US to con­tinue drone as­sas­si­na­tions


DON­ALD TRUMP will in­herit a mil­i­tary drone tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tion pro­gramme for which Barack Obama failed to put any ef­fec­tive rules in place and which has killed up to 4,666 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 745 civil­ians, un­der his pres­i­dency, new fig­ures show.

Ex­perts on Amer­ica’s covert use of drones in its war on ter­ror be­lieve Trump could use the so­phis­ti­cated mil­i­tary hard­ware, which are mostly pi­loted re­motely from the US, to ful­fil pre­vi­ous pledges to “bomb the s ... t out of IS” and “wipe So­mali pi­rates off the face of the Earth”.

There are wor­ries this could re­sult in an in­creased death toll of in­no­cent civil­ians, or “col­lat­eral dam­age” as some mil­i­tary strate­gists la­bel them.

New fig­ures col­lated by the Bureau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism in Lon­don show that Obama had au­tho­rised 541 CIA drone strikes on al­leged ex­trem­ists in Pak­istan, Ye­men and So­ma­lia in the past eight years – 10 times more than his pre­de­ces­sor Ge­orge W. Bush.

The bureau be­lieves th­ese strikes had killed be­tween 2,906 and 4,666 peo­ple, of whom at least 325 were civil­ians although the fig­ure could be as high as 745. Many of the rest were re­garded by the US as op­er­a­tives work­ing for Al-Qaeda, the Tal­iban, AlShabaab and other ex­trem­ist groups, though a large num­ber are uniden­ti­fied and their sta­tus as a civil­ian or ter­ror­ist is just not known.

All th­ese strikes were car­ried out in ar­eas where there is no of­fi­cially de­clared US the­atre of war.

In ad­di­tion, Air­wars, another UK-based jour­nal­ism and re­port­ing project, es­ti­mates a fur­ther 900 drone strikes have been au­tho­rised by the Pen­tagon since 2014 in the of­fi­cial war zones of Iraq and Syria.

Air­wars direc­tor Chris Woods – a for­mer BBC jour­nal­ist who helped es­tab­lish the Bureau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism’s dronere­port­ing project and is con­sid­ered a world lead­ing au­thor­ity on the use of drones – be­lieves there is a “real worry” about how Trump might em­brace the tech­nol­ogy.

He said Obama’s fail­ure to set in stone ef­fec­tive con­crete rules on how drones should be used could be ex­ploited by his suc­ces­sor.

He added that re­cent his­tory shows the cam­paign rhetoric used by pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates was a guide to their fu­ture record in of­fice.

He told The In­de­pen­dent: “Obama warned us dur­ing his own cam­paign trail back in 2008 that he would es­ca­late drone war­fare. He men­tioned about 30 times that he would take the war against Al-Qaeda to Pak­istan.

“That’s why we have to worry about Don­ald Trump. You have to lis­ten to what he has al­ready said. He’s al­ready said he might de­lib­er­ately tar­get the fam­i­lies of se­nior IS mil­i­tants – which would be a war crime.

“For years now the CIA and Pen­tagon have sug­gested the West can con­duct air wars with­out killing civil­ians – this is un­true.

“Trump has no insider ex­pe­ri­ence and I think he has been tak­ing that at face value. Maybe in Trump’s mind when he hears that bombs don’t kill civil­ians he thinks he can just blitz cities with­out any col­lat­eral dam­age.

“But the big­gest er­ror of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is not putting a de­cent rule book in place for the tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tion pro­gramme. Trump will now in­herit a pro­gramme with no ef­fec­tive rules in place.”

How­ever, Woods said there could be one lim­i­ta­tion to Trump’s am­bi­tions: money.

He said: “Rel­a­tively speak­ing the drones them­selves are fairly cheap com­pared with the al­ter­na­tives. What’s ex­pen­sive is the huge num­ber of per­son­nel needed to run the fleet. Thou­sands of an­a­lysts are look­ing at the data from the drones and assess­ing in­tel­li­gence on the ground.”

Trump would have to raise new funds from Congress, which is con­trolled by his own Repub­li­can party.

How the fu­ture US pres­i­dent will con­duct the covert war on ter­ror in the bor­der ar­eas of Pak­istan and Afghanistan – for ex­am­ple, more like fel­low Repub­li­can Bush, or Obama – is un­clear.

Jack Serle, a re­porter at the Bureau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism who has spent five years ex­am­in­ing CIA drone strikes, said there was an es­ca­la­tion in num­bers from Bush to Obama.

He said this was partly be­cause Obama pre­ferred drones to Bush’s “boots on the ground” ap­proach, but more be­cause the na­ture of com­bat in the re­gions had changed.

Serle said: “In Ye­men, there was only one strike with Bush and but with Obama there has been more than 130. This was partly to do with the growth of Al-Qaeda in the Arab Penin­sula, which came into ex­is­tence in 2009.

“The or­der of mag­ni­tude of dif­fer­ence can also be at­trib­uted to Obama’s re­newed fo­cus on Afghanistan.

“In­sur­gents used Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas as a base of op­er­a­tion – where they could rearm and re­cu­per­ate.

“Un­der Bush the CIA was tar­get­ing Al Qaeda in Pak­istan, and its al­lies. But un­der Obama the strikes were tar­get­ing Afghan in­sur­gents who were cross­ing the bor­der, un­der Obama they were both coun­tert­er­ror­ism strikes and counter-in­sur­gency strikes.

“In Pak­istan the drone strikes are un­der con­trol of the CIA, a fun­da­men­tally se­cret or­gan­i­sa­tion. This lack of trans­parency has made it dif­fi­cult to chal­lenge as­ser­tions that drone strikes are fun­da­men­tally safe for civil­ians.

“I think there is a dan­ger that if pol­icy mak­ers and de­ci­sion-mak­ers start to be­lieve the over­in­flated sense of pre­ci­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion they are more likely to em­ploy this method.

“There is no such thing as ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“The US drone pro­gramme is very much part of a larger sys­tem de­vel­oped by the Pen­tagon, a huge net­work of in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and dis­sem­i­na­tion. Drones are just a part of that and that has been de­vel­oped over a long pe­riod.”

Laura Pit­ter, se­nior national se­cu­rity coun­sel at Hu­man Rights Watch US, said: “There are pro­ce­dures in place but there are a lot of is­sues with those rules. We don’t feel like they are strong enough.

“They should not be ap­ply­ing war time rules in those places and the con­cern is those rules will go by the way­side.

“The con­cern is that once Trump takes of­fice he will throw the pres­i­den­tial pol­icy di­rec­tive out of the win­dow. He will use th­ese pow­ers more ag­gres­sively, given what he said on the cam­paign trail.” – The In­de­pen­dent

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