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U.S. Drone Strike in Kabul Killed a Family — and Began a New Chapter of the War

by Murtaza Hussain, published on The Intercept, August 30, 2021

A Sunday drone strike in Kabul initially claimed by U.S. officials to have destroyed a car packed with “multiple suicide bombers” reportedly killed 10 civilians from one family, including several children.

The drone strike that hit Khwaja Burgha, a working-class residential neighborhood in Kabul, was said to have killed numerous members of the Ahmadi family, with the youngest alleged victim being a 2-year-old girl. Morgue footage shared on social media showed the burned bodies of several children, as well as photos of the victims before their deaths. One of the dead, according to members of the Ahmadi family who spoke to reporters, was a former Afghan military officer who had served as a contractor for U.S. forces, as well as a worker at a charity organization.

The Americans said the airstrike killed Daesh members,” a neighbor of the family angrily told reporters after the strike, referring to the Islamic State. “Where is Daesh here? Were these children Daesh?

The Defense Department and other arms of the Biden administration continued to describe the drone attack as a “successful” strike against the militant group Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, which had taken responsibility for a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. As reports confirmed that an innocent family had been killed, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the Department of Defense is “not in a position to dispute” reports that civilians were killed, stating that the incident would be investigated.

The Kabul drone strike is just one in a long string of attacks in Afghanistan by U.S. forces and their proxies reported to have killed large numbers of civilians. Past attacks have hit families traveling in cars and buses, wedding parties, hospitals filled with patients, and groups of farmers working in fields. While the withdrawal of American troops can be described as the end to the war in Afghanistan, the Kabul strike shows how the war may simply enter a new chapter, with the U.S. striking targets with aircraft launched from faraway drone bases.

Critics of civilian casualties in the U.S. war have pointed to the lack of serious investigations on the ground into the deaths — accountability that will be even harder to come by in a remote war.

“In my experience, the bar for thorough military investigation has been so high as to discount a majority of credible incidents. What investigations do take place are neither consistent nor rigorous,”

said Nick McDonell, author of “The Bodies in Person: An Account of Civilian Casualties in American Wars,” an analysis of the impact of the U.S. air wars in the Middle East.

“At the same time, the military has repeatedly suppressed information on civilian casualties. The drone program is opaque, with extremely limited accountability for anyone involved.”

What separated the recent Kabul drone strike from the long pattern of reported civilian deaths was the level of immediate attention and outrage it has generated. The U.S. war in Afghanistan has mostly been waged in rural areas, away from the attention of international media. Kabul, on the other hand, is the highly populated capital and the country’s center for expatriates, nongovernmental organizations, and both Afghan as well as international journalists.

When the strike was reported, immediate video footage of the civilians who were killed in the attack began to circulate, and even international journalists were able to quickly access the attack site.

In contrast, many past strikes have gone under the radar — and continue to do so. A retaliatory strike that came immediately after the recent terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport hit rural eastern Afghanistan, allegedly killing two people: an ISIS “planner” and a “facilitator,” according to the Defense Department.

At the press briefing Monday, Kirby declined to share further information about the identities of the two people allegedly killed in that prior attack. Other than dedicated Afghanistan observers, few took notice. Journalists and rights advocates have so far not reported any details of on-the-ground investigations or if such investigations are even possible.

The opaque nature of the war in Afghanistan has made calculating accurate death tolls from U.S. operations difficult — a challenge that has been compounded by the military’s own long-standing refusal to compile statistics and verify information about who is killed in its strikes. The secretive nature of the war on terror in general, across all its various theaters of operation, coupled with military practices that devote little attention to strike investigations, makes assessing civilian impact nearly impossible.

The Pentagon initially released a statement celebrating Sunday’s strike in Kabul’s Khwaja Burgha neighborhood for having stopped what it claimed was another imminent terrorist threat against the airport. After local journalists and activists began surfacing harrowing footage of civilians killed, however, the Pentagon put out a press release stating that “it is unclear what may have happened” in the strike, claiming that there were secondary explosions from the bombing that suggested the presence of explosives on the ground. (The White House cited this explanation in its own statements on the allegations of civilian casualties.)

The Pentagon often releases footage of its airstrikes, with the intention of advertising successful attacks against alleged terrorists. In the past, some videos have been released describing successful strikes that were later revealed to have hit civilian targets. The Pentagon declined to comment to The Intercept as to whether it would release footage of the Khwaja Burgha strike in order to verify the claimed presence of secondary explosions.

The military’s own promises to investigate civilian casualty incidents have resulted in little meaningful accountability in the past.

According to its standard practices, the military does not conduct site visits to learn who was killed in its airstrikes, leaving the grueling work of finding out who died and why to independent monitoring organizations and investigative journalists who operate with far fewer resources than the Pentagon. The Washington Post reported last year that as airstrikes ramped up in the final years of the Afghanistan War, the number of strikes investigated by the military for civilian casualties plummeted. Few outside the areas impacted would have taken notice of many of the strikes at all, let alone the absence of investigations.

In those cases in which the military did launch its own inquiries, the findings were viewed with skepticism. “These investigations are nothing but advertisements to the media,” a local council official from Helmand Province in Afghanistan told the Post. “They have no mercy. They only see targets to kill.”

The Kabul airstrike, though, generated an outpouring of grief and anger among many Afghans, already reeling from the Taliban takeover of their country following the collapse of the U.S.-backed central government. Though the Pentagon has promised to hold itself accountable for such incidents, experts on the drone war say that there is little reason based on past practice to expect meaningful justice for the victims.

“The failure to properly acknowledge, investigate, or compensate civilian deaths and injuries is one constant of U.S. airstrikes, whether in recognized wars like Afghanistan, or outside of them, like in Somalia,”

said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“The specific reasons and the agencies involved in those failures may differ in each context — and over 20 years we’ve repeatedly seen legal and policy debates and promises by the U.S. government to do better. But that’s of little comfort to the civilians on the receiving end of American lethal force who suffer terrible harm with little or no transparency and accountability.”

*Featured Image:  Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


Murtaza Hussain is a reporter at The Intercept who focuses on national security and foreign policy. @mazmhussain




Humbled US Leaves Chaos and Mass Murder While Fleeing Afghanistan

by Dave Lindorff, published on This Can’t Be Happening, September 1, 2021

America’s last days in Afghanistan offered a sickening display of all that was wrong with the $2.3-trillion, 20-year failed attempt by a blundering, self-congratulatory but decaying empire to have its way in a place it neither really cared about at all, nor understood in the least.

First there was a catastrophic but predictable attack on US and Taliban troops as well as desperate civilians trying to escape the ruins and chaos of the country the US occupier was leaving behind to the victorious Taliban. One or more IS-K terrorists wearing exploding vests filled with shrapnel, possibly backed by other IS fighters firing automatic weapons, were reportedly joined by panicked US Marines confused about who the attacking enemy was. The explosion and ensuing fire-fight ended up slaughtering 170 or more Afghans (civilians and Taliban fighters) and 13 US service men and women (12 Marines and one Navy medic) and badly wounding many more people.

White Toyota destroyed in Ahmadi home courtyard by a small Hellfire Missile ~from NY Times Video

That terrorist attack was followed by a drone rocket revenge attack ordered by President and Commander in Chief Joe Biden . It was an attack which by all accounts went spectacularly and horrifically awry, killing not an IS-K terror plotter as initially claimed by the Pentagon, but a family of 10 including a US interpreter, all of whom — both three adults and seven children including a child of only 2 —  had been given papers allowing them to get on one of the US evacuation flights at the Kabul Airport, but they had been unable to get through all the various checkpoints to accomplish that.

There were fabricated reports from the US of secondary explosions intended to suggest that the van that was struck had been carrying terrorists wearing explosive belts — stories which were completely untrue according to US and other foreign reporters who went to the scene. There were also reports of secondary explosions in an adjacent building, which were also false and self-serving from  those in Washington trying to deny the disastrous error.

The two incidents provided a graphic illustration of why the US lost its longest war.

First of all, terrorism has never been diminished in Afghanistan because of the US invasion and occupation of that country. Not only did the Taliban adopt some of the strategies of resistance fighters against US occupation, such as in Iraq, turning to IED explosions and car bombs, but new terror groups like the Islamic State moved into the chaotic scene, attacking both US and Taliban forces. The latest attack at the airport was one of the largest of the war in terms of the number of victims.

Ahmadi Family from NY Times Video

Meanwhile, the errant drone missile slaughter of an entire family of pro-American would be immigrants by a US drone missile was proof positive of what critics of US drone warfare have been saying for years: Drones, often operated by pilots halfway around the world in Nevada and Pennsylvania (near me) are a grotesquely deadly form of warfare that kills vastly more innocent people than the actual targets that it seeks to kill. Often the reason is mistaken coordinates or even flight-controller errors, but just as often it is a problem of bad intelligence, frequently caused by US “assets” in country providing deliberately wrong targeting information either to sabotage US efforts and increase opposition to the US occupiers, or simply to settle scores with an asset’s own rival.

A lack of transparency and honesty by the Pentagon and the White House through four presidencies has made things worse. Information about civilian deaths since the beginning of this war in 2001 has been withheld, and when some atrocity is impossible to deny — for example when as has happened all too many times in this war, a wedding processing is blown up when it is confused with a group of enemy forces on the move, or when a hospital is attacked — the number of innocents murdered is low-balled.

Biden did what George Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump couldn’t do:  he has finally ended the war on Afghanistan by the US. He made a mess of it though by dragging out the process by seven months when he could have negotiated an armistice and brought the troops home immediately upon taking office, leaving — US troops, other Americans, and even Afghans who helped the US occupiers. The Taliban would likely have been happy to accept a peaceful return to power and probably would have seen letting people leave as a good trade for that. Instead, Biden ended up being a fourth president at war in Afghanistan, with blood on his own hands, and the US ended up losing a fighting war — badly.

Meanwhile, the war may be over for US troops, but it isn’t over for Afghanistan. The US violence and destruction of that long-suffering country has left it confronting a bloody civil war now as factions  and tribal regions vie for power. As well, Biden has said that the US will still feel free — despite the blatant illegality of such actions under international law — to bomb and send in armed drones to attack targets by air in Afghanistan, just as the US did in the last days of the US military’s retreat.  US soldiers will still be fighting, but instead of facing bullets and IEDs in Afghanistan they’ll be sitting in air-conditioned pods on US military bases using video-game-like air-conditioned pods to control death-bringing, rocket-armed drones.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Drone Attack (Getty Images/koto_feja), an example of ‘Over the Horizon’ warfare

America itself will also still be in a state of war, as Congress continues to leave in place the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). That war authorization )approved by Congress on September 18, 2001 after no hearings or debate), to launch the illegal war on Afghanistan, was also used to launch the so-called War on Terror. The latter has been an amorphous, borderless “war” that legal shills working for the government like former US Assistant Attorney General John Yoo have successfully claimed includes, until rescinded, the entire territory of the United States within its Constitution and Bill of Rights-shredding “battlefield.” It has given presidents, in the view of the  Supreme Court, dictatorial powers undreamt of by the Constitution’s authors, permitted indefinite incarceration without charge or trial, warrantless government eavesdropping, extra-judicial government murder and kidnapping, and the jailing of whistleblowers and journalists in violation of US laws designed to defend such people and their actions.

Biden has done nothing to put an end to the continuing air war against Afghanistan or to the War on Terror.

There will be no ticker-tape parade for veterans of the Afghanistan War or the War on Terror. It will likely be erased from US history to the extent that the US government and the duopoly War Party and their complicit mass media can do it.  Just as vastly bloodier Vietnam and Korean Wars have been white-washed into family-friendly noble if unsuccessful efforts to “defend freedom,” the Afghanistan War will be remembered, if it is remembered at all, as an attempt to punish the attackers of 9/11 (never mind that no Afghani or Taliban fighter ever attacked the US, on 9/11 or anytime during the last two decades of US war on Afghanistan). The rest of those sordid two decades will be whitewashed away.

We shouldn’t let that happen.

Instead we should remember the slaughtered family of  Zemari Ahmadi, who paid with their lives so that President Biden could “look tough” in the face of critics at home blasting his botched decision to pull US forces out of Afghanistan without any armistice or truce agreement.


Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).




Droning Disasters: A US Strike on Kabul

by Binoy Kampmark, published on Countercurrents, September, 1, 2021

No more profoundly disturbing statement was needed.  In the dying days of the official US departure from Kabul, a US drone etched its butcher’s legacy with a strike supposedly intended for the blood-lusty terrorist group ISIS-K, an abbreviation of Islamic State in Khorasan Province.  Its members had taken responsibility for blasts outside Harmid Karzai International Airport that had cost the lives of at least 175 individuals and 13 US service personnel.  Suicide bombers had intended to targettranslators and collaborators with the American army”.

President Joe Biden promised swift retribution. “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive.  We will not forget.  We will hunt you down and make you pay.” American “interests and our people” would be defended “with every measure at my command.

In his sights was ISIS-K.  “I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.”  A response “with force and precision” would take place “at our time, at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing.”

On August 28, an announcement by the Pentagon was made that two “high-profile” members of the group had been killed in a drone strike in Khorasan Province.  That same day, the President warned that the group was likely to conduct another attack.  The US military was readying itself.

The following day, to demonstrate such precision and choice, a vehicle supposedly carrying an unspecified number of suicide bombers linked to ISIS-K and speeding towards Kabul airport was struck in a second drone attack.  The site of the attack, being a residential neighbourhood in the city, should have given room for pause to those precisionists in the military.

The strike was meant to leave a lasting impression upon ISIS-K fighters.  Initially, US officials were pleased to inform the Associated Press that “multiple suicide bombers” had perished in the attack.  “US military forces conducted a self-defence unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Harmid Karzai International Airport,” stated US Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban.

The outcome of the strike was apparently something to be proud of.  “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”  But this came with a rounding caveat. “We’re assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, although we have no indications at this time.”

The story started to congeal over interviews, discussions and threads.  A dribble of information suggested loss of civilian life.  A number quickly emerged in the flood that followed: ten family members had lost their lives.  From the New York Times, there was Matthieu Aikins patching things together.  Bodies were named: Somaya, daughter of Zemari.  Farzard, Zemari’s son, also killed.  The narrative twists, inverts and disturbs more: Zemari’s nephew, Naser, was an Afghan army officer, former guard of the US military.  He had applied for an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa), hoping to flee Afghanistan for the United States.

To the BBC, Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, could only tearfully despair. “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”  Questions followed.  “Why have they killed our family?  Our children?  They are so burned out we cannot identify their bodies, their faces.”

At a press briefing on August 30, Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor of the Joint Staff tried to make something of yet another messy bungle in the annals of the US military.  “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties. We take these reports extremely seriously.”  John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, was “not going to get ahead of it.  But if we have significant – verifiable information that we did take innocent life here, then we will be transparent about that, too.  Nobody wants to see that happen.”  Urban also stated that the Pentagon was aware of civilian casualties “following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today.

The attack had that sheen of atrocious incompetence (Kirby preferred the term “dynamic”), but that would be a misreading.  Killing remotely is, by its nature, inaccurate, though it has a disturbing fan club deluded into thinking otherwise.  The death of civilians, subsumed under the euphemism of collateral damage, is often put down to shonky intelligence rather than the machinery itself.  As Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Centre is a case in point.  “These are precise weapons,” she erroneously observed in 2016.  “The failure is in the intelligence about who it is that we are killing”.

Drone strikes have demonstrated, time and again, to lack the mythical precision with which they are billed.  Those in proximity to the target will be slain.  Whole families have been, and will continue, to be pulverised.  “Gradually,” the New York Times observed with stunning obviousness in 2015, “it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.”

In 2016, research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative journalism found that the lethal returns from the US-UAV program proved to be overwhelmingly civilian.  A mere 3.5% could be said, with any certainty, to be terrorists.

The use of drones in combat is also politically baffling, self-defeating and contradictory.  As Michael Boyle has explained, referring to the use of UAV warfare in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, such a counterterrorism strategy was distinctly at odds in providing, on the one hand, a flow of arms and financial resource to the very governments whose legitimacy they undermined through the use of such strikes.  By all means, we supply you, but have no trust in your competence.

A mere month after the conviction of whistleblower Daniel Hale, who did more than any other to reveal the grotesque illusion of reliability behind the US drone program, UAV warfare was again shown to be a butchering enterprise praised by the precisionists and found politically wanting.  Those attending the funerals of the slain family members, an event taking place in the shadow of US power in retreat, needed little convincing who their enemy was.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com




Demand for ‘Moratorium on Drone Warfare’ Follows Latest US Killing of Afghan Civilians

by Jake Johnson, published on Common Dreams, August 30, 2021

The largest Muslim civil rights organization in the United States demanded Monday that the Biden administration immediately put in place a “moratorium on drone warfare” after the U.S. killed at least 10 Afghan civilians—including half a dozen children—with an airstrike in Kabul over the weekend.

Enough is enough,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement.

“For more than ten years, our government’s drone strikes have killed thousands of innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Muslim world—destroying family homes, wedding parties, and even funeral processions. The civilian casualties in Kabul are simply the latest victims of this misused technology.”

Mitchell said the Biden administration should impose a temporary moratorium on the U.S. drone program—which is largely shrouded in secrecy—”until the government establishes strict oversight rules that would prevent these tragedies by severely limiting and transparently accounting for our military’s use of drone warfare.”

According to press reports and accounts from relatives and witnesses, the 10 people reportedly killed by the U.S. airstrike in Kabul on Sunday were all members of a single extended family—and at least three of the child victims were girls just two years old or younger.

“This is the latest in 20 years of innocent lives taken and children orphaned in Afghanistan and covert drone warfare around the world,”

 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Monday.

 

“Impunity for these attacks continues to create a never-ending cycle of violence and retribution. Where should these victims go to seek justice?”

The Biden administration has yet to take responsibility for killing the civilians with its drone strike, which purportedly targeted an explosive-laden vehicle that the U.S. military claims ISIS-K was planning to use in another attack on Kabul’s international airport.

“The U.S. went into Afghanistan seeking revenge and bombing civilians,”

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group CodePink, tweeted Monday.

“Twenty years later, the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan seeking revenge and bombing civilians.”

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the U.S. Joint Staff for Regional Operations, said during a press briefing on Monday that the Pentagon is “aware” of reports of civilian deaths in Kabul and that an investigation is underway.

In a statement, Amnesty International USA executive director Paul O’Brien said that the Biden administration “has a responsibility to the families of those killed to name the dead, acknowledge its actions, investigate, and provide reparations.”

The Pentagon is notorious for dramatically undercounting the number of civilians killed in U.S. military operations overseas. And when the U.S. government does admit to killing civilians, it often refuses to provide any compensation to the victims’ families.

“The United States has been killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Somalia for years, under the guise of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ with impunity,”

said O’Brien.

“For two decades, the United States has carried out strikes with no accountability to the public for how many civilians were killed.”

The latest airstrike in Kabul, O’Brien argued, could be

“a glimpse into the future U.S. involvement in Afghanistan if the Biden administration pushes ahead with an ‘over the horizon’ counter-terrorism program that does not prioritize civilian protection.”

Earlier this year, the Biden administration quietly implemented temporary restrictions on drone strikes outside of “conventional battlefield zones” such as Afghanistan. But such limits did not stop U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) from launching a lethal drone strike in Somalia in July, the first attack on that country of Joe Biden’s presidency.

As the withdrawal of U.S. troops continues apace ahead of the August 31 exit deadline, it appears that Biden is prepared to keep carrying out drone strikes in Afghanistan in the future. In a statement Friday after the U.S. launched a drone strike targeting two “planners and facilitators” of the deadly attack on Kabul’s airport, Biden declared, “This strike was not the last.”

*Featured Image: Relatives and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gathered around the incinerated husk of a vehicle hit by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 30, 2021. (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)


Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams website.




Killer Reaper Drones Coming to the Pacific “To Counter Threats from China.”

by Ann Wright, published on Popular Resistance, March 27 2021

A Chinese military takeover of Taiwan is the top U.S. concern in Asia and the Pacific, according to the admiral nominated to lead the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific combatant command.

During his confirmation hearing to head the command that covers 51 percent of the globe, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the most dangerous concern is that of a military force against Taiwan.”  Aquilino told the committee that the “annexation of Taiwan is the number one priority of China and asked the Senate committee to fund the $27.3 billion Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

Aquilino’s comment echoed the March 2, 2021 assessment of retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster, one of the Trump administration’s national security advisers. McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Taiwan is “the most significant flashpoint now that could lead to a large-scale war.”  McMaster, who is a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Sanford University, submitted 28 pages of written testimony to the Congress which centered around the Chinese “threat” to the U.S.

To meet what senior U.S. officials are calling the “threat” from China, the U.S. Marine Corps is embarking on a major change in strategy and equipment.   Marine strategy calls for assassin drones “to counter threats from China.”  The Marines will dramatically increase its current worldwide inventory of only two MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial drones to 18 and have them located in the Indo-Pacific region, with six in Hawaii arriving in fiscal year 2023.

The Marines currently operate only two MQ-9A drones, turboprop aerial vehicles with wingspans of 66 feet and a maximum weight of 10,500 pounds. They are significantly larger than the RQ-21 Blackjack drones currently in use by Hawaii-based Marines, which have wingspans of 20 feet and weigh 460 pounds. The Hawaii-based Reapers, which will be operated by hundreds of Marine Corps personnel with new job specialty designations, could be armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, officials said. The Air Force has used laser guided bombs.

This is a dramatic upswing in the Marines major reorganization designed in large part to counter China in the Western Pacific with fast-moving missile forces aided by unmanned ships, vehicles and the eighteen Reaper aircraft.

In another aspect of the new Marine stategy, on March 15, the entire Marine Corps fleet of CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters in Hawaii began leaving the islands to be replaced by a squadron of KC-130 cargo and refueling aircraft.

Eliminating from the Marine Corps inventory of all tanks is another move to use of longer-range missiles over conventional, tubed artillery shelling.

To layout its Pacific strategy, on March 16, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps released a 40-page “Unmanned Campaign Framework”, that details the range of unmanned vehicles they have developed including the No Manning Required Ship (NOMARS) and Unmanned Logistics Systems with a variety of unmanned air, surface, undersea, and ground systems developed to demonstrate long range, big payload, ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and land-based cargo transport options.

In the report, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said he is committed to a “deliberate but aggressive” pathway toward unmanned systems. Berger wrote in the report that “Concepts such as half of our aviation fleet being unmanned in the near- to midterm, or most of our expeditionary logistics being unmanned in the near to mid-term, should not frighten anyone.” When operating forward in small groups under austere conditions, “the ability to maximize unmanned systems to create outsized effects for our allies and against our adversaries is a key element of our future success.”

Unmanned systems are becoming so important that the U.S. Pacific fleet in April 2021 will conduct an “integrated fleet battle problem,” otherwise known as war maneuvers, that will have unmanned systems operating in the air, on the surface and subsurface, according to the new report.


Ann Wright spent 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq.  She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”  She lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.




The False Narrative of Unmanned Drones and Trump’s Responsibility to Lead

by George Cassidy Payne, Published on Talker of the Town,  June 24, 2019

The unmanned drone narrative is wrong. Someone is always operating these highly sophisticated killing/surveillance machines. Militarized drones may be maneuvered thousands of miles away by human pilots, but they are always being flown by someone. More to the point, they are being used by human beings to launch missile strikes that have killed at least 2,000 people since the beginning of Bush’s “War on Terror.”

Although estimates of civilian deaths attributed to drone strikes are notoriously difficult to establish, several courageous organizations have made it their mission to uncover the origin of these deaths so that the world can know what is happening in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. For instance, the New America Foundation has stated that from 2004 to 2011 alone, 15% of the 2,551 people killed by drone strikes were either known civilians or unknown. It has been widely reported that at least 150 children have been killed by militarized drones in Pakistan and that over 1,000 have been maimed or injured. Of course, these statistics say nothing about the extraordinary levels of PTSD inflicted on these populations. Civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes

Whether someone agrees or disagrees with their use in combat, no one can effectively make the argument that these drones are in any way benign or innocuously unmanned. Whether equipped with weaponry or not, they represent the terrifying reality of American firepower and the severe cost of making the United States an enemy to be resisted. That is why they are flying above — or dangerously close to — the sovereign airspace of Iran. That is why Donald Trump authorizes their use every day. In fact, that is why the American president even went so far as to stop the mandatory reporting of civilian deaths and casualties due to drone strikes. (An act that reversed an Executive Order signed by Barack Obama in 2016.) What is more, that is why the United States military has been authorized by the American people to spend over 100 million dollars on a single piece of drone aircraft, which, we are learning, is the estimated cost of the one recently shot down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And that brings me to my second point. When that American drone was blown out of the sky, what an immense waste it truly was. I don’t mean a waste of insanely expensive technology. I mean, what an immense waste of potential to do good! What has a shot down airplane resulted in but further geopolitical brinkmanship, mutual distrust, and the growing likelihood of another costly and protracted war in the Middle East? And don’t try to tell me that drones are the only way that the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus can attain footage of Iran’s nuclear program. That line of reasoning is absurd and outright mendacious.

I always wonder how that money could be spent differently to achieve better results. With that same amount of money, just imagine what could have been accomplished in the way of actually improving international relations between the two historic foes. If Trump really wants to “make Iran great again”, as he stated to Chuck Todd in his recent Meet the Press interview, then he must change how money is invested and the way he uses resources to make his presence and priorities known. Just think about it. 100 million dollars, even today, goes a long way in the arena of peacemaking. Examples abound from cultural exchange programs and humanitarian aid relief to joint commercial ventures and the lifting of economic sanctions. Even direct support of Iranian-American institutions and citizens and the sponsorship of diplomatic talks would, if allocated strategically, cost far less than 100 million dollars and open up the potential for hundreds of billions in new trade opportunities, regional stability, and scientific cooperation. During the Cold War, the Soviets still collaborated with the U.S. to achieve incredible feats of space exploration. To merely assume that Iran would refuse direct investment — not to mention one less drone in their airspace — is not rational.

Now, I do agree with Trump’s wise decision to restrain his military options after the drone was shot down. The fact that he is looking into other retaliatory options besides bombing Iranian civilians is a good sign that he has not completely lost his grip on reality and the responsibility he has to maintain global peace. But in general, Trump must be far more creative and proactive when it comes to Iran. He must realize that drones are not “unmanned” and that they represent to millions of people in the Middle East a horrific example of indiscriminate slaughter and omnipresent terror. It is, by any calculation, a hugely expensive means for exacting political leverage. Whether or not they have been effective from a combat standpoint is a matter of academic debate, but there is no debating that the use of these weapons has destroyed thousands of lives in some of the most unethical acts of combat in military history. Morally speaking, the price we pay as Americans far exceed the 100 million dollar price tag that each of these vehicles comes with.

For all of these reasons, the time has arrived for President Trump to rethink everything about Iran, the use of force, and the cost of what some pundits call “hard diplomacy.” On a heart level, I ask myself: Why does Iran need to be a mortal threat to the national interests of America? That is not what the people of Iran want. That is not what the region, as a whole, wants. And, if Trump looks at this problem from a big picture perspective, that is not what has to happen, at least not if the U.S. is truly the leader of the free world. As such, we all have a choice. We can choose peace and prosperity or destruction and poverty. War is never inevitable, and the future can belong to those who truly believe that humanity is fundamentally alike and intrinsically good. It does not have to turn into a situation in which all sides pay a price that cannot be put into numerical form.

Photo by Lynda Howland

Come to think of it, Trump actually said something akin to this in his Meet the Press interview. To paraphrase, the U.S. president said, “I am from NY. I know a lot of Iranians. They are good people.

Yes, they are. That you are right about Mr. President. Because they are good people, the time is now to show the world that you can lead with thoughtful reflection on your own experience, resolute compassion for others (not in your base), and an honest desire to make people’s lives better because that is the sacred duty of the office you hold.

** Featured Image: Pilgrimage of Peace: Upstate Drone Action Walk to Educate Upstate NY about Drone Warfare




U.S. Drone and Surveillance Flight Bases in Africa Map and Photos

Just in case you thought there was nothing going on in Africa!

The following map and photos depict current and future locations used by the U.S. military for launching drones and surveillance flights throughout Central and North Africa. The map is not complete and reflects available information from open sources.  Similar to drone bases in Pakistan, a Washington Post article from 2012 quotes a senior U.S. commander as saying that most of the African air bases launching drones and surveillance flights are “small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.” Several sites that are rumored to be used for launching drones and surveillance aircraft are not included in the map, including al-Wigh airbase in Libya which has been recently reported by news outlets in North Africa to be a base for French and U.S. operations in Mali.  All images are via Google Earth.

Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti

Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base located at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, has functioned for several years as a “core of secret operations” in Africa and the Middle East.  Since at least 2009, the site has hosted armed drones flights targeting Somalia and Yemen.  A 2012 Washington Post article states that unmanned aircraft take off “about 16 times a day” from Camp Lemonnier.  According to the Post, the site is closely linked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), hosting at least 300 special operations personnel who “plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire . . . concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.”  At least five Predator drones have crashed near Camp Lemonnier since January 2011 and a Special Operations Command U-28 surveillance plane crashed in February 2012 killing four Air Force Special Operations personnel.

Photo dated August 26, 2012.  Notice the construction of an adjacent taxi-way and support facilities.

Photo dated April 17, 2009.

Arba Minch Airport, Ethiopia

The U.S. Air Force verified in October 2011 that the Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia hosts armed flights of MQ-9 Reapers over Somalia.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Air Force invested millions of dollars to upgrade the airport “where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs.” The drones are reportedly used in operations against Al-Shabaab.

Photo dated February 9, 2004.

Ouagadougou Airport, Burkina Faso

Described as a “key hub of the U.S. spying network” in Africa, Ouagadougou Airport is the home of a classified surveillance program code-named Sand Creek that includes “dozens of U.S. personnel and contractors” operating a “small air base on the military side of the international airport.”  From the airport, unarmed PC-12 airplanes fly surveillance mission in Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara.

Photo dated December 5, 2012.

Niamey, Niger

Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger has hosted PC-12 surveillance flights since 2012.  On February 22, 2013 President Obama sent a letter to Congress that approximately 100 troops would be sent to Niger to support “intelligence collection” and “facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region.”  The same day the AP published a story quoting two senior defense officials as saying that the troops, mostly U.S. Air Force logistics specialists, will be setting up a drone base in the capital of Niamey. The drones will reportedly be unarmed and used for surveillance. The location also currently hosts French activities in relation to Mali.
Photo dated December 13, 2012.

Nzara, South Sudan

In March 2012 U.S. Army General Carter F. Ham, the head of U.S. Africa Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the need for spreading intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts in “assist the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.”  According to the Washington Post, the airfield at Nzara is one of the locations intended as a future base for surveillance flights.  An article from April 2012 in the Post states that Nzara is a basing location for part of a contingent of U.S. troops searching for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.  Other locations where small camps of troops are located include Dungu, Congo and Obo and Djema in the Central African Republic.

Nzara airfield looking West. Photo dated August 19, 2004.

Entebbe, Uganda

Since at least 2009, the U.S. military has been using defense contractors to run surveillance flights in unmarked PC-12 aircraft from out of Uganda.  The flights are part of a secret project codenamed Tusker Sand that searches for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, processing imagery from over the airspace of Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. In August 2011, the U.S. government provided small unarmed drones to Uganda and Burundi.

The Ugandan military operates an airbase adjacent to the Entebbe International Airport that is reportedly used by the U.N. and foreign military forces. Photo dated July 2, 2011.

Manda Bay, Kenya

Though drone flights have not been confirmed to originate from Manda Bay, Kenya, past drone strikes in the region have raised suspicion that the base could be a launching point for armed drone flights into Somalia.  According to the Washington Post, the U.S. military has more than a hundred commandos stationed at a Kenyan naval facility at Manda Bay called Camp Simba and the U.S. Navy is currently spending several million dollars to upgrade the runway at the facility.  An unclassified 2008 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi released by WikiLeaks indicates that:

“The Government of Kenya has demonstrated outstanding support for U.S. and coalition operations in the Horn of Africa (HOA) region. They have allowed a continuous US DoD presence in Manda Bay that allows for training and combined operations in support of counter-terrorism operations and anti-piracy actions. They have maintained one of the only long-term access agreements that allows unparalleled cooperation for U.S. military aircraft, permits DoD personnel to enter and exit the country by simply presenting an ID card, provides a safe location for hub operations throughout the HOA region, and provides a Status of Forces Agreement that safeguards US DoD personnel. Kenya is among our strongest supporters in the region and a key friend in the regional war on terror.”

The Kenyan military has publicly denied that it hosts U.S. drones or surveillance flights.

Camp Simba.  Photo dated April 16, 2006.

Photo of the airfield looking West.  Photo dated April 16, 2006.

St. Victoria, Seychelles

Located on the island of Mahé, Seychelles the Seychelles International Airport has hosted U.S. drones since at least 2009.  Since December 2011, two MQ-9 Reapers have crashed at the airport.

Photo dated December 1, 2012.

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Trump Drones On

How Unpiloted Aircraft Expand the War on Terror
By Rebecca Gordon, originally published on Tom Dispatch, May 24, 2018

They are like the camel’s nose, lifting a corner of the tent. Don’t be fooled, though. It won’t take long until the whole animal is sitting inside, sipping your tea and eating your sweets. In countries around the world — in the Middle East, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Africa, even the Philippines — the appearance of U.S. drones in the sky (and on the ground) is often Washington’s equivalent of the camel’s nose entering a new theater of operations in this country’s forever war against “terror.” Sometimes, however, the drones are more like the camel’s tail, arriving after less visible U.S. military forces have been in an area for a while.

Scrambling for Africa

AFRICOM, the Pentagon’s Africa Command, is building Air Base 201 in Agadez, a town in the nation of Niger. The $110 million installation, which officially opens later this year, will be able to house both C-17 transport planes and MQ-9 Reaper armed drones. It will soon become the new centerpiece in an undeclared U.S. war in West Africa. Even before the base opens, armed U.S. drones are already flying from Niger’s capital, Niamey, having received permission from the Nigerien government to do so last November.

Despite crucial reporting by Nick Turse and others, most people in this country only learned of U.S. military activities in Niger in 2017 (and had no idea that about 800 U.S. military personnel were already stationed in the country) when news broke that four U.S. soldiers had died in an October ambush there. It turns out, however, that they weren’t the only U.S soldiers involved in firefights in Niger. This March, the Pentagon acknowledged that another clash took place last December between Green Berets and a previously unknown group identified as ISIS-West Africa. For those keeping score at home on the ever-expanding enemies list in Washington’s war on terror, this is a different group from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), responsible for the October ambush. Across Africa, there have been at least eight other incidents, most of them in Somalia.

What are U.S. forces doing in Niger? Ostensibly, they are training Nigerien soldiers to fight the insurgent groups rapidly multiplying in and around their country. Apart from the uranium that accounts for over 70% of Niger’s exports, there’s little of economic interest to the United States there. The real appeal is location, location, location. Landlocked Niger sits in the middle of Africa’s Sahel region, bordered by Mali and Burkina Faso on the west, Chad on the east, Algeria and Libya to the north, and Benin and Nigeria to the south. In other words, Niger has the misfortune to straddle a part of Africa of increasing strategic interest to the United States.

In addition to ISIS-West Africa and ISGS, actual or potential U.S. targets there include Boko Haram (born in Nigeria and now spread to Mali and Chad), ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Libya, and Al Mourabitoun, based primarily in Mali.

At the moment, for instance, U.S. drone strikes on Libya, which have increased under the Trump administration, are generally launched from a base in Sicily. However, drones at the new air base in Agadez will be able to strike targets in all these countries.

Suppose a missile happens to kill some Nigerien civilians by mistake (not exactly uncommon for U.S. drone strikes elsewhere)? Not to worry: AFRICOM is covered. A U.S.-Niger Status of Forces Agreement guarantees that there won’t be any repercussions. In fact, according to the agreement, “The Parties waive any and all claims… against each other for damage to, loss, or destruction of the other’s property or injury or death to personnel of either Party’s armed forces or their civilian personnel.” In other words, the United States will not be held responsible for any “collateral damage” from Niger drone strikes. Another clause in the agreement shields U.S. soldiers and civilian contractors from any charges under Nigerien law.

The introduction of armed drones to target insurgent groups is part of AFRICOM’s expansion of the U.S. footprint on a continent of increasing strategic interest to Washington. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European nations engaged in the “scramble for Africa,” a period of intense and destructive competition for colonial possessions on the continent. In the post-colonial 1960s and 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence in African countries as diverse as Egypt and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Today, despite AFRICOM’s focus on the war on terror, the real jockeying for influence and power on the continent is undoubtedly between this country and the People’s Republic of China. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trade partner in 2009” and has never looked back. “Beijing has steadily diversified its business interests in Africa,” the Council’s 2017 backgrounder continues, noting that from Angola to Kenya,

“China has participated in energy, mining, and telecommunications industries and financed the construction of roads, railways, ports, airports, hospitals, schools, and stadiums. Investment from a mixture of state and private funds has also set up tobacco, rubber, sugar, and sisal plantations… Chinese investment in Africa also fits into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s development framework, ‘One Belt, One Road.’”

For example, in a bid to corner the DRC’s cobalt and copper reserves (part of an estimated $24 trillion in mineral wealth there), two Chinese companies have formed Sicomines, a partnership with the Congolese government’s national mining company. The Pulitzer Center reports that Sicomines is expected “to extract 6.8 million tons of copper and 427,000 tons of cobalt over the next 25 years.” Cobalt is essential in the manufacture of today’s electronic devices — from cell phones to drones — and more than half of the world’s supply lies underground in the DRC.

Even before breaking ground on Air Base 201 in Niger, the United States already had a major drone base in Africa, in the tiny country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. From there, the Pentagon has been directing strikes against targets in Yemen and Somalia. As AFRICOM commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told Congress in March, “Djibouti is a very strategic location for us.” Camp Lemonnier, as the base is known, occupies almost 500 acres near the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. U.S. Central Command, Special Operations Command, European Command, and Transportation Command all use the base. At present, however, it appears that U.S. drones stationed in Djibouti and bound for Yemen and Somalia take off from nearby Chabelley Airfield, as Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone reports.

To the discomfort of the U.S. military, the Chinese have recently established their first base in Africa, also in Djibouti, quite close to Camp Lemonnier. That country is also horning in on potential U.S. sales of drones to other countries. IndonesiaSaudi Arabia, and the United Arab emirates are among U.S. allies known to have purchased advanced Chinese drones.

The Means Justify the End?

From the beginning, the CIA’s armed drones have been used primarily to kill specific individuals. The Bush administration launched its global drone assassination program in October 2001 in Afghanistan, expanded it in 2002 to Yemen, and later to other countries. Under President Barack Obama, White House oversight of such assassinations only gained momentum (with an official “kill list” and regular “terror Tuesday” meetings to pick targets). The use of drones expanded 10-fold, with growing numbers of attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, as well as in the Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian war zones. Early on, targets were generally people identified as al-Qaeda leaders or “lieutenants.” In later years, the kill lists grew to include supposed leaders or members of a variety of other terror organizations, and eventually even unidentified people engaged in activities that were to bear the “signature” of terrorist activity.

But those CIA drones, destructive as they were (leaving civilian dead, including children, in their wake) were just the camel’s nose — a way to smuggle in a major change in U.S. policy. We’ve grown so used to murder by drone in the last 17 years that we’ve lost sight of an important fact: such assassinations represented a fundamental (and unlawful) change in U.S. military strategy. Because unpiloted airplanes eliminate the physical risk to American personnel, the United States has embraced a strategy of global extrajudicial executions: presidential assassinations on foreign soil.

It’s a case of the means justifying the end. The drones work so well at so little cost (to us) that it must be all right to kill people with them.

Successive administrations have implemented this strategic change with little public discussion. Critiques of the drone program tend to focus — not unreasonably — on the many additional people (like family members) who are injured or die along with the intended targets, and on civilians who should never have been targets in the first place. But few critics point out that executing foreign nationals without trial in other countries is itself wrong and illegal under U.S. law, as well as that of other countries where some of the attacks have taken place, and of course, international law.

How have the Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations justified such killings? The same way they justified the expansion of the war on terror itself to new battle zones around the world — through Congress’s September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That law permitted the president

“to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Given that many of the organizations the United States is targeting with drones today didn’t even exist when that AUMF was enacted and so could hardly have “authorized” or “aided” in the 9/11 attacks, it offers, at best, the thinnest of coverage indeed for such a worldwide program.

Droning On and On

George W. Bush launched the CIA’s drone assassination program and that was just the beginning. Even as Barack Obama attempted to reduce the number of U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he ramped up the use of drones, famously taking personal responsibility for targeting decisions. By some estimates, he approved 10 times as many drone attacks as Bush.

In 2013, the Obama administration introduced new guidelines for drone strikes, supposedly designed to guarantee with “near certainty” the safety of civilians. Administration officials also attempted to transfer most of the operational responsibility for drone attacks from the CIA to the military’s only-slightly-less-secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Although the number of CIA strikes did drop, the Agency remained in a position to rev up its program at any time, as the Washington Post reported in 2016:

“U.S. officials emphasized that the CIA has not been ordered to disarm its fleet of drones, and that its aircraft remain deeply involved in counterterrorism surveillance missions in Yemen and Syria even when they are not unleashing munitions.”

It’s indicative of how easily drone killings have become standard operating procedure that, in all the coverage of the confirmation hearings for the CIA’s new director, Gina Haspel, there was copious discussion of the Agency’s torture program, but not a public mention of, let alone a serious question about, its drone assassination campaign. It’s possible the Senate Intelligence Committee discussed it in their classified hearing, but the general public has no way of knowing Haspel’s views on the subject.

However, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess. It’s clear, for instance, that President Trump has no qualms about the CIA’s involvement in drone killings. When he visited the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the day after his inauguration, says the Post, “Trump urged the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria. ‘If you can do it in 10 days, get it done,’ he said.” At that same meeting, CIA officials played a tape of a drone strike for him, showing how they’d held off until the target had stepped far enough away from the house that the missile would miss it (and so its occupants). His only question: “Why did you wait?”

You may recall that, while campaigning, the president told Fox News that the U.S. should actually be targeting certain civilians. “The other thing with the terrorists,” he said, “is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” In other words, he seemed eager to make himself a future murderer-in-chief.

How, then, has U.S. drone policy fared under Trump? The New York Times has reported major changes to Obama-era policies. Both the CIA’s and the military’s “kill lists” will no longer be limited to key insurgent leaders, but expanded to include “foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles.” The Times points out that this “new approach would appear to remove some obstacles for possible strikes in countries where Qaeda- or Islamic State-linked militants are operating, from Nigeria to the Philippines.” And no longer will attack decisions only be made at the highest levels of government. The requirement for having a “near certainty” of avoiding civilian casualties — always something of a fiction — officially remains in place for now, but we know how seriously Trump takes such constraints.

He’s already overseen the expansion of the drone wars in other ways. In general, that “near certainty” constraint doesn’t apply to officially designated war zones (“areas of active hostility”), where the lower standard of merely avoiding unnecessary civilian casualties prevails. In March 2017, Trump approved a Pentagon request to identify large parts of Yemen and Somalia as areas of “active hostility,” allowing leeway for far less carefully targeted strikes in both places. At the time, however, AFRICOM head General Thomas D. Waldhauser said he would maintain the “near certainty” standard in Somalia for now (which, as it happens, hasn’t stopped Somali civilians from dying by drone strike).

Another change affects the use of drones in Pakistan and potentially elsewhere. Past drone strikes in Pakistan officially targeted people believed to be “high value” al-Qaeda figures, on the grounds that they (like all al-Qaeda leaders) represented an “imminent threat” to the United States. However, as a 2011 Justice Department paper explained, imminence is in the eye of the beholder: “With respect to al-Qaeda leaders who are continually planning attacks, the United States is likely to have only a limited window of opportunity within which to defend Americans.” In other words, once identified as an al-Qaeda leader or the leader of an allied group, you are by definition “continually planning attacks” and always represent an imminent danger, making you a permanent legitimate target.

Under Trump, however, U.S. drones are not only going after those al-Qaeda targets permitted under the 2001 AUMF, but also targeting Afghan Taliban across the border in Pakistan. In other words, these drone strikes are not a continuation of counterterrorism as envisioned under the AUMF, but rather an extension of a revitalized U.S. war in Afghanistan. In general, the law of war allows attacks on a neutral country’s territory only if soldiers chase an enemy across the border in “hot pursuit.” So the use of drones to attack insurgent groups inside Pakistan represents an unacknowledged escalation of the U.S. Afghan War. Another corner of the tent lifted by the camel’s nose?

Transparency about U.S. wars in general, and airstrikes in particular, has also suffered under Trump. The administration, for instance, announced in March that it had used a drone to kill “Musa Abu Dawud, a high-ranking official in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” as the New York Times reported. However, the Times continued, “questions about whether the American military, under the Trump administration, is blurring the scope of operations in Africa were raised… when it was revealed that the U.S. had carried out four airstrikes in Libya from September to January that the Africa Command did not disclose at the time.”

Similarly, the administration has been less than forthcoming about its activities in Yemen. As the Business Insider reports (in a story updated from the Long War Journal), the U.S. has attacked al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) there repeatedly, but “of the more than 114 strikes against AQAP in Yemen, CENTCOM has only provided details on four, all of which involved high value targets.” Because Trump has loosened the targeting restrictions for Yemen, it’s likely that the other strikes involved low-level targets, whose identity we won’t know.

Just Security, an online roundtable based at New York University, reports the total number of airstrikes there in 2017 as 120. They investigated eight of these and “found that U.S. operations were responsible for the deaths of at least 32 civilians — including 16 children and six women — and injured 10 others, including five children.” Yemeni civilians had a suggestion for how the United States could help them avoid becoming collateral damage: give them “a list of wanted individuals. A list that is clear and available to the public so that they can avoid targeted individuals, protect their children, and not allow U.S. targets to have a presence in their areas.”

A 2016 executive order requires that the federal director of national intelligence issue an annual report by May 1st on the previous year’s civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes outside designated “active hostility” zones. As yet, the Trump administration has not filed the 2017 report.

Bigger and Better Camels Coming Soon to a Tent Near You

This March, a jubilant Fox News reported that the Marine Corps is planning to build a fancy new drone, called the MUX, for Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System-Expeditionary. This baby will sport quite a set of bells and whistles, as Fox marveled:

“The MUX will terrify enemies of the United States, and with good reason. The aircraft won’t be just big and powerful: it will also be ultra-smart. This could be a heavily armed drone that takes off, flies, avoids obstacles, adapts and lands by itself — all without a human piloting it.”

In other words, “the MUX will be a drone that can truly run vital missions all by itself.”

Between pulling out of the Iran agreement and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Trump has made it clear that — despite his base’s chants of “Nobel! Nobel!” — he has no interest whatsoever in peace. It looks like the future of the still spreading war on terror under Trump is as clear as MUX.


Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Copyright 2018 Rebecca Gordon