.

The Obama administration has been lying for years about how many deaths result from its drone strikes and manned bombings. In 2011, John Brennan, the former counterterrorism adviser, now CIA director, falsely claimed that no civilians had been killed in drone strikes in nearly a year.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and other nongovernmental organizations that calculate drone deaths put the lie to Brennan’s claim. It is believed that of the estimated 5,000 people killed on Obama’s watch, approximately 1,000 were civilians. But the administration has never released complete casualty figures.

Plus, the numbers by themselves are not sufficient. Even if the White House makes good on its promise to publicize death tallies, it must also publish the Presidential Policy Guidance, which has provided the legal justification for the US targeted killing program.

In May 2013, responding to international criticism about his drone policy, Obama delivered a speech at the National Defense University. He proclaimed, “America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists — our preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute them.” Then why has Obama added only one man to the Guantánamo roster?

As he gave his 2013 speech, the White House released a fact sheet that purported to contain preconditions for the use of lethal force “outside areas of active hostilities.” But the Presidential Policy Guidance, on which the fact sheet was based, remains classified.

Here is a quick summary of the fact sheet’s main points, including some direct quotations from it:

– There must be a “legal basis” for the use of lethal force. It does not define whether “legal basis” means complying with ratified treaties. They include the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of military force except in self-defense or when approved by the UN Security Council; the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the targeting of civilians; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees due process and the right to life.

– The target must pose a “continuing, imminent threat to US persons.” The fact sheet does not define “continuing” or “imminent.” But a US Department of Justice white paper leaked in 2013 says that a US citizen can be killed even when there is no “clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Presumably the administration sets an even lower bar for non-citizens.

– There must be “near certainty that the terrorist target is present.” The fact sheet does not address “signature strikes” (known as crowd killings), which don’t target individuals but rather areas of suspicious activity.

– There must be “near certainty that noncombatants will not be injured or killed.” But the administration defines combatants as all men of military age in a strike zone “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

– There must be “an assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation.” It is unclear what feasibility means. It was feasible to capture Osama bin Laden, as none of the men at the compound were armed at the time the US military assassinated him.

– There must be “an assessment that relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to US persons,” which is left undefined.

– There must be “an assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat to US persons,” also left undefined.

Finally, the fact sheet would excuse those preconditions when the president takes action “in extraordinary circumstances,” which are “both lawful and necessary to protect the United States or its allies.” There is no definition of “extraordinary circumstances” or what would be “lawful.”

Releasing the Presidential Policy Guidance would clarify the gaps in the guidelines for the use of lethal force listed in the fact sheet.

In February 2016, the bipartisan Stimson Task Force on US Drone Policy gave the Obama administration an “F” in three areas the task force had flagged for improvement in its June 2014 report. The first area is focused on progress in releasing information on drone strikes. The second involves explaining the legal basis under US and international law for the drone program. The third is about developing more robust oversight and accountability mechanisms for targeted strikes outside of traditional battlefields.

Regarding the first area (about releasing information), Stimson concluded the administration has made almost no information public about the approximate number, location or death tolls of lethal drone attacks, which agency is responsible for what strikes, the organizational affiliation of people known to have been killed by strikes, and the number and identities of civilians who are known to have been killed.

Speaking about the second area of focus (about the legal basis for the drone program), Stimson mentioned that a few official government documents have been made public that relate to the US lethal drone program, primarily through court orders. One was a redacted memo from the Department of Justice about the legality of the 2011 targeted killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki “without due process of law,” following a successful ACLU-New York Times Freedom of Information Act request. The only other released document was the Department of Defense’s Law of War Manual, with three short sections on the use of “remotely piloted aircraft” in war. The only qualifications it contained was that the weapons cannot be “inherently indiscriminate” or “calculated to cause superfluous injury.” But the Geneva Conventions prohibit the targeting of civilians in all instances.

Regarding the third area (about oversight and accountability), Stimson said the administration continues to oppose the release of any public information on the lethal drone program, which has obstructed mechanisms for greater oversight and accountability. “The lack of action reinforces the culture of secrecy surrounding the use of armed drones,” according to the report.

The Stimson report noted that the administration has “as a rule, been reluctant to publicly acknowledge the use of lethal force by unmanned aerial vehicles in foreign countries.” Stimson identified one “notable exception,” however. After the discovery that two Western civilians held by al-Qaeda were killed by a US drone strike in January 2015, the administration admitted the deaths, but provided few specific details.

Lethal drone strikes have been reported in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Afghanistan and Somalia, and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Stimson also identified 12 countries believed to host US drone bases: Afghanistan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Niger, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden mounted a full-throated defense of the US drone program in a February 2016 New York Times op-ed. He claimed, “The targeted killing program has been the most precise and effective application of firepower in the history of armed conflict,” annihilating the ranks of al-Qaeda. But his claims are impossible to verify without documentation.

Hayden has also said, “We kill people based on metadata.” But Ars Technica recently revealed that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) SKYNET program, which uses an algorithm to gather metadata in order to identify and target terrorist suspects in Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan, would result in 99,000 false positives.

The Obama administration has resisted transparency. We will see what it publicizes in the coming period. Regardless of the data the administration releases, we must demand full disclosure in order to attain real accountability.

Source: http://www.globalresearch.ca/who-is-the-us-killing-with-drones/5513522

U.S. Air Force Hires Private Companies To Fly Drones In War Zones

U.S. Air Force officials has begun to hire private companies to fly drone aircraft operating over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The unprecedented move is in response to demands from the Obama administration to dramatically expand the drone war just as the Pentagon faces a critical shortage of military pilots.

As a result, civilian pilots will directly participate in military operations for the first time since the drone wars began about a decade ago. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Air Force signed contracts with two private companies in 2015 to provide enough pilots to fly two “combat air patrols” or 24-hour surveillance flights that would involve as many as eight MQ-9 Reaper drones per day. The Air Force plans to eventually expand its fleet of privately piloted drones to 40 over the next four years.

Of the two companies, one, Aviation Unmanned,  is a small, veteran-owned outfit operating out of Dallas, Texas, which was awarded a contract on August 24. The second is General Atomics, a large San Diego, California-based military contractor that builds both the Reaper and Predator drones and has been paid at least $700 million over the last two years for a variety of drone support services. Their contract was awarded April 15.

This is not the first time that private contractors have played a role in the drone wars. Companies such as Booz AllenHamilton, General Dynamics and SAIC  have long held contracts to analyze surveillance data gathered by drones flying over war zones.

While Reaper drones are designed to be able to carry multiple Hellfire and Sidewinder missiles, the Pentagon insists that these privately operated Reapers will simply do reconnaissance and not carry weapons, nor will the pilots have clearance to fire missiles.

Nonetheless, these contracts mark a dramatic uptick in the direct involvement of private companies in military actions, which has drawn criticism even from within the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s office who say that such involvement may be a violation of international law. “Military services should be vigilant to avoid contracted intelligence activities where civilians may exert a significant amount of influence or control over targeting and weapons release decisions,” wrote Major Keric Clanahan, a legal advisor to the U.S. Special Forces, in a recent article in Air Force Law Review. “It is imperative that contractors not get too close to the tip of the spear.”

The decision to deploy private drone pilots stems from a longstanding crisis inside the U.S. military In early 2015, the Air Force operated 65 combat air patrols, or up to 260 drones patrolling war zones around the world, but was under pressure from the  Pentagon to expand the number of drones in the air to 360. But pilots, overwhelmed by the complexity of the work and the grueling schedule, began to vote with their feet and quit.

At an October conference of military contractors and government officials, General Robert Otto, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, summed up the problem. “Those crews have been stressed about to the limit,” Otto said. “Over time, pulling twelve hour shifts, six days a week, year after year, and the only light at the end of the tunnel is their Form DV-214, which their, you know, separation from service. And many of the pilots have decided to take that option.”

This summer, the Air Force was forced to reduce the number of combat air patrols from 65 to 60, in order to keep its remaining pilots from retiring at the end of their contracts. Nonetheless, the Air Force projects that it will be 400 pilots short of the roughly 1,200 it needs to keep the drone program running at current capacity.

Officials hope that the private contractors, along with additional support from Army drone pilots, will fill the gap in the short term. But over the long term, the problem of keeping a fleet of pilots in the service is expected to get substantially worse.

According to a separate Los Angeles Times article, the Air Force recently announced plans to radically expand its global drone operation, adding 65 new Reapers to its fleet, doubling the number of pilots, and building new drone operations centers at Air Force bases around the U.S. The plan is expected to cost roughly $3.5 billion, and the service will have to get Congressional approval before conducting the expansion. Even if lawmakers go along, training new pilots and building the new drone centers will take years. It will be a long time before the service’s current pilots see any relief, so the contractors may well be called upon again to fill an ever-widening gap.

Source: Corp Watch

War in Afghanistan Far from Over

Now into its 13th year U.S. and NATO are announcing the end to combat missions in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of troops, but despite the symbolic flag-lowering ceremony, the U.S.-led war is in fact not ending, and the brutal war is set to continue through 2015. NATO is set to “transition” to a non-combat, “Resolute Support” mission to assist the Afghan National Army in its operations, with 4, 000 NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan into 2015.

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President Obama has authorized the 10, 800 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan in 2015, an increase of 1, 000 from his May pledge to reduce U.S. troops in the country, to resume combat operations against Afghan militants, including night raids by Special Operation soldiers, previously banned by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and ariel strikes. A senior American military officer was quoted saying that “the Air Force expects to use F-16 fighters, B-1B bombers and Predator and Reaper drones to go after the Taliban in 2015.”

The continuation of combat operations in Afghanistan by U.S. troops comes after the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the U.S. and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a former U.S. citizen and World Bank employee, a highly controversial agreement that was followed by a wave of attacks. The agreement allows for thousands of U.S. troops to remain in the country for another decade and grants all U.S. servicemen immunity from prosecution under Afghan laws. Several massacres and unlawful acts were committed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including the murder of 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar and the footage of U.S. soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Afghans and posing for photographs with dead civilians.

The U.S. and its imperialist allies have a long history of occupations and interference in Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the U.S. and its allies through Pakistan funded radical Islamic counterrevolutionaries, including bin Laden and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, that fought to topple the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), then implementing widespread social reforms that benefited millions of Afghans. These “freedom fighters,” as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan described them, tortured teachers and activists, burnt down schools, poisoned children, and raped women.

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Babrak Karmal, first President of the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan

After the PDPA was overthrown, the U.S. largely disengaged from Afghanistan, having accomplished its primary objective, and the various counterrevolutionary factions fought amongst themselves in a devastating civil war. Later the Taliban, an organization of Islamic students led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, defeated these factions and captured Kabul in 1996. The U.S., “keen to see Afghanistan under strong central rule to allow a US-led group to build a multi-billion-dollar oil and gas pipeline” from Turkmenistan to the Arabian Sea, indirectly supported the Taliban’s rise to power through Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S.-led 2001 invasion of Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11 or bin Laden. Notwithstanding the scientific inaccuracies of the official 9/11 story, the FBI has admitted it lacks any hard evidence to formally indict bin Laden for his responsibility in 9/11, only the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S.-led invasion was an imperialist war of resource plundering and transferring public wealth into private hands. The media went into a frenzy when the U.S. “discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan” in 2010. The New York Times even declared that Afghanistan could become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a mineral used in the manufacture of batteries. It is inconceivable that U.S. authorities weren’t aware of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth before the invasion; the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s confirmed the existence of enormous mineral reserves and produced “superb geological maps and reports that listed more than 1,400 mineral outcroppings, along with about 70 commercially viable deposits.”

Since the U.S. and NATO invaded Afghanistan the drug trade has boomed. Prior to the invasion, opium cultivation was banned by the Taliban in collaboration with the United Nations, and by 2001 the crop had declined by 90% to 185 tonnes. After the U.S. invasion the opium crop had skyrocketed to 3400 tonnes in 2002 under former President Hamid Karzai. The drug trade was an important source of covert funding for the Afghan counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s and 1990s and has long been under the control of the CIA. Mujahideen counterrevolutionaries forced Afghan peasants to plant opium, turning the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas into the world’s top heroin producer, with the collaboration of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islamabad.

Afghan farmers in their fields.

Afghan farmers in their fields.

The money from the drug trade is laundered through banks and recycled as covert funds for intelligence agencies. Money laundering, according to the IMF, constitutes 2-5% of the world’s GDP, and a significant share of money laundering is linked to the trade in narcotics. The trade in narcotics represents the third largest commodity after oil and arms, with powerful financial interests behind the trade. “From this standpoint, geopolitical and military control over the drug routes is as strategic as oil and oil pipelines,” writes Professor Michel Chossudovsky.

US Drone Strikes Kill Nine in North Waziristan

From Antiwar.com

A pair of US drone strikes destroyed a house and a vehicle in the Shawal Valley of Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency today, killing at least nine people, including four who officials say may have been ethnic Uzbeks.

The Uzbeks were said killed in the US attack on the vehicle, though officials conceded they haven’t actually confirmed this, and that the ethnicity of the victims was just something they heard.

The other five people killed are totally unidentified even nominally, though officials say they believe the house destroyed belonged to a leader in the Punjabi Taliban.

Still, they have no idea if the Punjabi Taliban leader was in the home at the time, or indeed if it was even his people who were hit. The US has been picking up the rate of drone strikes in Pakistan in recent weeks, a sore spot in US-Pakistani relations, though most recently Pakistan has been mum on the attacks.

Leaked Internal CIA Document Admits US Drone Program “Counterproductive”

From Common Dreams

Wikileaks on Thursday has made public a never-before-seen internal review conducted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that looked at the agency’s drone and targeted assassination programs in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

The agency’s own analysis, conducted in 2009, found that its clandestine drone and assassination program was likely to produce counterproductive outcomes, including strengthening the very “extremist groups” it was allegedly designed to destroy.

Here’s a link to the document, titled Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Toolocument (pdf).

In one of the key findings contained in the CIA report, agency analysts warn of the negative consequences of assassinating so-called High Level Targets (HLT).

“The potential negative effect of HLT operations,” the report states, “include increasing the level of insurgent support […], strengthening an armed group’s bonds with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents.”

Wikileaks points out that this internal prediction “has been proven right” in the years since the internal review was conducted near the outset of President Obama’s first term. And despite those internal warnings—which have been loudly shared by human rights and foreign policy experts critical of the CIA’s drone and assassination programs—Wikileaks also notes that after the internal review was prepared, “US drone strike killings rose to an all-time high.”

Reached by the Washington Post on Thursday for response, CIA spokesperson Kali J. Caldwell said the agency would not comment “on the authenticity or content of purported stolen intelligence documents.”

According to a statement released by Wikileaks:

The report discusses assassination operations (by various states) against the Taliban, al-Qa’ida, the FARC, Hizbullah, the PLO, HAMAS, Peru’s Shining Path, the Tamil’s LTTE, the IRA and Algeria’s FLN. Case studies are drawn from Chechnya, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand.

The assessment was prepared by the CIA’s Office of Transnational Issues (OTI). Its role is to provide “the most senior US policymakers, military planners, and law enforcement with analysis, warning, and crisis support”. The report is dated 7 July 2009, six months into Leon Panetta’s term as CIA chief, and not long after CIA analyst John Kiriakou blew the whistle on the torture of CIA detainees. Kiriakou is still in prison for shedding light on the CIA torture programme.

Following the politically embarrassing exposure of the CIA’s torture practices and the growing cost of keeping people in detention indefinitely, the Obama administration faced a crucial choice in its counter-insurgency strategy: should it kill, capture, or do something else entirely?

Given exclusive access to the CIA document ahead of its public release, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Philip Dorling reported earlier on Thursday:

According to a leaked document by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, “high value targeting” (HVT) involving air strikes and special forces operations against insurgent leaders can be effective, but can also havenegative effects including increasing violence and greater popular support for extremist groups.

The leaked document is classified secret and “NoForn” (meaning not to be distributed to non-US nationals) and reviews attacks by the United States and other countries engaged in counter-insurgency operations over the past 50 years.

The CIA assessment is the first leaked secret intelligence document published by WikiLeaks since 2011. Led by Australian publisher Julian Assange, the anti-secrecy group says the CIA assessment is the first in what will be a new series of leaked documents relating to the US agency.

The 2009 CIA study lends support to critics of US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen by warning that such operations “may increase support for the insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders’ lore, if non-combatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi-legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is already seen as overly repressive or violent”.

Drone strikes have been a key element of the Obama administration’s attacks on Islamic extremist terrorist and insurgent groups in the Middle East and south Asia. Australia has directly supported these strikes through the electronic espionage operations of the US-Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.