America’s Predators : fighting the Afghan war from Las Vegas

February 11, 2009

In a camouflaged trailer truck in the Nevada desert, a bank of computer screens shows live images of a mud-walled compound in Afghanistan, 8,000 miles away. Those pictures are coming from a Predator unmanned aircraft that you, hunched over the computer in the darkened room not far from Vegas, are flying remotely.

Soon two vehicles stop in front of the targeted mud-baked house. Half a dozen bearded men hurry into the house. Seconds later, you squeeze the trigger in Nevada and a 500-pound bomb flattens the building.  Classic Hollywood stuff? Yes, except that this is happening in a real battlefield, and as P.W. Singer, a military expert at Brookings, writes in a new book Wired for War, The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, war by remote control is growing and leading a fundamental change.

There is a strange disconnect about it. Singer talks of pilots shooting missiles at enemies thousands of miles away and then getting into their Toyotas to be home for the kids’ soccer practice. “You are going to war for 12 hours, shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants, and then you get in the car, drive home, and within 20 minutes you are sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework,” he quotes one pilot as saying. 

Of course it can all go wrong. Ask the people on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan who say missiles fired by drones have often killed civilians.

It is not just military pilots sitting outside Las Vegas flying bombing missions in Afghanistan; there are robots sniffing for IEDs in the streets of Baghdad, and soldiers on the ground flying a whole menagerie of drones over the battlefield.

Small UAVs such as the Raven, which is just over three feet long, or the even smaller Wasp (which carries a camera the size of a peanut) are tossed into the air by individual soldiers and fly just above the rooftops, transmitting video images of what’s down the street or on the other side of the hill.

There is more coming. The Pentagon is researching robots the size of flies to carry out reconnaissance work now handled by elite Special Forces troops.

“It sounds like science fiction, but it is fact: On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghan­istan, robots are killing America’s enemies and saving American lives. But today’s Pack­Bots, Predators, and Ravens are relatively primitive machines. The coming generation of “war-bots” will be immensely more sophisticated,” Singer writes.   An excerpt of the book is available here.

Indeed America is increasingly relying on war by drones. As Danger Room  notes, the  “big surge in Afghanistan and Iraq has been the astronomical increase in robotic planes.” It quotes an air force study to say that there was a 74 percent increase in combat hours flown by Predators in 2008

Is it too much of a good thing and are there dangers here? Yes,  there is almost something seductive about this kind of riskless warfare, says Singer.  By lowering the human costs of war, you might be tempted into more wars.  As General Robert E. Lee famously observed more than a century ago : “It is good that we find war so horrible, or else we would become fond of it.”

 [File pictures of a U.S. soldier launching an unmanned aerial vehicle in iraq, an Iraqi soldier operating a bomb disposal robot during training at a U.S. camp and the Predator unmanned aircraft]

Comments

Making the world safer is always a noble endeavor. These drones save many lives, as you do not need to send expensive armies in. The West does not have the stomach for boots on the ground, due to politics, money and difficulty.

Many more Americans should be trained to fly drones against terrorists.

Innocents are an unintended and unfortunate collateral damage, as in any type of war, they are unavoidable and regrettable.

Islamic Terrorists, in cowardly fashion hide behind women and children, so it is them who in fact, put innocent people in harm’s way.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive
 

For those who operate drones from Vegas, it should be more like playing a video game rather than fighting a war..
It is interesting to witness a massive change in war tactics aimed at reducing the cost of war..
When the west is embracing modern electronics to save their skin from direct confrontation the militants are embracing age old religion to create suicide bombers..militants are winners when it comes to reducing cost though..
both the tactics are effective but the side effect has been people are no longer brave enough for a real war whose win was traditionally a recognition of bravery.

Posted by Anitha | Report as abusive
 

– Blast is just a keystroke away.

Posted by Blogger | Report as abusive
 

Global Watcher wrote:
“Innocents are an unintended and unfortunate collateral damage, as in any type of war, they are unavoidable and regrettable.”

ok, let us suppose you are travelling on a commercial flight and a drone aircraft mistakenly shoots down the airplane and YOU perish. Well, I assume it wouldn’t make any difference, that would be “collateral damage”. right?

“Islamic Terrorists, in cowardly fashion hide behind women and children”

and Hindu terrorists who bombed the samjhuta express train hide behind whom? I guess the Indian Army, isn’t that what Col. Purohit and his accomplices did. You talk like you people are innocents, look at yourself before you point finger at someone. Who were those who killed christians in Orrisa? who killed Gandhi Ji? who burned alive the Australian missionaries? yes, Hindu terrorists. While you try to highlight “Islamic terrorists” do not forget the deeds of HINDU TERRORISTS.

Posted by Local Watcher | Report as abusive
 

Drones have done excellent work so far, even if it dont kills all the terrorist, it surely make them hide and feel scared, terrorists are just running off here and there. There should be more drone attacks on these hideouts.

I may be wrong, but I don;t think there is any collateral damage with drones. People providing shelter to the terrorist are equally responsible for terrorist activities. Anyone having sympathy with a terrorist as some of our Paki friends here, should be given same treatment as a terrorist deserves.

No matter what the form of terrorism is, even if somebody posts comments supporting terrorism on reuters, his/her IP should be traced and a drone should be send to teach others a lesson. :-)

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive
 

Global watcher:
“Islamic Terrorists, in cowardly fashion hide behind women and children, so it is them who in fact, put innocent people in harm’s way.”

-what about the Hindu terrorists who bombed the Samjhuta express train?

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive
 

Pakistan is the home of the al Qaeda core leadership as its pursues its ideological war, it also is home to a number of Jihadist groups, from the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in the northwest to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the northeast, among several others. The coming year might prove to be pivotal in global efforts against the Jihadists in Pakistan.

Elements in Pakistan army and its intelligence service and large section of Pakistani populace support terrorism.

Before Pakistan becomes a 100% failed state, there are a number of precursor stages it probably will pass through. The most immediate stage would entail the fall of most of the North-West Frontier Province to the Jihadists, something that could happen this year.

Given the number of plots linked to Pakistan in recent years, including the November 26th Mumbai attack and almost every significant plot since 9/11, Pakistan probelm is likely to get worse in the coming months.

 

[Global watcher: “Islamic Terrorists, in cowardly fashion hide behind women and children, so it is them who in fact, put innocent people in harm’s way.”]
[-what about the Hindu terrorists who bombed the Samjhuta express train?]
- Posted by Umair

Umair,

There is consistent pattern of sympathy oozing out of your messages. For example you feel the need to defend Islamic terrorists above and you have done that in the past. That’s why they are 130km away from your residence in Islamabad.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

All these electronic are great show and effective too but not effective enough that You have to be on the ground.

A journalist from Dawn said Drones do not cause collateral damage.
On the ground, Americans always gave the charge to someone for the real work and have suffered bec, those guys cannot be trusted. As they say “you got to clean up your own mess”. Americans play the electronic warfare or hand the dirty work on the ground for others.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

Umair said:

“Global watcher:
“Islamic Terrorists, in cowardly fashion hide behind women and children, so it is them who in fact, put innocent people in harm’s way.”

-what about the Hindu terrorists who bombed the Samjhuta express train?

I think the Samjhuta express was planned by the ISI to derail the Pak India peace process. It is widely believed that Islamic Militants from Pakistan had a hand in this. Also, if it was from India, then it is deplorable and unacceptable and should not have happened, but it did. As undefendable as it is, it was probably a retaliatory strike by extemists in India for Pakistan’s own Terrorism against India in the Past. That terrorism is well documented and I need to reiterate history here, every one knows it.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive
 

These drones are doing a wonderful job in containing islamic fundamentalists and islamic terrorists hiding like rats in caves and using innocent women and children as shield. In a fragile Pakistan, the presence of nuclear arsenals are equally dangerous for world peace and stability, Obama Administration should do something about this as well.

Posted by anju2008 | Report as abusive
 

The people commenting here have absolutely no idea about pashtun tribal way of life. Armed conflicts and revenge is the main pillars of their culture. These drones attacks might be helpful in eradicating few high value targets but the killing of innocent people who happen to live in the neighborhood generate new millitants to seek revenge. This type of millitancy is a cancer and every body knows that a doctor not knowing about cancer can perform surgery causing it to spread in the whole body. Thats what Bush adminitration did. The common people in tribal areas see drones like machines in movie “Independence day”. Their war is no more religious now, it is hate, anger and revenge which is driving them. Terrorism is a crime and you dont blow up the whole street if a criminal is hiding in a house. Go for the criminals only.

Posted by naughtypakistani | Report as abusive
 

The best use of these machines are to take out the high value targets. Lets say in the tribal areas there has been 100 attacks only 10% of thoses attacks have been sucessfull, where inteligence has been provided by the Pak forces or were based on good inteligence…the rest 90% of attacks were on the innocent civilians.

Dont forget the whole villages and towns under fear with the sound of these machines flying overhead (no i havnt personaly experienced it before one of idiotic freinds comments on it lol).

The bad guys need to be taken out as they are no good for the locals nor for pakistan or the wider world. But at what cost? Firstly lets say you are unlucky enough to be from those villages which are under the militant influence and they decide to take refugee in your village. What choice do you have as a innocent villager, can not exactly dial 999 as no phones and if ever you were found to be a spy for pak/usa then your destiny is your head will NOT be on your shoulders. Which the Pashtuns or the locals are willing to sacrifice but what happens to their families? Who will look after them?

Its easy for people to sit in their comfy sitting rooms and put their points forward but before they do maybe they should try to put theirself in that situation. Maybe then they would realise these people have no choice they are being targeted by the militants or terrorists as well the pak forces and above all the americans. What help has the International community given to these people?

To the locals USA/PAK Forces as well as the terrorist are all enemies destroying the locals way of life, homes, families.

Posted by Hussain | Report as abusive
 

Global Watcher

You should be given the title for having the most idiotic thoughts and views so congarts on that first. Or can anyone blame you if you have graduated from one of the hindu terrorist schools. Everyone is brainwashed to see the bigger India and that hindu dream can only be achieved with Pakistan not there mate that is a dream and keep dreaming.

When yourown government has already pointed the finger at your own security forces but your thick mind is still in dought. You definetly have few screws loose and i strongly suggest you are shown your way to nearest mental hospital lol.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive
 

“”"When yourown government has already pointed the finger at your own security forces but your thick mind is still in dought.”"”
—-posted by Ali
—-Dear Ali, Long time no see. Normal SANE Pakistanis have stopped talking about such conspiracy theories about Mumbai attack. Wake up.
Click here for Mumbai attack investigation by Pakistan
http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/i dUSTRE51B25820090212
One of supsects arrested by Pakistan in Mumbai case has also been linked to Samjhouta express.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

“”"The best use of these machines are to take out the high value targets. Lets say in the tribal areas there has been 100 attacks only 10% of thoses attacks have been sucessfull, where inteligence has been provided by the Pak forces or were based on good inteligence…the rest 90% of attacks were on the innocent civilians”"”
–posted by Hussain
–On the contrary, Pakistani journalists say that drones have been successful in taking out HVT without much collat. damage (article in Dawn). It said that much more civilans are getting killed by militants than drones. But what’s your solution.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

Rajeeve

You idiots are simply obssesed with Pakistan, to defame it in any situation. But you should know that your own goverenment is No saint!

Its been involved in the worst atrocities in Kashmir and even to this day you are still digging graves and by force occupying Kashmir aginst the wishes of the locals. What a democracy hey?

Your own security forces has been harrasing the minorities in all parts of india never mind kashmir. Have been mere spectators whilst your hindu terrorist brothers were raping women in Gujrat, killing the young muslim men and burning their homes.

Your inteligence agencies has been involved in terrorist activaties in Pakistan, Balouchistan and elsewhere they get a chance.

I think either they come to a table start building nutual trust or carry on as they are. Finger poining at each other which does not help any situatuion except the few who are aginst both neighours getting along to derail the fragile peace process.

Lets accept that Pakistan is to blame for ALL of India problem which is just illogical but Pakistan is small, poor country why would it want to have the worst relation with India. It is a Lose Lose situation and it is in the intrest of Pakistan more then India to have good relation with the big neighour. But then the countries who are selling big time weapons to both countries surely would go out of business so its not as simple as some think.

Lets hope is common sense pervails over finger wagging and war mogers in Delhi are held to some accountability for letting down the common man on the street of mumbai. As well as the leaders in Islambad are helo accountable for their action in FATA and the general sec situation in Pakistan. W

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive
 

Hussain, do you have nothing better to do than incite hatred ? It is because of this attitude that problems exist in the first place.I’m all for constructive criticism, but you are really starting to grate on my nerves. You are acting as if the Indian Parliament is reading your drivel and taking notice.

Posted by Kartik Dixit | Report as abusive
 

Before Pakistan becomes a 100% failed state, there are a number of precursor stages it probably will pass through. The most immediate stage would entail the fall of most of the North-West Frontier Province to the Jihadists, something that could happen this year.

Given the number of plots linked to Pakistan in recent years, including the November 26th Mumbai attack and almost every significant plot since 9/11, Pakistan probelm is likely to get worse in the coming months.

 

Correct me if I am wrong…Indians and Pakistanis wear the same clothes,eat the same food,listen to the same music and speak the same languages…so why oh why is there so much conflict ? It’s the same as having ongoing hatred for all those in your own home. How many more lives are to be lost in this constnat display of nastyism ?

Posted by SherDilKhan | Report as abusive
 

My solution is first to distinguish betwen the peace loving locals and the cowards who attack NOT only locals but are involved in attacks inside Pakistan and elsewhere. Once you got locals on the side of the securty forces we can hunt them down either capture them infact just kill them why waste time n money to prove they have commpited the crime.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive
 

naughtypakistaniThe people commenting here have absolutely no idea about pashtun tribal way of life. Armed conflicts and revenge is the main pillars of their culture. These drones attacks …. generate new millitants to seek revenge.”

—Yes, & the Pashtuns shall have their revenge by swimming in the blood of ‘naughty (dirty)pakistani’s…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive
 

Ali
“why would it –worst relation with India. It is a Lose Lose situation — in the intrest of Pakistan -to have good relation with the big neighour. But then the countries who are selling big time weapons to both countries surely would go out of business so its not as simple as some think.”

Huh?Ali is that rrreallyy yo stating the above? what did you have for lunch? a pint of wisdom beer? or are you unwell? lol, well stated anyways…do sneak in such gems sometimes..

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive
 

Despite what U.S has achieved, the Pakistanis are way ahead in robotic military applications. Pakistan has not only developed these robots decades ago but also used them in the field for the last thirty odd years beating U.S hands down in this area. Major Pakistani corporations that have excelled in this field are ‘Lashkar-e Toiba’, ‘Jaish-e-Mohammad’, “Sipah-e-Saheba’ to name a few, carving out a distinct brand image for themselves. Individual robot models go by the product code “Abu this” or “Abu that”. The chief characteristics of these robots are the low levels of programming required to prime them in their tasks. This feature is very helpful as it allows people of extremely limited intelligence to operate them viz. ISI and the Pakistani army. Moreover, these robots are impervious to the risk of obsolescence as they are primed to self-destruct if they are not used in designated conditions (India, Afghanistan etc.) as rising intensity of suicide bombings in Pakistan itself prove. Pakistan is not likely to give up its preeminence in this field anytime soon because of the intrinsic advantages it enjoys, chiefly the abysmal condition of education in the country, the bigotry preached by its mullahs, the stranglehold of the army and the readiness of majority of its people to accept any drivel handed down to it in the name of religion or national security.

Posted by Munna Bhai | Report as abusive
 

Ali Wrote:
“why would it –worst relation with India. It is a Lose Lose situation — in the intrest of Pakistan -to have good relation with the big neighour. But then the countries who are selling big time weapons to both countries surely would go out of business so its not as simple as some think.”

Ali, What happened to you, Usually Zardari spills these pearls when americans are around, But its surprising it came from you.

Anyways good thinking, But Pakistan has a lloonngg way ahead to prove this. I hope your govt. will take strict action against the captured culprits of 26/11, It was a positive one, its the first time you have admitted it. but better late then never.

Keep it up. I appreciate it.

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive
 

Ali:
There is no compelling reason for India to be obsessed with Pakistan, as you have been told many times. India suffers from terrorism driven by Pakistan resulting in the death of thousands of innocents in several parts of India. It is not an opinion, but a fact. So that is the reason other than some temples which I might have liked to visit but demolished by Pakistan (last temple in Lahore; ask for reference).

@Your inteligence agencies has been involved in terrorist activaties in Pakistan, Balouchistan and elsewhere they get a chance.-posted by Ali
—-From above it seems that Balouchistan is a separate country from Pakistan. ?
@Lets hope is common sense pervails over finger wagging and war mogers in Delhi are held to some accountability for letting down the common man on the street of mumbai.
–Why only for Delhi? It would not have come to this if common had prevailed in Delhi 20 yrs ago. Yes the common man in Mumbai—the whole India—wants no terrorism from outside India’s borders. @War mongering?–India sparingly uses the word nuclear vs Islamabad irresponsibly and frequently uses “nuclear-armed Pakistan”. You don’t have to say nuclear 5-times a day—it does not scare anyone but makes one looks stupid.
@Once you got locals on the side of the securty forces we can hunt them down either capture them infact just kill them why waste time n money to prove they have commpited the crime.
—Bulls eye. That’s what India has been saying since 26/11 about the evidence it has produced. Indian evidence is not some non-sense—everyone has progressed beyond conspiracy theories. Indian evidence is the best you get in terrorism cases—common an alive terrorist, what more is needed—just the will power of Pakistan. Pak and India both know who actually did 26/11 (let us not talk now about other blasts), so why not take those guys out—the reason is known and it is waste of my time to repeat. Do you not think that Let, JeM etc.should be eliminated.
@Your own security forces has been harrasing the minorities in all parts of india never mind kashmir.
—Ali, as they say ‘Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.’ WE have never shied away from accepting our faults. Some are true, many stories are one time for the magaizine cover and rest supported by propaganda and speculations. India has counter-mechanisms. Tell me about this: In Pak Hindus have been reduced from ~15% in 1947 to ~2% now. Ethnic cleansing? Rapes, abductions, forced marriages on Hindus and other minorities too. It will not be unfair to say that Pak state has political system oppressive against minorities and women (rapes, honor killings…..). In India, Muslim population ahs increased. India has a system that Muslims will not go from 14% to 2%. Quality too—look at what Indian Muslims have achieved. If you take a poll today, all minorities will like to stay with India bec. there are counter-mechanisms to take care of that. Kashmiris also want to stay with India, not independent, not with Pakistan—elections were encouraging sign. Independent Kashmir or merger with Pak is your wish, not Kasmiris’. Did you read Sohail’s post (from, Srinagar) who said that he wants to stay with India. I have heard that from multiple Indian Kashmiris. It has been about Pakistan, not for Kashmiris,–that’s the reason for this violence in Kashmir and in India.
@it is in the intrest of Pakistan more then India to have good relation with the big neighour. But then the countries who are selling big time weapons to both countries surely would go out of business so its not as simple as some think.
——Pakistan is dependent on the outside world, including China and the West. West is not what Pakistani citizens like but Pak cannot help due to survival. It needs to quit paranoia of India, spend money on development and try to become self-reliant if Islamabad wants to say No to whatever West or China want. Quiting India Paranoia and self reliance is in Pak’s interest in every way. Nuclear-armed Pak is great but a common man needs more than that. Getting out of this weapon-based economy loop will be easier.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

High-tech or low-tech, all indications are that the US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will escalate and intensify into a regional war under President Obama. I hear the echoes of Indo-China in the words and actions of Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 

Anup, the party will be over for you also as they are swimming towards east :) .

Posted by naughtypakistani | Report as abusive
 

Riaz Haq
“I hear the echoes of Indo-China in the words and actions of Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

— Sir, could you oblige by elaborating on your above cited statement, it would surely be interesting to view your perception…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive
 

I would have sympathised with Pakistan if US was using the drones from outside the so called sovereign country:

http://beta.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/Daw n%20Content%20Library/dawn/news/pakistan  /drone-attacks-emanate-from-pak-bases-u s-senator-yn

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive
 

Obama and Holbrooke both know Kashmir is part of India itself. They don’t want to appear stupidly foolish by falling into the Pakistani trap and raise the Kashmir issue after Pakistani nationals murdered 172 civilians from 10 nations in Mumbai. The Americans would be rewarding Pakistanis and as much as Pakistan wants it, the Americans are not that stupid to follow “dick” Nixon’s 1971 stupidity to cross Indians and support Pakistani slaughter of Bangladeshis. Especially after Pakistan’s antisemetic terrorism in Mumbai.
Holbrooke is a much more intelligent diplomat than Pakistanis give him credit for. By sponsoring Mumbai attacks on civilians, Pakistanis have forever lost Indian good will and earned isolation, hate and scorn from all civilized nations. It is stop dreaming about hegymony and mind your on country’s problems. Kashmir is now off the table for good after Mumbai.

What is this nonsense I hear about “Pakistan being sovreign nation” and “No drones in FATA”??
Hon. President Barrack Hussein Obama, Commander-In-Chief of the the most powerful Superpower in the Universe is a paying customer of Pakistan (some $20 billion US taxpayers monies, most of which is and was used for nefarious puposes and stolen by your leaders), and as such he or his surrogates, the CIA have every right to bend Pakistan a little and penetrate from behind into Pakistan’s “hot-bed”, FATA, as many times a day as he pleases, as agreed upon by your leaders.
Before Pakistanis start to complain about drones, gets all sore and uncomfortable, consider this , your own leadership declares every day “we Pakistanis are victims of terrorism” and “US must invest in Pakistan so the hopeless youth stop getting recruited as terrorists”.
After what the terrorists did to your other leader Benazir Bhutto, Pakistanis ought to be thankful to Obama for hitting the bad guys, but instead you are ungrateful? With “allies” like you who needs enemies right?
If you want America to give you unlimited Dollars in aid, then play by Obama’s rules. Its not that hard to understand. How else is America going to trust Pakistan with nukes and all the F22s and F35s you want, when you fail such basic test? Instead you give America a reason for distrust and are backing off from your ‘front-line ally” status already by not standing with USA and fighting shoulder to shoulder. How? By torching USA’s 250 loaded military trucks in Karachi and Peshawar enroute to Afghanistan based US troops. Do you think this is a good way to extract favors or money out of a very kind friend and Superpower, USA? You guys are really getting stupid!
Even Pakistan’s “all weather” and BFF China backed off helping Pakistan after what you guys did in Mumbai, all the evidence as seen and verfified by the EU and USA to be Pakistani supported terror ativity.
Well I hope Almighty give Pakistani people the smarts to choose wisely to avoid disasters in their path, because their so called “leaders” will be enjoying wine with the Sheiks in Dubai when and if the US or one of Pakistan’s neigbor does throw a “game-changer” at Pakistan to alter history and geography of Pakistan forever.
I pray to God that day never comes – but as you know some times prayers do get unanswered.
Peace – Nathuram Waghmare

Posted by Nathuram Waghmare | Report as abusive
 

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