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    More than 2,400 dead as Obama’s drone campaign marks five years

    Obama has launched over 390 covert drone strikes in his first five years in office (Pete Souza/White House).

    Five years ago, on January 23 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal regions. It was the third day of Barack Obama’s presidency, and this was the new commander-in-chief’s first covert drone strike.

    Initial reports said up to ten militants were killed, including foreign fighters and possibly a ‘high-value target’ – a successful first hit for the fledgling administration.

    But reports of civilian casualties began to emerge. As later reports revealed, the strike was far from a success. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. There was one survivor, 14-year-old Fahim Qureshi, but with horrific injuries including shrapnel wounds in his stomach, a fractured skull and a lost eye, he was as much a victim as his dead relatives.

    Fahim Qureshi, injured in the first Obama strike (Vocativ/YouTube).

    Later that day, the CIA attacked again – and levelled another house. It proved another mistake, this time one that killed between five and ten people, all civilians.

    Obama was briefed on the civilian casualties almost immediately and was ‘understandably disturbed’, Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman later wrote. Three days earlier, in his inauguration address, Obama had told the world ‘that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.’

    The Pakistani government also knew civilians had been killed in the strikes. A record of the strikes made by the local political administration and published by the Bureau last year listed nine civilians among the dead. But the government said nothing about this loss of life.

    Yet despite this disastrous start the Obama administration markedly stepped up the use of drones. Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 strikes on Pakistan – his predecessor, President George Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years. And in Yemen, Obama has opened a new front in the secret drone war.

    Lethal strikes
    Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack that injured Qureshi – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them reportedly civilians.

    Although drone strikes under Obama’s presidency have killed nearly six times as many people as were killed under Bush, the casualty rate – the number of people killed on average in each strike – has dropped from eight to six under Obama. The civilian casualty rate has fallen too. Strikes during the Bush years killed nearly more than three civilians in each strike on average. This has halved under Obama (1.43 civilians per strike on average). In fact reported civilian casualties in Pakistan have fallen sharply since 2010, with no confirmed reports of civilian casualties in 2013.

    The decline in civilian casualties could be because of reported improvements in drone and missile technology, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and greater scrutiny of the covert drone campaign both at home and abroad.

    Presidents Pakistan

    Obama has sharply escalated the drone campaign in Pakistan.

    The apparent change in targeting is well demonstrated by comparing a strike carried out by the Bush administration in 2006 and one seven years later under Obama. On October 30 2006 at least 68 children were killed when CIA drones destroyed a madrassa – a religious school – in the Bajaur area of Pakistan’s tribal belt. The attack was reportedly targeting then-al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri. He escaped. On November 21 last year, drones again targeted a madrassa, this time in Hangu, outside the tribal regions. As many as 80 students were sleeping in the building. But the strike destroyed a specific portion of the building – just one or two rooms – and killed between six and nine people.

    In Yemen, however, civilians continue to die in US drone strikes. Last year saw the highest civilian casualty rate since Obama first hit the country in 2009.

    Drones were not the first weapon the administration turned to when it started to attack the country. On December 17 2009 a US Navy submarine launched a cluster bomb-laden cruise missile at a suspected militant camp in al Majala, southern Yemen.

    The missile slammed into a hamlet hitting one of the poorest tribes in Yemen. Shrapnel and fire left at least 41 civilians dead, including at least 21 children and 12 women – five of them were pregnant. A week earlier President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He used his acceptance speech to defend the use of force at times as ‘not only necessary but morally justified’. He warned that ‘negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms’.

    Strikes in Pakistan are carried out by the CIA. But in Yemen the CIA and the US military’s special forces unit, Joint Special Operations Command, have used various weapons including drones and conventional jets as well as cruise missiles to target al Qaeda militants.

    However in recent years drones have come to dominate Obama’s war in Yemen as much as in Pakistan. President Bush ordered a single drone strike in Yemen, killing six people in 2002. Under Obama, the CIA and the Pentagon have launched at least 58 drone strikes on the country killing more than 281 people, including at least 24 reported civilians.

    Opaque operations
    The escalation in the drone war has happened with almost no official transparency from the White House. It took Obama three years to publicly mention his use of drones. In January 2012 he said ‘actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’. He added: ‘For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against al Qaeda and affiliates.’

    In this period Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. And according to a leaked CIA record of drone strikes, seen by the McClatchy news agency, the US often did not know who it was killing. In the year after September 2010 at least 265 of up to 482 people were recorded as the documents as killed by drones ‘were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists’.

    A letter written by Attorney General Eric Holder and leaked to NBC confirmed drones had killed four US citizens living abroad. US citizen Anwar al Awlaki died in a missile strike in Yemen on September 30 2011. His 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who was born in Detroit, was killed in a separate strike two weeks later.

    In April 2013 a leaked Department of Justice memo outlined the administration’s legal justification for such killings: the US has the right to kill US citizens if they pose an imminent threat, it said. It added that determining a citizen poses an imminent threat ‘does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future’. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union described the memo as a ‘chilling document’.

    The following month President Obama made a major policy speech in which he codified the rules his administration must follow as it selects targets for drone strikes and special forces teams.

    The rules are meant to constrain the use of drones. Obama said the US only carries out such attacks against individuals who pose ‘a continuing and imminent threat’ to US citizens, not ‘to punish individuals’. Obama acknowledged drone strikes had killed civilians, saying: ‘For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.’ And he added: ‘Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set’.

    However Bureau analysis shows more people were killed in Pakistan and Yemen in the six months after the speech than the six months before. And the casualty rate also rose over the same period.

    In 2013, there were no confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistan – the first year of the drone campaign that this was the case. But in Yemen, the year ended with mass civilian casualties. On December 12, JSOC drones attacked a convoy taking a bride to her wedding. The attack destroyed several vehicles and flying shrapnel killed up to 15 civilians. It was the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year. The Yemeni government initially claimed al Qaeda militants were killed. But the Yemeni government quickly negotiated reparations with the families of the victims, sending them $140,000 and 100 rifles. The US has not commented on the strike, but in an unprecedented move Washington is carrying out an investigation.
    after reading that article, i can't help but marvel at the effectiveness of the drone programs although, i've been a fan of drone usage since the beginning of the pioneer program back in the 80's.

    "Yeah. I understand the mechanics of it, shithead. I just don't understand how this is any less retarded than what I'm suggesting." - Kiley; Housebound.
    yeah,drone the whole population so they can't breed terrorists anymore
    i think it's a little extremist of you to consider all those people to be terrorists.

    "Yeah. I understand the mechanics of it, shithead. I just don't understand how this is any less retarded than what I'm suggesting." - Kiley; Housebound.
    your government doesn't seem to make the distinction
    you don't seem to make the distinction either and that's part of the problem.

    if pakistan or yemen or whatever terrorist harboring shit hole these fuckers are hiding in wish to terminate their military partnership with the united states and no longer wish to permit our military actions in or above their countries, then they need to tend to their own affairs and clean house... at the very least, keep their terrorists away from areas populated by non-combatants.

    it's blatantly obvious that yemen and pakistan are willingly harboring and funding state-sponsored terrorist groups.

    "Yeah. I understand the mechanics of it, shithead. I just don't understand how this is any less retarded than what I'm suggesting." - Kiley; Housebound.
    (01-24-2014, 08:54 AM)sporkium Wrote:  i think it's a little extremist of you to consider all those people to be terrorists.

    It is your federal government that is extremist, since it is heavily engaged in racial profiling worldwide.
    To your feds, it appears to be very simple.
    All Wogs are potential terrorists.

    Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
    - Robert A. Heinlein
    It's yours too.

    And it even orders strikes on it's own homebrewed terrorists. For shame.
    (This post was last modified: 01-24-2014, 02:22 PM by SkinnyP.)

    that those with no rights,
    display the right to have no life, to have respect they must accept
    a world commiting suicide
    Yes, we Canadians are just horrible. Sad
    Imagine attacking geese with a helicopter equipped with loudspeakers.
    The indignity of it all.

    As for me, I never voted for the Harper administration that rules in Ottawa these days.
    I voted for the Green party.

    Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
    - Robert A. Heinlein
    it's obvious that the whole western world are accomplices in these murders,it's just that the u.s.a. got the drones to execute people where ever they want,terrorists or not,murder is murder.

    this is quite an interesting article as well,

    Blown Away by ‘Grounded’: Drone Warfare Up Close and Personal
    Bob Dreyfuss on January 14, 2014 - 11:36 AM ET

    A US Predator drone flies above the Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan,
    Last night I was blown away, though happily not literally, by a brilliant stage performance at Page 73, a theater in Tribeca, in New York City, that often presents plays that have never before been produced in the city. Its current production is Grounded, a play written by George Brant that takes on America’s drone warfare program. It’s a one-woman show, acted by Hannah Cabell, who delivers a searing performance that left me stunned. She portrays a gung-ho, top-gun fighter-bomber pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan who, after becoming pregnant, is assigned to pilot remote drones at Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas.

    At first reluctant to abandon “the blue,” Cabell’s character adapts to long days of boredom in front of a gray screen, days only occasionally marked by blowing up groups of “military-age males” in the Afghan desert. But as she tracks a “high-value target,” described in the play as a “Number Two”—a riff on the seemingly endless list of Al Qaeda Number Two’s killed since 2001—she finds herself unable to balance her day job with her incongruous role as a wife and mother back at the house to which she returns each day. I won’t reveal too much else about what happens, but do yourself a favor: if you’re in the New York area before the show ends its run on February 1, go see it. (And if you’re a theater producer elsewhere, make plans to put this on stage, with Cabell if she’s available.)

    Google “drones“ these days and for every mention of President Obama’s policy of remote killing in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, you’ll get information on drones that might be used to deliver pizzas or online purchases and headlines like: “Berkshire realty company uses drones to film luxury estates.” Or about a bill, recently passed by New Jersey’s state assembly, to regulate the use of unarmed drones by state law enforcement agencies.

    But the killing goes on. To be sure, the sheer number of drone strikes has been dropping in recent years, but that’s little comfort to the innocents killed or to the friends and relatives of targeted individuals who become collateral damage. (Such collateral damage plays a critical role in Grounded.) According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks drone strikes, there were twenty-seven drone attacks in Pakistan carried out by the CIA in 2013 and thirty-eight more in Yemen, including the December 12, 2013, strike that bombed a wedding party, killing as many as fifteen civilians, injuring up to thirty more. (There were 127 strikes in Pakistan in 2010, seventy-four in 2011, and forty-seven in 2012, according to the BIJ.)

    The declining pattern of strikes is welcome, but the very use of drones raises fundamental questions about US policy. Aside from the moral questions, there are also important issues concerning the usefulness of drones, according to Science Daily, which reports on a pair of studies published in a military journal called Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict that challenge drones as a means of warfare. According to the site:

    Metin Gurcan’s “Drone Warfare and Contemporary Strategy Making: Does the Tail Wag the Dog?” argues that increasing use of drones in asymmetric conflict is reversing the dominance of strategy over tactics and may be undermining civilian control of the military. Gurcan notes that while there are a number of advantages to using drones, such as effectiveness at removing key targets and avoidance of friendly casualties, they may also increase the power of extremists amongst civilian populations by creating a siege mentality.

    And they report on another study that delves into the question of public support for remote killing:

    Tom McCauley’s “U.S. Public Support for Drone Strikes against Asymmetric Enemies Abroad: Poll Trends in 2013” shows that, while a strong majority of U.S. citizens are in favor of using drones against terrorists in foreign lands, a small and increasing minority are against their use. In contrast, majorities in most countries are opposed to U.S. drone attacks against terrorists. McCauley notes, “Should drones’ unpopularity in the United States continue to increase, and their unpopularity in other countries persist, they may well become politically impractical, no matter how convenient and cost-effective the technology may be.”

    Still, drone warfare is big business and, according to Science Daily, the United States spent $5.1 billion in 2013 on drone strikes. According to the International Business Times, at least a dozen companies are vying for what they expect to be an expanded military drone market in 2014-2015, including Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Israel Aerospace Industries and Textron. Says IBT:

    Boeing has had a hand in the drone market for a number of years, mostly developing for the U.S. military. They have more recently been testing the hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye drone, which Boeing says can stay at 65,000 feet for up to four days without refueling.

    [General Atomics] is credited with building the Predator drone, the much-feared aircraft that saw action way back during the Balkans war, where the Americans lost two. Since then it’s been deployed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Iran and the Philippines. Last year, the company signed a deal to supply $197 million worth of drones to the United Arab Emirates....

    Like Boeing, Lockheed is testing a drone—the Stalker—that can stay in the air for days at a time....

    Founded only in 1994, Northrop has quickly risen to become one of the top suppliers of military hardware in the world. In 2012, the company sold $1.2 billion worth of drones to South Korea.

    In other words, your military-industrial complex at work.

    None of this is found in Grounded, which powerfully focuses on the human element, on both sides of the joystick that unleashes drones overseas. Don’t miss it.

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