Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Trump Is Killing Record Numbers of Civilians

A MQ-1 Predator over Tikrit, Iraq. (Photo: Terry Moore / Stocktrek Images)
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
By Marjorie Cohn,
Truthout | News Analysis

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump advocated killing innocent families of suspected terrorists. "When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families," he declared. Besides the immorality of killing innocents, the targeting of civilians violates the Geneva Conventions.

The George W. Bush administration unlawfully detained and tortured suspected terrorists. Determined not to send more suspects to Guantánamo, Barack Obama's administration illegally assassinated them with drones and other methods, killing many civilians in the process.

Now the Trump administration is killing record numbers of civilians and weakening the already-flimsy targeted killing rules Obama put in place.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

In 2013, the Obama administration promulgated a set of requirements regarding targeted killings "outside areas of active hostilities" in a Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG).

The New York Times reported on September 21, 2017, that Trump's national security advisers proposed watering down Obama's PPG. These recommendations to Trump are called Principles, Standards and Procedures, or PSP. On October 29, the Times reported, "Two government officials said Mr. Trump had recently signed his new rules for such kill-or-capture counterterrorism operations, without major changes" to the PSP.

Obama mounted both "personality strikes" -- aimed at named suspected terrorists -- and "signature strikes" -- in which all military-age men in an area of suspicious activity could be killed. Signature strikes are often called "crowd killings" because those perpetrating the attacks don't even know whom they are killing. Trump has presumably continued these two types of strikes.

The PPG required that the target pose a continuing, imminent threat to US persons. There is no indication that Trump's new rules have changed this requirement. Moreover, even under Obama, a 2011 Department of Justice white paper said that a US citizen could be killed even when there was no "clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." Obama presumably set a lower bar for killing non-citizens.

Obama's rules also mandated near certainty that an identified "high-value terrorist" or other lawful terrorist target is present before taking a strike. One official told the Times that the administration "reduced the required level of confidence that the intended target was present in a strike zone from 'near certainty' to 'reasonable certainty.'" Signature strikes don't target named individuals. Under the new Trump rules, targets would no longer be limited to high-value terrorists, but could also include foot soldiers with no leadership roles.

During the Obama administration, targeting decisions were made at the highest levels of government and the president reportedly had the final say about who would be assassinated. Under the PSP, however, these determinations would not require vetting by top administration officials, and could be made by commanders in the field.

Trump advisers recommended maintaining the PPG's requirement of near certainty that civilians would not be injured or killed, and the administration agreed, according to the Times.

In spite of the PPG, the Obama administration killed many civilians. Obama's Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported killing between 64 and 116 non-combatants "outside areas of active hostilities" from January 2009 to December 2015. That encompassed Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria were not included. And even for the included countries, the ODNI figures could be low: The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated between 380 and 801 civilians killed outside areas of active hostilities during the same period.

Even before relaxing the rules, drone strikes and other targeted killings outside areas of active hostilities have already increased from one every 5.4 days during the Obama administration, to one every 1.25 days under Trump, Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations reported.

Trump granted increased authority to the CIA and the Pentagon to conduct drone strikes. He also loosened the targeted killing rules in large areas of Yemen and Somalia by designating them "areas of active hostilities."

In March alone, the Trump administration killed 1,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria, according to Airwars, a non-governmental organization that monitors civilian casualties from airstrikes.

We can expect to see increasing numbers of civilian deaths as Trump continues the "war on terror" he inherited from his predecessors. Since Bush launched this war after 9/11, we have become more vulnerable to terrorism. Civilian killings heighten anger toward the United States and lead to stepped-up recruitment of those who would do us harm.

Copyright, Truthout. 

Marjorie Cohn

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. The second, updated edition of her book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in November. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

C.I.A. Wants Authority to Conduct Drone Strikes in Afghanistan for the First Time

 New York Times

WASHINGTON — The C.I.A. is pushing for expanded powers to carry out covert drone strikes in Afghanistan and other active war zones, a proposal that the White House appears to favor despite the misgivings of some at the Pentagon, according to current and former intelligence and military officials.

If approved by President Trump, it would mark the first time the C.I.A. has had such powers in Afghanistan, expanding beyond its existing authority to carry out covert strikes against Al Qaeda and other terrorist targets across the border in Pakistan.

The changes are being weighed as part of a broader push inside the Trump White House to loosen Obama-era restraints on how the C.I.A. and the military fight Islamist militants around the world. The Obama administration imposed the restrictions in part to limit civilian casualties, and the proposed shift has raised concerns among critics that the Trump administration would open the way for broader C.I.A. strikes in such countries as Libya, Somalia and Yemen, where the United States is fighting the Islamic State, Al Qaeda or both.

Until now, the Pentagon has had the lead role for conducting airstrikes — with drones or other aircraft — against militants in Afghanistan and other conflict zones, such as Somalia and Libya and, to some extent, Yemen. The military publicly acknowledges its strikes, unlike the C.I.A., which for roughly a decade has carried out its own campaign of covert drone strikes in Pakistan that were not acknowledged by either country, a condition that Pakistan’s government has long insisted on.

But the C.I.A.’s director, Mike Pompeo, has made a forceful case to Mr. Trump in recent weeks that the Obama-era arrangement needlessly limited the United States’ ability to conduct counterterrorism operations, according to the current and former officials, who would not be named discussing internal debates about sensitive information. He has publicly suggested that Mr. Trump favors granting the C.I.A. greater authorities to go after militants, though he has been vague about specifics, nearly all of which are classified.

“When we’ve asked for more authorities, we’ve been given it. When we ask for more resources, we get it,” Mr. Pompeo said this week on Fox News.

He said that the agency was hunting “every day” for Al Qaeda’s leaders, most of whom are believed to be sheltering in the remote mountains that straddle the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“If I were them, I’d count my days,” Mr. Pompeo said.

From the outset of his tenure at the C.I.A., Mr. Pompeo, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, has made clear that he favors pushing the agency to take on a more direct role in fighting militants. Afghanistan, the most active war zone in which the United States is fighting, makes sense as the place to start: In the past three years, the number of military drone strikes there has climbed, from 304 in 2015, to 376 last year, to 362 through the first eight months of this year.

The C.I.A., in comparison, has had little to do across the border in Pakistan, where there were three drone strikes last year and have been four so far this year, according to the Long War Journal published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“This is bureaucratic politics 101,” said Christine Wormuth, a former top Pentagon official. “The C.I.A. has very significant capabilities, and it wants to go use them.”

Spokesmen for the C.I.A. and the Defense Department declined to comment on the pending proposal, which involves delicate internal deliberations.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has not resisted the C.I.A. proposal, administration officials said, but other Pentagon officials question the expansion of C.I.A. authorities in Afghanistan or elsewhere, asking what the agency can do that the military cannot. Some Pentagon officials also fear that American troops on the ground in Afghanistan could end up bearing the burden of any C.I.A. strikes that accidentally kill civilians, because the agency will not publicly acknowledge those attacks. The military has also had to confront its own deadly mistakes in Afghanistan.

One senior Defense Department official said that the United States would gain little from having the C.I.A. carry out drone strikes alongside the military, and that it raised the question of whether it was an appropriate use of covert action.

A former senior administration official familiar with Mr. Pompeo’s position said that he views a division of labor with the Defense Department as an abrogation of the C.I.A.’s authorities.
Mr. Pompeo’s argument seems to be carrying the day with Mr. Trump, who has struck a bellicose tone in seeking to confront extremist groups in Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban.

In Mr. Trump’s speech last month outlining his policy for South Asia, including Afghanistan, the president promised that he would loosen restrictions on American soldiers to enable them to hunt down terrorists, whom he labeled “thugs and criminals and predators, and — that’s right — losers.”
“The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms,” the president said. “Retribution will be fast and powerful.”

Mr. Pompeo may have a potentially important ally: Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, who reportedly favors any approach to train more firepower on the array of foes of Afghan security forces and the 11,000 or so American troops advising and assisting them.

Mr. Trump has already authorized Mr. Mattis to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Some 4,000 reinforcements will allow American officers to more closely advise Afghan brigades, train more Afghan Special Operations forces and call in American firepower.

Among the chief targets for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan would be the Haqqani network, whose leader is now the No. 2 in the Taliban and runs its military operations. The Haqqanis have been responsible for many of the deadliest attacks on Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, in the war and are known for running a virtual factory in Pakistan that has steadily supplied suicide bombers since 2005.

Despite their objections, Defense Department officials say they are now somewhat resigned to the outcome and are working out arrangements with the C.I.A. to ensure that United States forces, including Special Operations advisers, are not accidentally targeted, officials said.

Beyond the military, critics see the proposal as another attempt to expand the C.I.A.’s drone wars without answering longstanding questions about whether American spies should be running military-style operations in the shadows.

“One of the things we learned early on in Afghanistan and Iraq was the importance of being as transparent as possible in discussing our military operations,” said Luke Hartig, a senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

“Why we took the specific action, who all was killed or injured in the operation, what we were going to do if we had inadvertently killed civilians or damaged property,” he continued. “I don’t know what the Trump administration is specifically considering in Afghanistan, but if their new plans for the war decrease any of that transparency, that would be a big strategic and moral mistake.”

When John O. Brennan, a former top White House counterterrorism adviser, became C.I.A. director in late 2013, he announced an intention to ratchet back the paramilitary operations that have transformed the agency since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Brennan’s goal, he said during his confirmation hearings, was to refocus the agency on the traditional work of intelligence collection and espionage that had sometimes been neglected. During those hearings, Mr. Brennan obliquely criticized the performance of American spy agencies in providing intelligence and analysis of the Arab revolutions that began in 2009, and said the C.I.A. needed to cede some of its paramilitary role to the Pentagon.

In a speech in May 2013 in which he sought to redefine American policy toward terrorism, President Barack Obama expanded on that theme, announcing new procedures for drone operations, which White House officials said would gradually become the responsibility of the Pentagon.
But critics contended that effort, too, proved slow-going, and that Mr. Brennan did not push forcefully for moving all drone operations away from the C.I.A.

Now, with Mr. Pompeo in charge, the agency appears to be aggressively renewing its paramilitary role, and pushing limits on other forms of covert operations outside conflict zones, including in countries where no fighting is underway, such as Iran. A veteran C.I.A. officer viewed as the architect of the drone program was put in charge of the agency’s Iran operations this year, for instance, and Mr. Pompeo has made it clear that he believes the C.I.A. has a robust role to play in fighting militants.
“We broke the back of Al Qaeda,” he said at a public appearance in July, referring to the drone campaign inside Pakistan that decimated the militant network’s leadership ranks.

“We took down their entire network,” he said. “And that’s what we’re going to do again.”

DRONE WARS: Out of Sight Out of Mind Out of Control

This is from the UK, a great summary and list of resources and actions to take.
A 28 page download or read online.

INTRODUCTION:
Over the past fifteen years unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as drones have risen from a fringe technology to becoming a key component of Western military power, with US, British and Israeli forces launching thousands of drone strikes across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Drones have become one of the most used weapons in conventional wars, but are also being used far from any battlefield in so-called targeted killings to ‘take out’ those deemed to be a threat to security.

While military officials describe drones as ' the most precise and effective application of firepower in the history of armed conflict’, human rights organisations and journalists have documented that hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in such strikes.

But armed drones are more than just a new weapon system, the latest in a long line of technological solutions to international security problems. Drones are at the forefront of the rehabilitation of the idea of war itself. Through using remote systems and precision weapons, we are being told, war is no longer the hell it once was. Such a narrative is extremely naïve and dangerous. Not only does it obscure the casualties and destruction caused by drone strikes, but it also means that when there is a political crisis the press and politicians demand we ‘send in the drones’ as there is no perceived cost in doing so.

The concept of remote ‘risk-free war’ through the use of armed drones means that military intervention is rapidly becoming one of the first options instead of the last. Besides the direct consequences, this also enables political leaders to sidestep addressing the underlying political and social causes of conflicts which in turn lessens the chances of achieving long-term just and sustainable solutions. 

This briefing highlights some of the key issues surrounding the growing use of armed drones, including: civilian casualties, the expansion of targeted killing and how drones lower the threshold for use of armed force.

As one of only a handful of countries currently using armed drones, the UK has both the responsibility and the opportunity to take a lead internationally on controlling their use, both in terms of setting high levels of transparency and accountability, but also putting in place strong controls internationally to prevent the proliferation of such systems. Armed drones and the growing acceptability of ‘risk free warfare’ is a real danger to global peace and security.

At this crucial time, it is vital that all who want the world to be a more just and secure place work together to ensure that we don’t allow armed drones to be out of sight, out of mind and out of control.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Drones Part of Current U.S. Air War Atrocity Born in the 1920s

Taken from KnowDrones article July 5, 2017

In the 1920s Winston Churchill bombed Iraqis who were resisting British rule.  The issue was oil. This established a policy that would lead to massive World War II bombing campaigns and now the vast aerial attack by the U.S. and its colonially-minded partners that is devastating the lives of millions of people across swaths of the Middle East and Afghanistan, and to a lesser degree Libya and Somalia. 

This linked article provides an extremely important analysis of the thinking behind the racist, 1920s British air war and how this thinking lives today in drone war as well as the overall U.S. aerial killing policy. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29441383

In these remarkable - must watch - linked videos it is hard to see any difference between the ideas expressed by RAF pilots who bombed Iraqis in the 1920s and U.S. policy now.  The reports of the Iraqi witnesses to the RAF attacks are almost identical to the comments of victims of drone attacks now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rrSaFvRBFU&t=76s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx-QgSa6cLA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKePRwarlXQ

It is impossible to know the full human and environmental cost of what can only be described as an atrocity of historic proportions, which includes bombing by B-52s, but information from Air Wars.org, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and other sources suggest that the U.S.-led air aerial assault campaign across Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Libya, including assisting Saudi Arabia’s air attacks in Yemen, has caused:
  • At least 20,000 civilian deaths and tens of thousands more wounded.  (My estimate based on information in the above sources; I think this is very conservative.)
  • Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of refugees.
  • Famine and cholera threatening more than 17 million in Yemen alone.
  • Massive destruction of homes, communities and infrastructure.   These photos of Mosul in Iraq can be taken in many, many places that are being subjected to “coalition” air attack.
 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/world/middleeast/mosul-civilians-escape-isis.html

U.S. drone operators have been a key part of this campaign, apparently involved in identifying targets for conventional bombers as well as undertaking their own attacks.  This extremely informative linked article speaks of drone operators working to minimize civilian casualties, but given what is happening, one can only wonder at this kind of commentary.

http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/10/03/air-force-seeks-to-change-how-drone-pilots-train-fly.html

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Informative links

Airwars.org maintains an extensive all-source database of known allegations in which civilians and friendly forces have been reported killed by the Coalition or Russia in Iraq and Syria. Airwars individual case studies include photographs, videos, names of the dead, and links to all known sources. These reports represent our best current understanding of events and are updated as new information becomes available. 

Older U.S. Air Force jets -- including the A-10 Thunderbolt II, eyed in recent years for retirement, and the F-15E Strike Eagle -- are leading the air war against the Islamic State, statistics show.
U.S. military fighter-attack jets, bombers and drones have dropped more than 67,000 bombs since the 2014 start of Operation Inherent Resolve, the Defense Department's mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, according to information provided by Air Forces Central Command.
Notably, fighter-attack aircraft released more than three times as many weapons as bombers did, the figures show. Drones dropped the least of any category of aircraft.

Military.com has the figures for the 10 types of U.S. aircraft flying combat sorties: F-15E Strike Eagle, 14,995 weapons released; A-10 Thunderbolt II, 13,856; B-1 Lancer, 9,195; F/A-18 Super Hornets, 8,920; F-16 Fighting Falcon, 7,679; B-52 Stratofortress, 5,041; MQ-1 Predator drone, 2,274; MQ-9 Reaper, 2,188; AV-8B, 1,650; and F-22, 1,535.
Broken down by aircraft type, fighter and attack planes dropped a total of 48,635 weapons, or 72 percent of the total; bombers released 14,236, or 21 percent; and drones dropped 4,462, or 7 percent, according to the statistics.

Friday, June 9, 2017

"Drone Warfare and the Cyborg Soldier: Margins of Masculinity"

"Drone Warfare and the Cyborg Soldier: Margins of Masculinity"
Tuesday, June 13, 2017, at 7:00 pm
East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street, St. Paul, MN
Presentation by Suzanne Al-Kayali

Modern military power has ignited real and virtual changes as nations make war
and soldiers perceive themselves as warriors. The role of the soldier has
changed with the evolution of technologies, such as drones. Is the hyper-
masculine "be-all-you-can-be" soldier being replaced? Suzanne will discuss the
role of "masculinity" in contemporary warfare and the development of the new
"cyborg" soldier.
Suzanne Al-Kayali is the current director of WAMM. She earned her Master's
degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Women and Gender Studies from
Roosevelt University in Chicago.
FFI: WAMM Office 612-827-5364

Hosted by the WAMM Ground All Drones Committee

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Killer Drones and the Militarization of U.S. Foreign Policy

In the eyes of many around the world, diplomacy has taken a back seat to military operations in U.S. foreign policy. The drone program is a prime example.

The militarization of U.S. foreign policy certainly didn’t start with President Donald J. Trump; in fact, it goes back several decades. However, if Trump’s first 100 days in office are any indication, he has no intention of slowing down the trend.

During a single week in April, the Trump administration fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into a Syrian airfield, and dropped the largest bomb in the U.S. arsenal on suspected ISIS tunnels in Afghanistan. This 21,600-pound incendiary percussion device that had never been used in combat—the Massive Ordinance Air Blast or MOAB, colloquially known as the “Mother of All Bombs”—was used in the Achin district of Afghanistan, where Special Forces Staff Sergeant Mark De Alencar had been killed a week earlier. (The bomb was tested only twice, at Elgin Air Base, Florida, in 2003.)

To underscore the new administration’s preference for force over diplomacy, the decision to experiment with the explosive power of the mega-bomb was taken unilaterally by General John Nicholson, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In praising that decision, Pres. Trump declared that he had given “total authorization” to the U.S. military to conduct whatever missions they wanted, anywhere in the world—which presumably means without consulting the interagency national security committee.

It is also telling that Pres. Trump chose generals for two key national security positions traditionally filled by civilians: the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor. Yet three months into his administration, he has left unfilled hundreds of senior civilian governmental positions at State, Defense and elsewhere.


An Increasingly Shaky Ban

Members of the New York Air National Guard’s 1174th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group place chalks on a MQ-9 Reaper after it returned from a winter training mission at Wheeler Sack Army Airfield, Fort Drum, N.Y., Feb. 14, 2012.
Wikimedia Commons / Ricky Best
While Pres. Trump has not yet enunciated a policy on the subject of political assassinations, there has so far been no indication that he plans to change the practice of relying on drone killings established by his recent predecessors.

Back in 1976, however, President Gerald Ford set a very different example when he issued his Executive Order 11095. This proclaimed that “No employee of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.”

He instituted this prohibition after investigations by the Church Committee (the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho) and the Pike Committee (its House counterpart, chaired by Rep. Otis G. Pike, D-N.Y.) had revealed the extent of the Central Intelligence Agency’s assassination operations against foreign leaders in the 1960s and 1970s.

With a few exceptions, the next several presidents upheld the ban. But in 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered an attack on Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s home in Tripoli, in retaliation for the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin that killed a U.S. serviceman and two German citizens and injured 229. In just 12 minutes, American planes dropped 60 tons of U.S. bombs on the house, though they failed to kill Gaddafi.

Twelve years later, in 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered the firing of 80 cruise missiles on al-Qaida facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan, in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Clinton administration justified the action by asserting that the proscription against assassination did not cover individuals whom the U.S. government had determined were connected to terrorism.

Days after al-Qaida carried out its Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, President George W. Bush signed an intelligence “finding” allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to engage in “lethal covert operations” to kill Osama bin Laden and destroy his terrorist network. White House and CIA lawyers argued that this order was constitutional on two grounds. First, they embraced the Clinton administration’s position that E.O. 11905 did not preclude the United States’ taking action against terrorists. More sweepingly, they declared that the ban on political assassination did not apply during wartime.


Send in the Drones

The Bush administration’s wholesale rejection of the ban on targeted killing or political assassinations reversed a quarter-century of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy. It also opened the door to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct targeted killings (a euphemism for assassinations).
The U.S. Air Force had been flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), since the 1960s, but only as unmanned surveillance platforms. Following 9/11, however, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized “drones” (as they were quickly dubbed) to kill both leaders and foot soldiers of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The United States set up bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan for that purpose, but after a series of drone attacks that killed civilians, including a large group gathered for a wedding, the Pakistani government ordered in 2011 that the U.S. drones and U.S. military personnel be removed from its Shamsi Air Base. However, targeted assassinations continued to be conducted in Pakistan by drones based outside the country.

In 2009, President Barack Obama picked up where his predecessor had left off. As public and congressional concern increased about the use of aircraft controlled by CIA and military operators located 10,000 miles away from the people they were ordered to kill, the White House was forced to officially acknowledge the targeted killing program and to describe how persons became targets of the program.

Instead of scaling the program back, however, the Obama administration doubled down. It essentially designated all military-age males in a foreign strike zone as combatants, and therefore potential targets of what it termed “signature strikes.” Even more disturbing, it declared that strikes aimed at specific, high-value terrorists, known as “personality strikes,” could include American citizens.

That theoretical possibility soon became a grim reality. In April 2010, Pres. Obama authorized the CIA to “target” Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and a former imam at a Virginia mosque, for assassination. Less than a decade before, the Office of the Secretary of the Army had invited the imam to participate in an interfaith service following 9/11. But al-Awlaki later became an outspoken critic of the “war on terror,” moved to his father’s homeland of Yemen, and helped al-Qaida recruit members.
The Bush administration’s wholesale rejection of the ban on targeted killing opened the door to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct targeted killings.
On Sept. 30, 2011, a drone strike killed al-Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan—who was traveling with him in Yemen. U.S. drones killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al- Awlaki, an American citizen, 10 days later in an attack on a group of young men around a campfire.

The Obama administration never made clear whether the 16-year-old son was targeted individually because he was al-Awlaki’s son or if he was the victim of a “signature” strike, fitting the description of a young militaryage male. However, during a White House press conference, a reporter asked Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs how he could defend the killings, and especially the death of a U.S.-citizen minor who was “targeted without due process, without trial.”

Gibbs’ response did nothing to help the U.S. image in the Muslim world: “I would suggest that you should have had a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al-Qaida jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
On Jan. 29, 2017, al-Awlaki’s 8-year-old daughter, Nawar al-Awlaki, was killed in a U.S. commando attack in Yemen ordered by Obama’s successor, Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the media continued to report incidents of civilians being killed in drone strikes across the region, which frequently target wedding parties and funerals. Many inhabitants of the region along the Afghan-Pakistan border could hear the buzz of drones circling their area around the clock, causing psychological trauma for all those who live in the area, especially children.

The Obama administration was strongly criticized for the tactic of “double-tap”—hitting a target home or vehicle with a Hellfire missile, and then firing a second missile into the group that came to the aid of those who had been wounded in the first attack. Many times, those who ran to help rescue persons trapped inside collapsed buildings or flaming cars were local citizens, not militants.

 

An Increasingly Counterproductive Tactic

The rationale traditionally offered for using drones is that they eliminate the need for “boots on the ground”—whether members of the armed forces or CIA paramilitary personnel—in dangerous environments, thereby preventing loss of U.S. lives. U.S. officials also claim that the intelligence UAVs gather through lengthy surveillance makes their strikes more precise, reducing the number of civilian casualties. (Left unsaid, but almost certainly another powerful motivator, is the fact that the use of drones means that no suspected militants would be taken alive, thus avoiding the political and other complications of detention.)

Even if these claims are true, however, they do not address the impact of the tactic on U.S. foreign policy. Of broadest concern is the fact that drones allow presidents to punt on questions of war and peace by choosing an option that appears to offer a middle course, but actually has a variety of long-term consequences for U.S. policy, as well as for the communities on the receiving end.

By taking the risk of loss of U.S. personnel out of the picture, Washington policymakers may be tempted to use force to resolve a security dilemma rather than negotiating with the parties involved. Moreover, by their very nature, UAVs may be more likely to provoke retaliation against America than conventional weapons systems. To many in the Middle East and South Asia, drones represent a weakness of the U.S. government and its military, not a strength. Shouldn’t brave warriors fight on the ground, they ask, instead of hiding behind a faceless drone in the sky, operated by a young person in a chair many thousands of miles away?
Drones allow presidents to punt on questions of war and peace by choosing an option that appears to offer a middle course, but actually has a variety of long-term consequences for U.S. policy.
Since 2007, at least 150 NATO personnel have been the victims of “insider attacks” by members of the Afghan military and national police forces being trained by the coalition. Many of the Afghans who commit such “green on blue” killings of American personnel, both uniformed and civilian, are from the tribal regions on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan where U.S. drone strikes have focused. They take revenge for the deaths of their families and friends by killing their U.S. military trainers.

Anger against drones has surfaced in the United States as well. On May 1, 2010, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square. In his guilty plea, Shahzad justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children; they kill everybody. They’re killing all Muslims.”

As of 2012 the U.S. Air Force was recruiting more drone pilots than pilots for traditional aircraft—between 2012 and 2014, they planned to add 2,500 pilots and support people to the drone program. That is nearly twice the number of diplomats the State Department hires in a two-year period.

Congressional and media concern over the program led to the Obama administration’s acknowledgment of the regular Tuesday meetings led by the president to identify targets for the assassination list. In the international media, “Terror Tuesdays” became an expression of U.S. foreign policy.

 

Not Too Late

To many around the world, U.S. foreign policy has been dominated for the past 16 years by military actions in the Middle East and South Asia, and large land and sea military exercises in Northeast Asia. On the world stage, American efforts in the areas of economics, trade, cultural issues and human rights appear to have taken a back seat to the waging of continuous wars.

Continuing the use of drone warfare to carry out assassinations will only exacerbate foreign distrust of American intentions and trustworthiness. It thereby plays into the hands of the very opponents we are trying to defeat.

During his campaign, Donald Trump pledged he would always put “America First,” and said he wanted to get out of the business of regime change. It is not too late for him to keep that promise by learning from his predecessors’ mistakes and reversing the continued militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

Ann Wright spent 29 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, retiring as a colonel. She served 16 years in the Foreign Service in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia, and led the small team that reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul in December 2001. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq, and is co-author of the book Dissent: Voices of Conscience (Koa, 2008). She speaks around the world about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and is an active participant in the U.S. anti-war movement. 
We are grateful to have had Ann speak at WAMM's Annual Meeting in March 2017.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Department of State, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.