The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Let me see that Drone. Drone.Drone.DDrr.DDrr.Drone

  Last week, The Justice Department released memos regarding the legality of the U.S. drone program operating abroad, namely in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The release of the memos surfaced at the same time John Brennan is being confirmed in front of the Senate for the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency. The news of the memos and the confirmation hearing ushers in new media scrutiny over the drone programs.

  Drones, or UAV, Unmanned Aircrafts, are pilot less aircrafts that  operate far away from the war. Drones serve two purposes: surveillance and missile strikes. Since Obama took office, the President decided to shift away from using large number of troops to fight the war on terror as his predecessor, to relying more on drones. The reason for this tactical change is to minimize America’s footprint in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

  Historically drones have mainly been used for surveillance purposes such as during the Gulf War, and the conflicts in the Balkans. Armed drones, such as the Reaper and Predator, were deployed to Afghanistan a month after September 11th.

  One of the problems using drones in modern warfare can be traced back to faulty intelligence. For example, The Associated Press found that on March 17, 2011 a drone strike hit Shiga village. The strike occurred because the intelligence suggested militant activity because the “group was heavily armed” it was later revealed that the drone attack killed 38 civilians and four Pakistani Taliban fighters during a mining dispute.

  Still, the ratio of civilians to combatants killed is highly contested. According to a fact-finding mission conducted by the Associated Press in North Wazirstan, out of the 10 deadliest drone attacks in the past 18, there were  194 were killed. From the 194 killed, 70 percent were militants compared to 56 who were civilians or tribal police. In addition, more than half of those killed (38) were killed in one strike on March 17, 2011.   Moreover, 80 villagers at the sites of the 10 drone attacks told an AP reporter that most of the victims of the drone strikes were combatants.

  Also, in the same study, the AP found another site hit by a drone missile that killed five civilians and 20 militants. The children and two women, who were killed in the blast, were occupying the same house as the militants. Divorcing civilian causalities from militant targets becomes difficulty because many combatants embed themselves with other citizens.   This problem demonstrates the complexity of fighting an asymmetrical war. 

  One way to determine the number of civilians causalities compared to militant deaths is to look at funeral attendance. Funerals for enemy combatants are usually discrete and regulated to a few people, whereas civilian’s funerals are usually brings larger crowds and is out in the open.  
Still, collateral damage is a major issue. According to a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists since 2009, 282-535 civilians were killed in Pakistan by drone strikes, the report also concluded that more than twenty civilians were killed attended funerals, and more than fifty civilians were killed who were helping victims of the attack.

One of the reasons why civilian causalities occur is because of signature strikes.  In general, there are two types of strikes, personality and signature. Personality strikes indicate that the target has been identified such as a high ranking AL Qaeda official. In contrast, a signature strike is more ambiguous. The Daily Beast defines signature strikes as the “targeting of groups of men who bear characteristics associated with terrorism, but whose identities aren't known.” Many progressives have criticized this policy because any young male in a village that is an al-Qaeda or militant stronghold might be perceived as a threat. It is worth noting that while personality strikes were used more frequently under the Bush administration, signature strikes have increased noticeably under the Obama administration.  
Perhaps the most prolific example of a drone strike gone wrong is the high profile case of Abdulrahman Al-Alwaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar Al-Alwaki, who was the inspiration behind the Nigerian underwear bomber and Nidal Hussain in Forthood. Although his son, had no record of a connection with terrorism, he was killed by drone simply for having the wrong father. When pressed on the issue, former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Abdulrahman Al-Alwaki should have had a  "more responsible father." 

 Furthermore the number of top ranking Al-Qaeda leaders killed by drones is low. According to a collaborative study "Living under Drones" conducted by researchers from New York University and Stanford University, the number of "high-level" enemy combatants killed by drone strikes is two percent. Consequently, the study concluded that the number of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes is higher than the government and media reported. Notwithstanding, the report's findings on the effects of drones in Pakistan, some have criticized the study for methodological reasons. 

  Another, contentious issue related to the execution of drone strikes is double tapping. A double tap is a second strike on a target after “Militants” return to the scene of the drone hit. The idea originated from terrorists such as Hamas and Eric Rudolph, known for bombing gay nightclubs and abortion clinics. As a result of this policy, rescue workers and medical personal have been the victims of drone attacks simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  Drone strikes are also creating problems in other countries as well such as Yemen. At the end of Obama’s first year in office, a U.S. missile was responsible for the death of forty Bedouins including women and children in an isolated Yemeni village. According to journalist Jeremy Scahill these attacks have provided fertile recruiting ground for Al-Qaeda. In his article for the nation “Washington’s War inYemen Backfires,” Scahill documents how drone strikes in conjunction with an unresponsive government, has become the main impetus for Al-Qaeda’s growing network.

  Again, the calculus of asymmetrical warfare is largely determined by critical and trustworthy intelligence. In a theoretically perfect war-zone, the number of civilian causalities would be decrease dramatically because the intelligence would be credible. However, this is not the case.
 According to a  New York Times article, family members and friends of victims of drone strikes are using judicial channels to prosecute intelligence agencies for their participation in the drone strikes that killed innocent civilians. 

  The article examined the death of Malik Daud Khan, who died at a tribal council meeting in North Wazirstan along with other. The targeted site was falsely identified as a gathering of militants, rather than a tribal council meeting that resulted in the death of 40 civilians.

 While history has already defined the Bush Doctrine, Obama's foreign policy is quickly being shaped by his use of drones. Since the first armed drone was sent to Afghanistan, the number of Predator drones has increased from 167 to more than 7,000 today. It was assumed that once Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize following his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, that he would be more diplomatically engaged with the Muslim public rather than antagonize it further with drones. If Obama wants to be remembered for his soft power rather than being portrayed as another Neo-conservative, than he needs to work with his new appointees John Kerry, John Brennan, and Chuck Hagel, to re-evaluate the efficacy and morality of drones in the Muslim world.

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