Jane Mayer has an important article in The New Yorker, The Predator War, in which she reports on the increase in deadly unmanned drone strikes in Pakistan:
During his first nine and a half months in office, he has authorized as many C.I.A. aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W. Bush did in his final three years in office.
The drones are “piloted” at takeoff by operators in Afghanistan who then hand off control to teams here in the US that include both CIA and contractors. Controlling the drones by joystick, they watch and select targets with final approval for attacks under the control of “C.I.A. officials, including the head of the Counter-Terrorist Center, whose identity remains veiled from the public because the agency has placed him under cover.”
People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. “You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,” a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. (He watched the carnage on a small monitor in the field.) Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: “squirters.”
The results of these strikes include:
Still, the recent campaign to kill Baitullah Mehsud offers a sobering case study of the hazards of robotic warfare. It appears to have taken sixteen missile strikes, and fourteen months, before the C.I.A. succeeded in killing him. During this hunt, between two hundred and seven and three hundred and twenty-one additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon. …
In just one of those sixteen strikes, Mayer notes:
C.I.A. reportedly killed between two and six unidentified militants outside Makeen, and then killed dozens more people—possibly as many as eighty-six—during funeral prayers for the earlier casualties. An account in the Pakistani publication The News described ten of the dead as children. Four were identified as elderly tribal leaders. One eyewitness, who lost his right leg during the bombing, told Agence France-Presse that the mourners suspected what was coming: “After the prayers ended, people were asking each other to leave the area, as drones were hovering.” The drones, which make a buzzing noise, are nicknamed machay (“wasps”) by the Pashtun natives, and can sometimes be seen and heard, depending on weather conditions. Before the mourners could clear out, the eyewitness said, two drones started firing into the crowd. “It created havoc,” he said. “There was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help.” Then a third missile hit. “I fell to the ground,” he said.
As Mayer points out, while there was an uproar over Cheney’s targeted assasination program which was apparently never put into practice, there has not only been no similar reaction to the growng use of unmanned drones to do precisely the same thing – though often with higher civilian casualties – and in fact Vice President Biden and others are advocating an increase in their use yet the same legal issues apply.
In addition to our escalating unmanned air war in Pakistan, 9 Afghan civilians were killed Wednesday in an air strike on the village of Babaji near Lashkarga the capital of southern Helmand province
The villagers who drove the bodies to the capital, Lashkargah, said that the strike happened at 7:00pm while the people were harvesting.
The angry people called on the government to oust foreign troops from their area and were chanting “death to America”.
“Two of children are among the dead,” a protester said.
Video footage shows that at least two teenagers were among the killed and people around the bodies were asking in tears, “Are they Taliban or civilians?”
And “more than 25 foreign and Afghan soldiers were killed or injured” in a NATO airstrike on Friday – details are still hard to sort out but:
Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s defence ministry, told the AFP news agency there was no doubt Afghan personnel had been killed and injured by their international partners.
“It was an erroneous air strike which caused casualties to friendly forces,” he said.
The troops had apparently called in air support after they became involved in a battle with Taliban fighters while searching for two missing US paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.
NATO has confirmed that 7 Afghan soldiers and 1 Afghan civilian worker were killed in this strike but is not yet confirming that the air strike was a friendly fire incident.
And any idea that we’re going to decrease these air attacks are laid to rest by Nick Turse, writing from Afghanistan for TomDispatch that we are making huge investments in Afghan bases – improving the air strips at Bagram, Kandahar and more.
This massive construction goes ahead while we are told that Obama is still considering what to do next. The latest reports say that he is only considering options that require sending more troops but we are learning that there are no troops left to send.
In August 2008 at TomDispatch.com, we reported on the deplorable conditions at the 82nd Replacement Barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. There, more than 50 members of Echo Platoon of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 82nd Replacement Detachment were being held while awaiting AWOL and desertion charges. Investigations launched since then — in part in response to our article — have revealed that the plight of members of Echo Platoon is not an isolated one. It is, in fact, disturbingly commonplace on other bases throughout the United States. And it is from these “holdover units,” filled with disgruntled soldiers who have gone AWOL, many of whom are struggling with PTSD from previous deployments in war zones, that the military is hoping to help meet its manpower needs for Afghanistan.
And no one is explaining how we will pay for all of this:
At the same time, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just made it clear that the Pentagon will once again request supplemental war-fighting funds sometime next year, over and above the $130 billion Congress appropriated only a month ago in the Defense Department budget. These will be based, in part, on a calculation that each 1,000 new troops sent to Afghanistan must be supported by an extra billion dollars in funds. (You can do the math yourself on those 40,000 troops and then wonder just where all that money is going to come from.)
Can we say quagmire?