Links: May 6, 2013

British military has 500 drones Guardian

Drones are deadly and dangerous – and not just to terrorists Lawrence Wilkerson for Al Jazeera

New jihadi magazine appeals for help against drones Reuters

Drone cargo helicopters prove worth in Afghanistan, leading way to civilian uses McClatchy

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Links: May 2, 2013

US drone strikes being used as alternative to Guantánamo, [BUSH] lawyer says Guardian

For the First Time, Brits Launch Drone Strike From Home Wired

Navy Launches Its First Drone Squadron NPR

IDF drone crashes near Gaza border Times of Israel

Living in Terror Under a Drone-Filled Sky in Yemen Atlantic

As US drone strikes rise in Yemen, so does anger AP

Drone victim: U.S. strikes boost al-Qaida recruitment Salon [interview with Farea al-Muslimi, who testified before Congress on the 23rd of April]

Drones and the YPC Report Adam Baron

No One Wants the Pentagon’s Gigantic Hydrogen-Powered Drone Wired

Robert Jay Lifton: How, and Why, the Media Have Failed on Drone War  Nation

No-Fly Zone: How “drone” safety rules can also help protect privacy  Slate

A young Yemeni writer on the impact and morality of drone-bombing his country Glenn Greenwald

‘The Point of No Return’: Should Robots Be Able to Decide to Kill You On Their Own? Rolling Stone

UK sends underwater drones to Gulf for anti-mines exercise Guardian

Bonus:

Meet Drone Shield, an ambitious idea for a $70 drone detection system ArsTechnica

Tiniest Drone Takes Off, Sort Of National Geographic

University concludes aerial drone usage The Daily Princetonian

10 Reflections on Drones (Part I) HuffPo [by Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, mentioned above in the Nation article]

 

Links: April 26, 2013

Senate Immigration Bill Calls For a Drone-Patrolled Border ABC News

Israeli military shoots down drone Yahoo

Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing [Senate Judiciary Hearing]

Senate Hearing on Drone Warfare CommonDreams

Drone Fallout: Decoding the arrest of General Musharraf NewsVandal

DRONES OVER THE HOMELAND: HOW POLITICS, MONEY AND LACK OF OVERSIGHT HAVE SPARKED DRONEPROLIFERATION, AND WHAT WE CAN DO [Report] Center for International Policy

 

 

 

 

 

Links: April 21, 2013

A Reporter Asked Jay Carney If Air Strikes That Kill Civilians Are ‘Considered Terrorism’ Business Insider

After Airstrike, Afghan Points to C.I.A. and Secret Militias NYT

Ex-Pakistani President Musharraf admits secret deal with U.S. on drone strikes CNN

Transferring CIA Drone Strikes to the Pentagon CFR

Industry: Drones Could Have Helped Boston Marathon Bombing Responders US News

Red Cross chief urges caution over covert drones TBIJ

US Resumes Trend of Drone Attacks on Yemen Common Dreams

Killing Terrorists, Creating More NYT

In Swat Valley, U.S. drone strikes radicalizing a new generation CNN

Drone strikes:

Yemen officials: US drone kills 2 militants AP

Latest reported US strikes: Pakistan April 17 & Yemen April 17 TBIJ

4 ‘militants’ killed in US drone strike in Pakistan The Long War Journal

 

More:

Israeli official says drones could replace planes Business Week

Links: April 14, 2013

I’m taking a page from NakedCapitalism and introducing a new segment at TheDroneFallacy. From now on, there will be a regular list of “Links” to articles and other media related to drones (Sorry, there won’t be any cute animal pictures accompanying my Links).

Readers will be able to find all and any relevant information regarding drones that has come up between every posting of a “Links” segment, along with the usual commentary by myself and guest posters. Links considered particularly pertinent will be bolded for your convenience. I will no longer be posting articles from other sources as I used to, but if a piece is important enough I may make a separate post about it.

Without further ado, here are the links for today:

Drone War Secrets Leak HuffPost (featuring emptywheel’s own Marcy Wheeler)

Scott Shane Defends the Commander-in-Chief’s Language emptywheel

CIA’s Drone Lies and Congressional Oversight emptywheel

Secret US documents show Brennan’s ‘no civilian drone deaths’ claim was false The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (regarding this crucial McClatchy piece)

A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood NYT

Why Did the CIA Stop Torturing and Start Killing? CFR

Targeted Killing Comes to Define War on Terror NYT

How a Single Spy Helped Turn Pakistan Against the United States NYT

After Continued Blow-Off, House Judiciary Requests Awlaki AND Signature Strike Memos emptywheel

Rights Groups, in Letter to Obama, Question Legality and Secrecy of Drone Killings NYT, and commentary from Marcy Wheeler

Three key lessons from the Obama administration’s drone lies Glenn Greenwald

Video: New Navy laser can shoot down drones, is headed for the Persian Gulf WaPo

No Warrant, No Problem: How The Government Can Still Get Your Digital Data ProPublica

White House responds to drone pressure: ‘We will continue to disclose as much as we can’ McClatchy

bonus:

Google chief urges action to regulate mini-drones BBC

Lockheed Martin Has An Impressive New Drone Concept

By Robert Johnson, April 9 2013

Already obsessed with drones, the U.S. military is looking for new ones to fill a vital role.

uclass

America needs drones to guard its aging fleet in foreign waters, extend a ship’s strike distance using standard aircraft carrier ordnance, and do all of it based from the carrier itself. That will allow flight deck operations 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week with no pilots at risk, and no huge jets to re-fuel.

It’s a tall order that demands an array of technology that just barely exists and is scattered among various vehicles. Some drones are great at surveillance, some at blowing stuff up, and some at water-based landings, but one that will do all three is yet just a dream.

When the military wants its dreams made real it often goes to the place with a history of doing just that, Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks. The California-plant has been knocking out super-advanced military tech for decades, and it is one of four facilities in the race to produce this new drone.

BoeingNorthrop Grumman, and General Atomics round out the groups expected to compete against Lockheed. While each have a portion of the technology already in use, Lockheed alone is bringing technology from the most expensive weapons program in the history of the world.

By including elements of the F-35C vertical lift model, with proven components of the RQ-170 drone, Lockheed and Skunkworks may have a leg up on the competition.

To prove it the company released a concept video of its design. Called the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) the video lays out its impressive plans.

Obama’s drone war kills ‘others,’ not just al Qaida leaders

By Jonathan S. Landay, April 9 2013

Shamsi Airbase cropped

WASHINGTON — Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified “other” militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.

The administration has said that strikes by the CIA’s missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones are authorized only against “specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces” involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting “imminent” violent attacks on Americans.

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.”

In a response to questions from McClatchy, the White House defended its targeting policies, pointing to previous public statements by senior administration officials that the missile strikes are aimed at al Qaida and associated forces.

Micah Zenko, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan foreign policy think tank, who closely follows the target killing program, said McClatchy’s findings indicate that the administration is “misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted.”

The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.”

McClatchy’s review is the first independent evaluation of internal U.S. intelligence accounting of drone attacks since the Bush administration launched America’s secret aerial warfare on Oct. 7, 2001, the day a missile-carrying Predator took off for Afghanistan from an airfield in Pakistan on the first operational flight of an armed U.S. drone.

The analysis takes on additional significance because of the domestic and international debate over the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan amid reports that the administration is planning to broaden its use of targeted killings in Afghanistan and North Africa.

The U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy covered most – although not all – of the drone strikes in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011. In that later period, Obama oversaw a surge in drone operations against suspected Islamist sanctuaries on Pakistan’s side of the border that coincided with his buildup of 33,000 additional U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. Several documents listed casualty estimates as well as the identities of targeted groups.

McClatchy’s review found that:

– At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”

During the same period, the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

– At other times, the CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.

To date, the Obama administration has not disclosed the secret legal opinions and the detailed procedures buttressing drone killings, and it has never acknowledged the use of so-called “signature strikes,” in which unidentified individuals are killed after surveillance shows behavior the U.S. government associates with terrorists, such as visiting compounds linked to al Qaida leaders or carrying weapons. Nor has it disclosed an explicit list of al Qaida’s “associated forces” beyond the Afghan Taliban.

The little that is known about the opinions comes from a leaked Justice Department white paper, a half-dozen or so speeches, some public comments by Obama and several top lieutenants, and limited open testimony before Congress.

“The United States has gone far beyond what the U.S. public – and perhaps even Congress – understands the government has been doing and claiming they have a legal right to do,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a Notre Dame Law School professor who contends that CIA drone operations in Pakistan violate international law.

The documents McClatchy has reviewed do not reflect the entirety of the killings associated with U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, which independent reports estimate at between 1,990 and 3,581.

But the classified reports provide a view into how drone strikes were carried out during the most intense periods of drone warfare in Pakistan’s remote tribal area bordering Afghanistan. Specifically, the documents reveal estimates of deaths and injuries; locations of militant bases and compounds; the identities of some of those targeted or killed; the movements of targets from village to village or compound to compound; and, to a limited degree, the rationale for unleashing missiles.

 

The documents also reveal a breadth of targeting that is complicated by the culture in the restive region of Pakistan where militants and ordinary tribesmen dress the same, and carrying a weapon is part of the centuries-old tradition of the Pashtun ethnic group.

The Haqqani network, for example, cooperates closely with al Qaida for philosophical and tactical reasons, and it is blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks against civilians and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. But the Haqqani network wasn’t on the U.S. list of international terrorist groups at the time of the strikes covered by the U.S. intelligence reports, and it isn’t known to ever have been directly implicated in a plot against the U.S. homeland.

Other groups the documents said were targeted have parochial objectives: the Pakistani Taliban seeks to topple the Islamabad government; Lashkar i Jhangvi, or Army of Jhangvi, are outlawed Sunni Muslim terrorists who’ve slaughtered scores of Pakistan’s minority Shiites and were blamed for a series of attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including a 2006 bombing against the U.S. consulate in Karachi that killed a U.S. diplomat. Both groups are close to al Qaida, but neither is known to have initiated attacks on the U.S. homeland.

“I have never seen nor am I aware of any rules of engagement that have been made public that govern the conduct of drone operations in Pakistan, or the identification of individuals and groups other than al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban,” said Christopher Swift, a national security law expert who teaches national security affairs at Georgetown University and closely follows the targeted killing issue. “We are doing this on a case-by-case, ad hoc basis, rather than a systematic or strategic basis.”

The administration has declined to reveal other details of the program, such as the intelligence used to select targets and how much evidence is required for an individual to be placed on a CIA “kill list.” The administration also hasn’t even acknowledged the existence of so-called signature strikes, let alone discussed the legal and procedural foundations of the attacks.

Leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees say they maintain robust oversight over the program. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., disclosed in a Feb. 13 statement that the panel is notified “with key details . . . shortly after” every drone strike. It also reviews videos of strikes and considers “their effectiveness as a counterterrorism tool, verifying the care taken to avoid deaths to non-combatants and understanding the intelligence collection and analysis that underpins these operations.”

But until last month, Obama had rebuffed lawmakers’ repeated requests to see all of the classified Justice Department legal opinions on the program, giving them access to only two dealing with the president’s powers to order targeted killings. It then allowed the Senate committee access to all opinions pertaining to the killing of U.S. citizens to clear the way for the panel’s March 7 confirmation of John Brennan, the former White House counterterrorism chief and the key architect of the targeted killings program, as the new CIA director. But it continues to deny access to other opinions on the grounds that they are privileged legal advice to the president.

Moreover, most of the debate in the United States has focused on the deaths of four Americans – all killed in drone strikes in Yemen, but only one intentionally targeted – and not the thousands of others who’ve been killed, the majority of whom have been hit in Pakistan.

Obama and his top aides say the United States is in an “armed conflict” with al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban, and the targeted killing program complies with U.S. and international laws, including an “inherent” right to self-defense and the international laws of war. Obama also derives his authority to order targeted killings from the Constitution and a Sept. 14, 2001, congressional resolution empowering the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against those who perpetrated 9/11 and those who aided them, they say.

Time and again, the administration has defined the drone targets as operational leaders of al Qaida, the Afghan Taliban and associated groups plotting imminent attacks on the American homeland. Occasionally, however, officials have made oblique references to undefined associated forces and threats against unidentified Americans and U.S. facilities.

On April 30, 2012, Brennan gave the most detailed explanation of Obama’s drone program. He referred to al Qaida 73 times, the Afghan Taliban three times and mentioned no other group by name.

“We only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing,” Brennan said.

To be sure, America’s drone program has killed militants without risk to the nation’s armed forces.

The administration argues that drones – in Brennan’s words – are a “wise choice” for fighting terrorists. Over the years, the aircraft have battered al Qaida’s Pakistan-based core leadership and crippled its ability to stage complex attacks. And officials note it has been done without sending U.S. troops into hostile territory or causing civilian casualties “except in the rarest of circumstances.”

“Any actions we take fully comport to our law and meet the standards that I think . . . the American people expect of us as far as taking actions we need to protect the American people, but at the same time ensuring that we do everything possible before we need to resort to lethal force,” Brennan said at his Feb. 7 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing.

Caitlin Hayden, national security spokeswoman for the White House, said late Tuesday that the Brennan speech is broad enough to cover strikes against others who are not al Qaida or the Afghan Taliban. While she did not cite any authority for broader targeting, Hayden said: “You should not assume he is only talking about al Qaida just because he doesn’t say ’al Qaida, the Taliban, and associated forces’ at every reference.”

Some legal scholars and human rights organizations, however, dispute the program’s legality.

Obama, they think, is misinterpreting international law, including the laws of war, which they say apply only to the uniformed military, not the civilian CIA, and to traditional battlefields like those in Afghanistan, not to Pakistan’s tribal area, even though it may be a sanctuary for al Qaida and other violent groups. They argue that Obama also is strengthening his executive powers with an excessively broad application of the September 2001 use-of-force resolution.

The administration’s definition of “imminent threat” also is in dispute. The Justice Department’s leaked white paper argues the United States should be able “to act in self-defense in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.” Legal scholars counter that the administration is using an exaggerated definition of imminence that doesn’t exist in international law.

“I’m thankful that my doctors don’t use their (the administration’s) definition of imminence when looking at imminent death. A head cold could be enough to pull the plug on you,” said Morris Davis, a Howard University Law School professor and former Air Force lawyer who served as chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay terrorism trials.

Since 2004, drone program critics say, the strikes have killed hundreds of civilians, fueling anti-U.S. outrage, boosting extremist recruiting, and helping to destabilize Pakistan’s U.S.-backed government. And some experts warn that the United States may be setting a new standard of international conduct that other countries will grasp to justify their own targeted killings and to evade accountability.

 

Other governments “won’t just emulate U.S. practice but (will adopt) America’s justification for targeted killings,” said Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. “When there is such a disconnect between who the administration says it kills and who it (actually) kills, that hypocrisy itself is a very dangerous precedent that other countries will emulate.”

A special U.N. human rights panel began a nine-month investigation in January into whether drone strikes, including the CIA operations in Pakistan, violate international law by causing disproportionate numbers of civilian casualties. The panel’s head, British lawyer Ben Emmerson, declared after a March 11-13 visit to Pakistan that the U.S. drone campaign “involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

The administration asserts that drones are used to hit specific individuals only after their names are added to a “list of active terrorists,” following a process of “extraordinary care and thoughtfulness” that confirms their identities as members of al Qaida or “associated forces” and weighs the strategic value of killing each one.

Yet the U.S. intelligence reports show that 43 out of the 95 strikes recorded in reports for the year ending in September 2011 were launched against groups other than al Qaida. Prominent among them were the Haqqani network and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan.

The Haqqani network is an Afghan Taliban-allied organization that operates in eastern Afghanistan and whose leaders are based in Pakistan’s adjacent North Waziristan tribal agency. The United States accuses the group of staging some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Kabul, including on the Indian and U.S. embassies, killing civilians, and attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. But the Obama administration didn’t officially designate the network as a terrorist group until September 2012.

 

Its titular head is Jalaluddin Haqqani, an aging former anti-Soviet guerrilla who served as a minor minister and top military commander in the Taliban regime that sheltered al Qaida until both were driven into Pakistan by the 2001 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. U.S. officials allege that the group, whose operational chief is Haqqani’s son, Sirajuddin, closely works with al Qaida and is backed by elements of the Pakistani army-led Inter-Services Intelligence spy service, a charge denied by Islamabad.

At least 15 drone strikes were launched against the Haqqani network or locations where its fighters were present during the one-year period ending in September 2011, according to the U.S. intelligence reports. They estimated that up to 96 people – or about 20 percent of the total for that period – were killed.

One report also makes clear that during the Bush administration, the agency killed Haqqani family women and children.

According to the report, an undisclosed number of Haqqani subcommanders, unnamed Arabs and unnamed “members of the extended Haqqani family” died in a Sept. 8, 2008, strike. News reports on the attack in the North Waziristan village of Dandey Darapakhel said that among as many as 25 dead were an Arab who was chief of al Qaida’s operations in Pakistan, and eight of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s grandchildren, one of his wives, two nieces and a sister.

The U.S. intelligence reports estimated that as many as 31 people were killed in at least nine strikes on the Pakistani Taliban or on locations that the group shared with others between January 2010 and September 2011. While U.S. officials say the Taliban Movement of Pakistan works closely with al Qaida, its goal is to topple the Pakistani government through suicide bombings, assaults and assassinations, not attacking the United States. The group wasn’t founded until 2007, and some of the strikes in the U.S. intelligence reports occurred before the administration designated it a terrorist organization in September 2010.

The U.S. intelligence reports estimated that the CIA killed scores of other individuals in 2010 and 2011 in strikes on other non-al Qaida groups categorized as suspected extremists and unidentified “foreign fighters,” or “other militants.” Some died in what appeared to be signature strikes, their vehicles blown to pieces sometimes only a few days after being monitored visiting the sites of earlier drone attacks, or driving between compounds linked to al Qaida or other groups.

“The first challenge in any war is knowing who you’re fighting, and distinguishing those that pose a credible threat to your interests and security,” said Swift.

 

The U.S. intelligence documents also describe a lack of precision when it comes to identifying targets.

Consider one attack on Feb. 18, 2010.

Information, according to one U.S. intelligence account, indicated that Badruddin Haqqani, the then-No. 2 leader of the Haqqani network, would be at a relative’s funeral that day in North Waziristan. Watching the video feed from a drone high above the mourners, CIA operators in the United States identified a man they believed could be Badruddin Haqqani from the deference and numerous greetings he received. The man also supervised a private family viewing of the body.

Yet despite a targeting process that the administration says meets “the highest possible standards,” it wasn’t Badruddin Haqqani who died when one of the drone’s missiles ripped apart the target’s car after he’d left the funeral.

It was his younger brother, Mohammad.

Friends later told reporters that Mohammad Haqqani was a religious student in his 20s uninvolved in terrorism; the U.S. intelligence report called him an active member – but not a leader – of the Haqqani network. At least one other unidentified occupant of his vehicle perished, according to the report.

It took the CIA another 18 months to find and kill Badruddin Haqqani.

11 Afghan Children Among Dead in Latest US/NATO Bombing

Civilians ‘killed when an air strike hit their houses’

by Jon Queally, published on April 8th,2013 at Common Dreams

NATO has not confirmed any civilian casualties, many of them children, resulting from its latest air strike. (Photo: Reuters)At least ten children are among the dead in eastern Afghanistan, according to officials in the country, following a NATO bombing overnight.

“Eleven children and a woman were killed when an air strike hit their houses,” saidWasefullah Wasefi, a spokeperson for the governor of Kunar province, where the attack took place.

In total, reporting on Sunday indicated that more than two dozen people were killed in thelatest example of civilian casualties in the ongoing US war in Afghanistan.

From Reuters:

A Reuters journalist saw bodies of 11 children when they were taken to Safai’s office in protest by their families and other villagers on Sunday.

The journalist did not see the body of a women and Safai said residents told him of the death. Women’s bodies are not displayed, according to custom.

Wasefi also said an American civilian adviser to the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, had also been killed in the operation. He said it had lasted several hours.

NATO would not confirm the operation nor the claims that many children had been killed.

“Very little information about this strike has come out,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Imtiaz Tyab.

“Al Jazeera has contacted NATO. We were told by a spokesperson that they were aware of the operation and that they have heard of some civilians who may have been injured in this strike.”

Agence France-Presse reports:

The children were killed during a joint Afghan-NATO operation in the Shigal district of Kunar province which borders Pakistan late on Saturday.

“Ten children and eight militants were killed in the strike, six women were wounded,” provincial spokesman Wasifullah Wasifi told AFP.

Al Jazeera reports that the air strike had been requested by coalition forces, not their Afghan allies. Adding:

Civilian deaths have been a long-running source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his international backers.

Karzai has forbidden Afghan troops from calling for air strikes and NATO advice crews not to fire at or bomb in populated areas.

Afghan villagers flee their homes, blame US drones

Associated Press/Anja Niedringhaus - In this Tuesday, March 19, 2013 photo, Afghan men sit among the debris of their destroyed school in the village of Budyali, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Taliban militants attacked the nearby district headquarters in July 2011, then took refuge in the school. The Afghan National Army requested help from coalition forces, who responded with drones, fighter jets and rockets, leaving the school destroyed, according to village elders. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Associated Press/Anja Niedringhaus – In this Tuesday, March 19, 2013 photo, Afghan men sit among the debris of their destroyed school in the village of Budyali, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Taliban militants attacked the nearby district headquarters in July 2011, then took refuge in the school. The Afghan National Army requested help from coalition forces, who responded with drones, fighter jets and rockets, leaving the school destroyed, according to village elders. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

By KATHY GANNON | Associated Press – Thu, Mar 28, 2013

KHALIS FAMILY VILLAGE, Afghanistan (AP) — Barely able to walk even with a cane, Ghulam Rasool says he padlocked his front door, handed over the keys and his three cows to a neighbor and fled his mountain home in the middle of the night to escape relentless airstrikes from U.S. drones targeting militants in this remote corner of Afghanistan.

Rasool and other Afghan villagers have their own name for Predator drones. They call them benghai, which in the Pashto language means the “buzzing of flies.” When they explain the noise, they scrunch their faces and try to make a sound that resembles an army of flies.

“They are evil things that fly so high you don’t see them but all the time you hear them,” said Rasool, whose body is stooped and shrunken with age and his voice barely louder than a whisper. “Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts.”

The U.S. military is increasingly relying on drone strikes inside Afghanistan, where the number of weapons fired from unmanned aerial aircraft soared from 294 in 2011 to 506 last year. With international combat forces set to withdraw by the end of next year, such attacks are now used more for targeted killings and less for supporting ground troops.

It’s unclear whether Predator drone strikes will continue after 2014 inAfghanistan, where the government has complained bitterly about civilian casualties. The strikes sometimes accidentally kill civilians while forcing others to abandon their hometowns in fear, feeding widespread anti-American sentiment.

The Associated Press — in a rare on-the-ground look unaccompanied by military or security — visited two Afghan villages in Nangarhar province near the border with Pakistan to talk to residents who reported that they had been affected by drone strikes.

In one village, Afghans disputed NATO’s contention that five men killed in a particular drone strike were militants. In the other, a school that was leveled in a nighttime airstrike targeting Taliban fighters hiding inside has yet to be rebuilt.

“These foreigners started the problem,” Rasool said of international troops. “They have their own country. They should leave.”

From the U.S. perspective, the overall drone program has been a success.

While the Pentagon operates the drones in Afghanistan, the CIA for nearly a decade has used drones to target militants, including Afghans, in Pakistan’s border regions. CIA drones have killed al-Qaida No. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi and other leading extremists.

Still, criticism of the use of drones for targeted killings around the world has been mounting in recent months. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights has launched an investigation into their effect on civilians.

Rasool said his decision to leave his home in Hisarak district came nearly a month ago after a particularly blistering air assault killed five people in the neighboring village of Meya Saheeb.

The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, confirmed an airstrike on Feb. 24 at Meya Saheeb, but as a matter of policy would neither confirm nor deny that drones were used.

Rasool said that he, his son, half a dozen grandchildren, and two other families crammed into the back of a cart pulled by a tractor. They drove throughout the day until they found a house in Khalis Family Village, named after anti-communist rebel leader Maulvi Yunus Khalis, who had close ties to al-Qaida.

The village is not far from the Tora Bora mountain range where in 2001 the U.S.-led coalition mounted its largest operation of the war to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban warriors.

“Nobody ever comes here. It’s a little dangerous sometimes because of the Taliban,” said Zarullah Khan, a neighbor of Rasool’s.

But the historic significance of his newfound refuge was lost on Rasool.

“Who’s Khalis? We stopped when we found a house for rent,” he said, grumbling at the monthly $200 bill shared among the three families packed into the high-walled compound where he spoke with the AP.

Standing nearby, Rasool’s 12-year-old grandson, Ahmed Shah, recalled the attack in Meya Saheeb. The earth shook for what seemed like hours and the next morning his friends told him there were bodies in the nearby village. A little afraid, but more curious, he walked the short distance to Meya Saheed.

“I wanted to see the dead bodies,” he said. And he did — three bodies, all middle-aged men.

ISAF reported five militants were killed, but Rasool claimed they were businessmen. One of the dead had a carpet shop in the village, he said.

Disputes over the identities of those killed have been a hallmark of the 12-year war.

In Pakistan, an AP investigation last year found that drone strikes were killing fewer civilians than many in that country were led to believe, and that many of the dead were combatants.

In Afghanistan, the U.N. has reported that five drone strikes in 2012 resulted in civilian casualties, with 16 civilians killed and three wounded. It reported just one incident in which civilians were killed the previous year.

At the other end of the province from Meya Saheeb and Khalis Family Village lies the village of Budyali. To get there, one must drive along a long, two-lane highway often booby-trapped by militants, before turning turning off onto a narrow, dusty track and finally cross a rock-strewn riverbed.

A Budyali resident, Hayat Gul, says the sound of “benghai” is commonplace in the village. He says he was wounded nearly two years ago in a Taliban firefight with Afghan security forces at a nearby school that led to an airstrike.

Tucked in the shadow of a hulking mountain crisscrossed with dozens of footpaths, the school now is in ruins.

The early morning strike on the school took place on July 17, 2011, hours after the Taliban attacked the district headquarters and the Afghan National Army appealed to their coalition partners for help.

Gul said he and a second guard, 63-year-old Ghulam Ahad, were asleep in the small cement guard house at one end of the school. They awoke to the sound of gunfire as more than a dozen Taliban militants scaled the school walls around midnight, chased by Afghan soldiers.

A bullet struck Gul in the shoulder. Frightened and unsure of what to do, Ahad stepped outside the guard house and was killed. Bullet holes still riddle the badly damaged building.

Village elders and the school’s principal, Sayed Habib, said coalition forces responded to the army’s request for help with drones, fighter jets and rockets.

The air assault, which residents say began about 3 a.m. and likely included drone strikes, flattened everything across a vast compound that includes the school. Habib said 13 insurgents were killed.

ISAF confirmed that airstrikes killed insurgents in the Budyali area on that day but would not say what type of airstrikes or provide any other details.

Habib and a local malik or elder, Shah Mohammed Khan, said that in the days leading up to the airstrikes the sound of drones could be heard overhead.

“Everyone knows the sound of the unpiloted planes. Even our children know,” Habib said.

The elders were critical of the U.S. attack. They said they would have preferred that the Afghan soldiers try to negotiate with the Taliban to leave the school and surrender.

Habib and the village elders recalled the attack while sitting in the middle of the devastated school, where debris was still scattered across a vast yard. They pointed toward a blackboard, pockmarked with gaping holes.

“Shamefully they destroyed our school, our books, our library,” said Malik Gul Nawaz, an elder with a gray beard and a pot belly.

Habib said that in an attempt to rebuild the school, a contractor constructed a boundary wall before another Taliban attack. He fled with nearly $400,000 in foreign funds.

The roughly 1,300 students now take classes at a makeshift school made up of tents provided by UNICEF. Gul, who was taken to a U.S. military hospital at Bagram Air Base after the attack and treated for the bullet wound to his left shoulder, is now a watchman at the new school.

He held a small photograph of his dead colleague, Ahad, in his trembling left hand.

“We want to end this war,” Gul said. “Enough people have been killed now. We have to find unity.”

___

Kathy Gannon is the AP special regional correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed on http://www.twitter.com/kathygannon

Gallup Poll Confirms the Obvious: Most Americans are Racists

A Gallup poll released yesterday includes some incredibly interesting insights regarding American attitudes towards the US government’s drone strike policies.

Views on U.S. Government's Use of Drones in Various Situations, March 2013

The survey results suggest that a majority of Americans would agree with previous U.S. drone attacks that have killed suspected terrorists living in other countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. However, the data indicate that less than a majority of Americans would have in principle supported the drone attack in the fall of 2011 against American citizens who were suspected terrorists living in Yemen. And the results show that substantial majorities of Americans are opposed to drone airstrikes “in the U.S.,” regardless of whether they are against U.S. citizens.

So unsurprisingly, Americans don’t want drone strikes to occur where they live and work, where their families reside and where their communities are. Are Pakistani’s somehow exempt from sharing these sentiments? What is it about the American political discourse regarding Muslims and just brown people in general that somehow it never hits home that drone strikes are just as anathema to their families and their communities? (I’ve written before about the issue of racism when it comes to the topic of drones, here and here.)

Notice, too, how support for US drone strike policy drops off as the target becomes more and more “like us.” Hellfire missiles terrorizing and killing Muslims outside of the US? Sure, why not. Hellfire missiles targeting US Citizens though? That’s an issue. And forget about targeting foreign nationals who are suspected terrorists weaving their way through crowds of Americans.

Which brings up another issue – are none of these people remotely concerned with the idea of due process, or even the simplest opposition to arbitrary killing by a state power on the basis of mere suspicions? What does that say about a culture with so readily and regularly celebrates its vaunted ideals and principles as enshrined in documents such as the constitution, which, incidentally, uses the language “no person” and not “no US-Citizen” with regards to who is protected?

Support for Use of Drones, by How Closely Following, March 2013

The last point i want to comment on is this correlation between people who follow news of drones “very/somewhat closely” and their support for it. This is as clear an indictment of the mainstream news establishment as any – the more exposure one has to the part of the state (no longer the fourth estate) that continually and unquestioningly validates government policy through the ostensible lens of objectivity, the more likely one is to support such policies. As I wrote recently regarding the American media culture’s complete omission of NSA whistle-blower William Binney from their discourse, this breeds a kind of mindless irrationality towards issues of serious pertinence – for instance, Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Again, this finding of the Gallup poll speaks volumes of truth to my point about the necessity of a counter-narrative that doesn’t simply render all the victims of US military aggression statistics or “terrorists”.