Retired Pakistani General Hamid Gul says the United States and its allies are seeking to destroy Pakistan by fueling insecurity in the country.
The former head of Pakistan’s Intelligence Service (ISI) alleged that Washington used the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City as a pretext to invade the neighboring Afghanistan.
The former Pakistani intelligence chief, who was often accused of collaborating with the Taliban militant group in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also stated that the United States has failed in Afghanistan and is now seeking to destroy Pakistan.
General Gul also pointed out that the US military will have to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and follow the example of the former Soviet Union in accepting defeat after its military occupation of the country in the late 1970s.
The administration of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has initiated a negotiating process with the pro-Taliban militants in an effort to end the violence in the country.
There are speculations that the negotiations may not succeed as the militants have set tough conditions for the talks.
Pakistan has been gripped by deadly violence since 2001, after Islamabad joined the so-called US war on terror. According to official Pakistani sources, nearly 50,000 people have lost their lives in fatal attacks across the country ever since.
The US Central Intelligence Agency is seeking new drone bases in unnamed countries in Central Asia, fearing the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would affect the targeted killings in neighboring Pakistan.
The spy agency asserts that if the US fails to sign a bilateral security deal with Afghanistan and secure an enduring military presence there, it would not be able to fly drones from its Afghan bases because drone operations are covert and need US military protection.
The security deal, which Washington says “ought to be signed” and is not renegotiable, could allow thousands of US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
However, despite pressures from the White House and Congress, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign the deal and the US intelligence community is hoping that the next Afghan president will agree to sign it.
Worried that its drone killings can become a casualty of strained relations between Kabul and Washington, the CIA is reportedly making contingency plans to use bases in other countries.
“There are contingency plans for alternatives in the north,” an unnamed US official briefed on the matter told the Los Angeles Times without specifying the countries.
According to Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts professor, the CIA and the Pentagon used to fly drones from an airbase in Uzbekistan until the US was evicted in 2005.
Michael Nagata, commander of US special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, also traveled last month to Tajikistan, which is Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, to discuss “issues of bilateral security cooperation” and “continued military cooperation.”
Meanwhile, US officials say a new jet-powered drone, called Avenger, which will be able to “get to ‘hot’ targets in Pakistan much faster,” could soon be flying from bases outside Afghanistan.
The CIA is in charge of drone strikes in Pakistan since the country is not officially a war zone and the CIA’s program is covert.
US President Barack Obama has already stated that the responsibility for Washington’s deadly drone attacks could gradually shift from the CIA to the Pentagon. However, the idea of putting the US military in charge of drone attacks is not favored by US lawmakers.
… There are various ways in which modern law is not married to good sense. For example, one opinion of the United States Supreme Court tells us that your innocence is not constitutionally relevant to whether you should be executed. But recently, British courts have rivalled their counterparts across the pond in competing for the most senseless judgment. The latest example came just yesterday, when three British judges said they could not rule on whether British officials were complicit in murdering Pakistani civilians in US drone strikes because that might embarrass our friends in America.
The case involves a Pakistani called Noor Khan. I have met him. A habitually calm young man, he was understandably incensed when his father was killed – in one of the catastrophes of the US drone age – in the region of Pakistan that borders on Afghanistan. The drone strike was patently illegal; there is no war with Pakistan, and the Predator drone fired hellfire missiles that killed some fifty innocent elders who were holding a jirga or local council meeting, peacefully trying to resolve a local dispute over a chromite mine.
It was the equivalent of bombing the High Court in London. It was both the domestic crime of murder, and the international war crime of targeting civilians.
Sad to say, there is evidence that the British security services have been supplying the US with intelligence that has led to a number of these strikes. The simple claim that Khan was making, too late to save his father, was that GCHQ should not be allowed to do this if their own actions violate British and international law.
British domestic law criminalises the “intentional encouraging or assisting” of the crime of murder. The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 defines one crime against humanity as a mass killing of members of a civilian population. Another is an intentional attack against a person not taking a direct part in hostilities.
Those whose actions are being questioned are not soldiers risking their lives fighting a legal war (who are therefore covered by combatant immunity); they are intelligence officers who, sitting comfortably in Cheltenham over a cup of coffee, are instrumental in one of the most serious criminal acts. … Full article
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One of Pakistan’s major political parties has published the name of what it believes to be the CIA’s chief operative in Islamabad after a US drone strike killed five people last week. The group demanded on Wednesday that the spy chief face murder charges.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), led by the country’s cricket star Imran Khan, dropped the name of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative to police in a letter in which the party demanded that the agent face up to the “gross offence” of the drone strike.
The letter was released to the media. However, the name could not be independently verified.
“I would like to nominate the US clandestine agency CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) Station Chief in Islamabad … and CIA Director John O. Brennan for committing the gross offences of committing murder and waging war against Pakistan,” PTI information secretary Shireen Mazarisaid wrote in the letter.
“CIA station chief is not a diplomatic post, therefore he does not enjoy any diplomatic immunity and is within the bounds of domestic laws of Pakistan,” the letter added. The complaint was lodged with Tal police station in Hangu district, northwestern Pakistan.
Intelligence agencies in foreign countries make a habit of keeping the identities of their agents and operatives private. If the PTI has successfully named the right person then he may be forced to leave the country.
This would not be the first time that an American operative has been outed in the country. In 2010 a former station chief was forced to leave Pakistan after his name was also revealed during a drone strike which led to the deaths of civilians.
The drone strike on 21 November was extremely provocative as it was one of the first outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, and killed five militants – among them a senior commander of the Haqqani Network.
A separate strike at the beginning of November, which killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, prompted Khan to react with similar fury over how continued strikes could scuttle peace talks.
“The Taliban held only one condition for the peace talks and that was that drone attacks must end,” he said at a press conference. “But just before the talks began we saw this sabotage.”
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd would not confirm the Islamabad station chief’s name to the AP and declined to comment on the matter immediately.
Thousands of demonstrators protesting US drone strikes in Pakistan blocked a main road Saturday in the Peshawar province used to transport NATO supplies to and from Afghanistan.
The protests was led by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which is led by Imran Khan, a former international cricketer now turned politician.
They were supported by their allies in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government and they were also joined by the Jamaat -i-Islami (JI) and the Awami Jamhoori Ittehad (AJIP) political parties.
“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told reporters.
“We are here to give a clear message that now Pakistanis cannot remain silent over drone attacks,” said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a senior member of the PTI, addressing the protesters.
Imran Khan has been a fierce critic of US drone attacks, arguing that they violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Khan said that the Pakistani government is doing nothing to stop drone attacks except for issuing statements of condemnation and that the protest would continue indefinitely.
Khan stressed that NATO supplies would not be allowed to pass through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly called North-West Frontier Province, and added that the province’s PTI-led government had the mandate to block NATO trucks from passing through its territory.
Earlier Imran Khan had warned that NATO supply routes will be blocked if continuing US drone strikes in Pakistan threaten the country’s peace talks with the Taliban.
An attack on November 1 killed the former leader of the Pakistan Taliban, a day before the Pakistani government said it was going to invite him to peace talks. Officials said they were enraged by the attacks, although the Pakistani government is known to have supported some of the drone attacks in the past.
Party workers from the PTI and the JI travelled to Peshawar from across Pakistan and an estimated 10,000 people participated in Saturday’s protests. The protesters shouted anti US slogans such as “Stop drone attacks” and “Down with America”.
“I am participating in today’s sit-in to convey a message to America that we hate them since they are killing our people in drone attacks. America must stop drone attacks for peace in our country,” Hussain Shah, a 21 year old university student, told Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.
American drones are performing regular extrajudicial killings of Islamist leaders, accompanied by the collateral damage of many civilian casualties.
Strict security measures were in place Saturday, with 500 police personnel on duty. Trucks were directed to use an alternative route, although Tahir Khan, a government official, said there was normally little NATO traffic Saturday as most of the trucks arrive by Friday night to clear the border crossing.
However, protesters said that they would begin to stop trucks carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from Sunday night, which could spark conflict with the federal government in Pakistan.
The US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.
When a man shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year, Barack Obama announced how “deeply saddened” he was that such an attack “took place at a house of worship.” His Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, likewise expressed his disgust at “a senseless act of violence . . . that should never befall any house of worship.”
At the time, that was grotesquely funny because, by that point, Barack Obama had himself committed numerous acts of senseless violence against houses of worship. And, being the commander-in-chief of a military fighting a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he dramatically expanded upon taking office, he has continued to bomb religious institutions ever since.
As Reuters reported on Wednesday:
A suspected U.S. drone fired on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan’s northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa early on Thursday, killing at least five people, police said. [...]
Fareed Khan, a police officer, said the unmanned aircraft fired at least three rockets at the madrassa in the Hangu district, killing two teachers and three students just before sunrise on Thursday.
Now, and this is important: an anonymous official did say a potentially bad person was potentially seen at that madrassa a few days earlier (potentially), so Barack Obama can sleep soundly at night knowing he authorized the killing of a few people who were probably familiar with that bad guy…
Meanwhile Reuters continues:
The attack took place a day after Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying that the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The United States has not commented on Aziz’s remarks.
I’m really pretty sure that it has.
The only surprising thing about the news that the US is sabotaging peace moves in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that anyone should find the news surprising.
As reported on RT, Pakistan has accused the US of sabotaging peace talks between the authorities in Islamabad and the Taliban following last Friday’s drone assassination of the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
“The murder of Hakimullah is the murder of all efforts at peace,” Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisa said. “Brick by brick, in the last seven weeks, we tried to evolve a process by which we could bring peace to Pakistan and what have you [the US] done?”
The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud comes less than a month after the US effectively wrecked the Afghan government’s efforts to engage with the Taliban by capturing Latif Mehsud, Hakimullah’s lieutenant. Latif Mehsud was the man that the Afghan government hoped would be a go-between for peace talks with the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was reported to have been furious about the US operation. Karzai has also said that the drone strike against Hakimullah Mehsud “took place at an unsuitable time.”
The fact is that on several important occasions in the last 30 years or so, the US has wrecked peace efforts and used its power to provoke or prolong conflicts which could have been avoided or solved without further bloodshed.
1. Iraq 1990-1991
From August 1990 to January 1991, there were plenty of chances to achieve a diplomatic solution in relation to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and which would have resulted in an Iraqi withdrawal, but Washington was determined to go to war. When the war started, they rejected diplomatic moves, such as the plan put forward by the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to end the conflict before ground troops were deployed in Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein’s forces could have been removed from Kuwait without a war in which many thousands were killed, but Washington didn’t want it.
That was at the start of the ’90s. Now let‘s fast forward to the end of that decade. In order to complete the destruction of Federal Yugoslavia, Washington aggressively championed the cause of a hardcore terrorist group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, in the late 1990s. The US marginalized Kosovar leaders who wanted to pursue a peaceful path towards independence, such as the politician Ibrahim Rugova, who urged passive resistance. Instead they pushed for a violent solution to the problem of Kosovo’s status: their strategy being to provoke a retaliation from the government in Belgrade, which would then provide the pretext for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
The Rambouillet Conference of March 1999 was ostensibly about trying to broker a peace deal between the Kosovar Albanian delegates and the Yugoslav authorities. But the terms were deliberately made so onerous – Appendix B allowed NATO forces freedom of movement throughout the whole of Yugoslavia – so as to guarantee its rejection by Belgrade.
“I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in NATO at that time,” revealed Lord Gilbert, a UK minister of state for defense procurement, in 2000. “If you ask my personal view, I think the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable. How could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate.”
Even Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state and a man who can hardly be labeled a ‘peacenik‘, admitted: “The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing.”
Again, Washington had sabotaged a peaceful solution to a dispute and war ensued, with all its horrors.
3. Iraq 2002-2003
In 2002/3 we had the contrived WMD ’crisis’ with Iraq.
If Washington had genuinely been concerned about the possibility of Iraq being in possession of WMDs, they would simply have waited for Hans Blix and his team of UN weapons inspectors to finish their job. However, as we all know, the WMDs issue was merely a pretext for war, with the US knowing full well that the country was disarmed. The Iraqis were desperate to avert an attack on their country, but diplomatic offers from Baghdad in the lead-up to the illegal invasion were dismissed.
The result of the US opting for war and not peace in Iraq has been the deaths of at least 500,000 people since 2003.
In 2011, a UN resolution ostensibly about protecting civilians was used by the US and its NATO allies as a pretext for forcibly removing from power the government of Libya. During this ‘humanitarian’ intervention, which led to a sharp spike in the death toll, Washington and its allies frequently rejected calls for a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution. Today, Libya is – like Iraq – a wrecked country. But it all could have been very different, if Washington, instead of opting for war, had worked to bring warring factions to the negotiating table.
In Syria too, the US has set out since 2011 to prevent a peaceful solution to the country’s internal divisions. While an outright NATO attack on Syria has, at least for the time being, been avoided, it’s been public opinion in Western countries and adroit Russian diplomacy which has prevented World War III from breaking out in the Middle East this year, rather than America’s leaders suddenly turning over a new leaf.
If the US genuinely wanted an end to the terrible bloodshed in Syria they’d be encouraging the so-called ‘rebels’ to halt their campaign of violence and sign up to the political process and contest elections.
The Baathists have made significant reforms in Syria in the past two years, not least ending the party’s near five-decade long political monopoly, but Washington hasn’t been interested in peaceful democratic change, only in the violent overthrow of President Assad and his replacement by someone who will do its bidding. The result of this policy has been catastrophic for the people of Syria who, like the people of Iraq and Libya, watch as their country is destroyed before their very eyes.
While promoting itself as the great ‘peacemaker’, it’s the sober truth that no country has done more to stoke up conflicts and sabotage peaceful solutions to them in recent years than the US, with the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud being only the latest example.
Why does the US act in this destructive way? It’s important to understand that the US government doesn’t act in the interests of the ordinary, decent Americans, who are sick and tired of war and military ‘interventions’, but in the interests of Wall Street and what President Eisenhower famously referred to as ‘the military-industrial complex’.
The very last thing that Wall Street and the military-industrial complex want is peace. They thrive on wars and conflicts. Wars and conflicts mean profits. Nice, big, juicy profits. As Charlie Chaplin‘s anti-hero Monsieur Verdoux put it, “Wars, conflicts – it’s all business.”
Last month a report by the Public Accountability Initiative revealed that many of the leading ‘commentators’ who went on US TV stations to call for military strikes against Syria had undisclosed ties to military contractors. The report “identifies 22 commentators who weighed in during the Syria debate in large media outlets, and who have current industry ties that may pose conflicts of interest. The commentators are linked to large defense and intelligence contractors like Raytheon, smaller defense and intelligence contractors like TASC, defense-focused investment firms like SCP Partners, and commercial diplomacy firms like the Cohen Group.”
Among the ‘commentators’ supporting strikes on Syria was Madeline Albright, the US secretary of state at the time of the phony ‘peace’ conference at Rambouillet in 1999.
Bombing Yugoslavia, bombing Syria. With the violent destruction of Iraq and Libya along the way, to say nothing of the turmoil US policies have brought to Afghanistan and Pakistan. John Lennon implored us to ‘give peace a chance’, but until the US radically changes its political system and power is returned to ordinary people and away from those with a vested interest in endless war, its stoking up of conflicts and sabotaging of peace initiatives will only continue.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Friday condemned the latest U.S. drone attack and termed it as an attempt to sabotage the proposed peace talks with the Taliban.
The U.S. unmanned aircraft fired missiles on a house and vehicles of the Pakistani Taliban leaders in North Waziristan tribal region and killed six of them.
Local media said the American drone launched the strike at a time when the Taliban leaders were holding a meeting in their stronghold Dandey Darpakhel area.
Two Taliban figures, Tariq Mehsood, personal guard of the Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsood, and another commander identified as Abdullah were among those killed, local media reported.
Geo television reported that the vehicle targeted in the strike was being used by the chief of Pakistani Taliban chief, Hakimullah Mehsood. But it was not clear if Hakimullah Mehsood was in the vehicle at the time of the strike.
Dunya TV quoted security sources that Hakimullah Mehsood was killed in the strike.
Taliban and the government have not officially confirmed the reports.
The interior minister angrily reacted to the U.S. attack as it was carried out at a time when the government was set to begin talks with Taliban militants.
He said in a statement that the government has planned to send a three member delegation for initial discussion with the Taliban on Saturday. “We think that the latest drone attack was an attempt to sabotage the dialogue,” Chaudhry Nisar said.
Local media quoted security sources as saying that the American spy aircraft struck the Taliban compound when the Taliban were holding a meeting of their central council. Hakimullah Mehsood was scheduled to preside over the council’s meeting.
Some sources said the meeting was called to discuss strategy for talks with the government.
Reports suggested that the Taliban were holding the meeting when the U.S. drone rained missiles into the area.
Another report said that local Taliban chief, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Friday asked the residents to leave North Waziristan for a week in view of the deteriorating situation in the region.
A pamphlet distributed in the region asked the people to take their precious items with them.
For the first time since the United States began using drones to attack foreign enemies, members of Congress had the chance this week to hear directly from civilian survivors of such attacks at a special hearing.
But only five lawmakers bothered to show up.
The five representatives—all Democrats—were: Alan Grayson of Florida, John Conyers of Michigan, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Rush Holt of New Jersey, and Rick Nolan of Minnesota.
They heard from a Pakistani schoolteacher, Rafiq ur Rehman, and his two children, who traveled to Washington, DC, to describe the U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on October 24, 2012, that killed Rafiq’s mother, midwife Momina Bibi, and injured his two offspring.
Using a translator, the survivors talked about their experience, and how it changed their lives.
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey,” Zubair ur Rehman, 13, said, adding that his leg was injured by shrapnel during the strike.
At one point in the testimony, the translator broke down in tears while relaying the family’s ordeal.
Grayson invited the guests to appear before Congress, telling The Guardian that the hearing was intended “simply to get people to start to think through the implications of killing hundreds of people ordered by the president, or worse, unelected and unidentifiable bureaucrats within the Department of Defense without any declaration of war.”
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama prior to the testimony. “The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed–a 65-year-old grandmother of nine.”
“But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this,” he continued. “No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable. Quite simply, nobody seems to care.
“Bombs create only hatred in the hearts of people. And that hatred and anger breeds more terrorism.”
The family’s effort to travel to the U.S. to testify made news prior to the hearing when the State Department refused to grant a visa to their lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, who has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. drone war in Pakistan.
With their attorney prevented from entering the U.S., the family was joined by Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a British human rights organization.
To Learn More:
State Department Blocks Lawyer of U.S. Drone Strike Survivors from Testifying Before Congress (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
A new documentary by Madiha Tahir
The drone war is obscure by design. Operated by armchair pilots from clandestine bases across the American west, the Predators and Reapers fly over Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas at invisible heights, where they are on orders from the CIA to kill “high value” targets with laser-guided “surgical” precision thousands of feet below. But because of where the Hellfire missiles land, and because the program is operated in secret, verifying their precision and their lasting effects isn’t easy.
For years, US officials have downplayed the number of civilian deaths in particular, even as a chorus of independent reports have offered their own grim estimates. The latest, according to new research by the United Nations and Amnesty International: 58 civilians killed in Yemen, and up to nine hundred in Pakistan. In a speech in May, President Obama finally broke his silence on drones, acknowledging that civilians had been killed—he didn’t say how many—and promising more transparency for the program. “Those deaths,” added the President, “will haunt us for as long as we live.”
For journalist Madiha Tahir, the numbers are important, but they’re not the whole story. Her documentary “Wounds of Waziristan,” which premieres above, features interviews with the people who live in the southern part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, bordering Afghanistan, under the eyes of the drones, and in the wake of their destruction. The film switches up the typical calculus that drives the drone debate at home. Tahir, who grew up between Pakistan and the U.S., points out that drone strikes aren’t just about the numbers of casualties, or the kinds of ethical arguments that arise around “just war” concepts like proportionality. The effects of the drone war have as much to do with the way those casualties rip apart communities and haunt the living, in distant places that exist on the fringes of law and order.
“Because drones are at a certain remove, there is a sense of uncertainty, a sense that you can’t control this,” Tahir says, describing the attitude among the people who live in Waziristan. Already haunted by the legacy of British colonialism and the laws it left behind, this part of the Tribal Areas is now ruled with a brutal fist by the Pakistani military and various insurgent groups. But the buzz of the drones, sometimes seven or eight overhead a day, signals another kind of indeterminate power. “Whether its true or not, people feel that with militants there is some degree of control. You can negotiate. There is some cause and effect. But there is no cause and effect with drones. It’s an acute kind of trauma that is not limited to the actual attack.”
For the operators of the drone program, who have launched more than 300 missile attacks in Pakistan since 2008, the political vacuum of the Tribal Areas have encouraged a special kind of war-on-terror calculus. As the New York Times reported last year, the American government has been counting all military-age males in a strike zone as “militants,” which leads to skewed figures about who exactly has been killed. The Obama administration has executed “signature strikes,” drone attacks based on a so-called “pattern of life” analysis in which simply suspicious behavior is enough to qualify for an attack. And in a so-called “double tap” maneuver, a second attack follows an initial strike, killing those who have come to recover bodies from the scene.
“When an attack happens, the media claims to know how many militants were killed,” says Noor Behram, a journalist in the Tribal Areas who has been photographing the casualties of drone strikes for years. “Actually, you only find body parts on the scene, so people can’t tell how many have died.”
In one interview, Tahir speaks with a man from South Waziristan named Karim Khan, whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike. “What is the definition of terrorism?” he asks her, and she returns the question to him. His tired eyes light up.
“I think there is no bigger terrorist than Obama or Bush,” he says. “Those who have weaponry like drones, who drop bombs on us while we are in our own homes, there are no greater terrorists than them.” …
While there is rightly much media attention on the US drone war in Pakistan and Yemen, there is a very different but over-looked “drone war” taking place in Europe right now. In parliamentary committee rooms, in company boardrooms, and in packed public meetings, arguments rage about whether Europe should embrace or reject the use of armed drones.
Many European armed forces already have unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, in their armories for reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance purposes. Increasingly, however, European countries are under pressure to follow in the footsteps of the US and embrace the use of armed drones.
The UK has been a long-time partner with the US in using armed drones, with British military forces using US Predator drones in Iraq starting in 2004 before acquiring their own Reaper drones for use in Afghanistan in 2007. Since then, the UK has launched more than 400 missiles and bombs from its drones in Afghanistan and this is likely to increase as the UK doubles its armed drone fleet over the next year while also now directly operating drones from UK as well as US soil.
So far no other European country has used armed drones. French forces have used unarmed Harfang drones (based on Israel’s Heron) in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali; German forces in Afghanistan have been using unarmed Luna and Israeli Heron drones, and Italy has been operating unarmed drones alongside the US in Libya and Afghanistan from a joint Italian-US ground control station at Amendola airbase in southeast Italy.
But despite widespread public opposition, growing pressure from the pro-drone lobby and military companies is pushing European countries to acquire armed drone capability. After much debate, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suddenly announced in the summer that France would be acquiring armed US drones. Very rapidly French pilots have begun training on Reaper UAVs in the US and it looks likely that France will put armed drones over Mali by the end of the year. In Germany,despite huge opposition, the German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière declared, “We cannot keep the stagecoach while others are developing the railway.”
Across Europe, the acquisition of armed drones is highly controversial. Many political parties are divided on the issue – or flatly oppose it – and there is much public hostility. A Pew Research Poll conducted in 2012 showed widespread opposition to drone strikes, including 59% of people in Germany, 63% in France, 76% in Spain, 55% in Italy, and a whopping 90% in Greece. Only the UK did not have a majority of its public against the use of armed drones but even so, only 44% were in favor.
In the US, opposition to the drone wars is focused on the use of drones for targeted killing. In Europe however, the focus is much more on whether the so-called “risk free” nature of drone warfare – at least to your own forces – will simply lead to more armed conflict, as well as an expansion of targeted killing and a lowering of global security in general. Across Europe protests, parliamentary hearings and public meetings on the use of armed drones are increasing.
But the pro-drone lobby is not running up the white flag just yet. Behind the scenes, the drone lobby is trying to persuade European governments to ignore the public anxiety and commit to armed unmanned systems. Their strategically placed Op-Eds extol the economic virtue of developing armed drones and of not being “left behind”. At the same time, NATO and European Union officials are urging European countries to increase spending on drones. US military companies are actively trying to amend international treaties in order to export armed drone technology to Europe. And senior arms company executives are directly lobbying European governments to commit to developing and building a future European armed drone. Already European military companies are devoting much effort and resources towards future combat drones, with known programs under development including BAE System’s Taranis and Mantis drones, Dassault’s Neuron and EADS’ Talarion. There are also on-going covert programs that are not as yet public.
As US and European combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan over the next 12 months, the war over drones in Europe is likely to get more intense. The drone lobby will try to clinch deals citing that a war-weary public is unlikely to support putting ‘boots on the ground’ anytime soon and will therefore support remotely controlled warfare. Skeptics will be demanding more transparency and information about exactly how drones have been used in Afghanistan – including proper casualty data – in order to assess the professed “pin point” accuracy of armed drone strikes and make informed decisions about future use. And opponents will ramp up their protests. For the moment at least, there will be no ceasefire in Europe’s drone war.
Chris Cole is a renowned expert on European drones and the director of Drone Wars UK.