Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Launching an air strike in another nation would normally be considered an act of aggression. But advocates of America’s rapidly expanding unmanned drone programme don’t see it that way.
They are arguing, as Tom Ricks writes on his blog The Best Defense over at Foreign Policy, that the campaign to kill militants with missile strikes from these unmanned aircraft, is more like police action in a tough neighbourhood than a military conflict.
These raids conducted by sinister-looking Predator or Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen – and since last month in Somalia - should not be seen as a challenge to states and their authority. Instead they are meant to supplement the power of governments that are either unable to or unwilling to fight the militants operating from their territories.
They are precise, limited, strikes aimed at taking down specific individuals, and in that sense are more like the police going after criminals, rather than a full-on military assault. Ricks writes:
Pakistan Defence Minister Mukhtar Ahmad’s comments this week that the government had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi air base deep in southwest Baluchistan province has injected new controversy in their troubled relationship. U.S. officials appeared to scoff at Mukhtar’s remarks, saying they had no plans to vacate the base from where they have in the past launched unmanned Predator aircraft targeting militant havens in the northwest region.
Washington’s dismissal of the Pakistan government’s stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world’s strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ? The United States is effectively encamped in Pakistan using its air strip to run a not-so-secret assassination campaign against militant leaders including Pakistanis while Islamabad fumes.
The CIA is using smaller, advanced missiles – some of them no longer than a violin-case – to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, according to the Washington Post.
The idea is to limit civilian casualties, the newspaper said quoting defence officials, after months of deadly missile strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft that has so burned Pakistan both in terms of the actual collateral damage and its sense of loss of sovereignty.
The United States has carried out the most intensive series of unmanned ”Predator” drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal areas since the covert war began, following December’s deadly raid on a CIA base just over the border in Afghanistan. Pakistani newspapers citing interior ministry data, say there were 12 missile strikes in January fired by the unmanned Predator and Reaper planes, the highest for any single month. The highest number of attacks in a month stood at six previously, which was in December 2009. There were just two strikes in January 2009, reflecting the surge in the drone campaign to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban since the Obama administration took over last year.
U.S. military commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only ones watching live video feeds of the battle zone from unmanned Predator surveillance planes. The militants too have been looking at the same images thanks to an off-the-shelf software that allowed them to hack into the data feed from the drones.
“Skygrabber”, originally designed to allow customers to download songs and movies off the Internet, costs barely $26 . It allowed insurgents to tap into the overhead video feeds from the million-dollar surveillance planes, the Wall Street Journal reported recently.