Posts Tagged assassination
The ability to assassinate enemies is emerging as the key feature of military strategy. It is widespread policy in the American attacks on Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan and it has long been the practise of the Israeli military enforcing its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or attacking its enemies in Lebanon.
What these conflicts have in common is a powerful military force fighting an ‘asymetrical’ battle against a guerilla enemy with widespread support in the local population.
Big battles are avoided by the guerilla enemy, and the western military forces are unwilling to risk their soldiers by having the soldiers seek out the enemy in person in the general population.
Therefore the strategy has emerged of trying to identify the enemy by remote sensing aboard drones through various ‘signatures’ —appearance, behaviour, etc. Drones are emerging as the platform used to carry remote sensing equipment, and often to carry weapons of assassination stealthily within range of the enemy.
Problems with this strategy:
1. When the war is unjust, new strategies for fighting don’t improve the outcome.
2. There isn’t any technology capable of protecting nearby non combatants from armed drone attacks, despite the hype of the military and the arms companies.
3. Remote sensing has proved wildly inaccurate in separating out acceptable ‘targets’ from people who just look like, or behave like the targets, with the result that very often the wrong targets are attacked.
4. This strategy results not from initial successes, but the paucity of success from other strategies.
5. The strategy presents new moral and legal traps. Taking a war to an enemy enmeshed in a local population which supports them has often led to moral challenges. Two armies in full fledged combat can claim that they can’t reasonably protect all nearby non combattants. But an army which claims that it can identify individual combattants for assassination, opens itself up to charges of murder and war crimes when it fails to distinguish between the ‘enemy’ and uninvolved citizens.
(Of course, the killing of nearby noncombattants may be an unspoken but intentional act arising from drone surveillance and attacks, intended as a terror device to cause the local population to reject the insurgent forces as too dangerous to have around).
Despite the limitations of ‘assassination by remote sensing’ there is a strong shift to drones for many reasons. Defence departments see big savings from replacing extremely expensive jet aircraft with drone fleets. They see the opportunity to reduce risk for flyers and foot soldiers, and reduce the cost of highly trained professional pilots and aircraft maintenance personel. Probably they reason that distancing their own combattants from attacks on the enemy will reduce distress and ‘post traumatic stress syndrome’. Fewer traumatised soldiers means less dissatisfaction in the ranks, and lower post discharge medical costs.
But of course cost savings are probably an illusion. Drone fleets beget countermeasures, and ultimately a new weapon like drones simply results in the proliferation of weapons, and a change in tactics by the other side.
(This is an outline article that will be fleshed out in due time)
Reuters reported yet another drone attack in Pakistan, on 1 April, 2009. A number of Pakistani Taliban fighters were killed, as well as (apparently) several civilians.
The article reports that there have been about 30 strikes in Pakistan, killing about 300 people, some of whom are al Qaeda, some Taliban, and many civilians. The article also suggests that the strike are driving militants into more populated parts of Pakistan.
The Pakistan government continues to deny that the strikes have Pakistani approval, or that the drones are launched from secret bases in Pakistan. The US has stopped warning the Pakistan government about attacks because it believes that Pakistani security forces have been warning some militants about the attacks.
As pointed out in this article in The Hindi, the Pakistan government is walking a ‘tightrope’ between needing to maintain its relations with the US, and inflaming nationalist sentiments within Pakistan. The drone attacks are unpopular, especially within the tribal areas. It is the position of the Pakistan government that the drone attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and are ‘unhelpful’ in winning the hearts and minds of people in the tribal areas.
An April 5, 2009 article in the Sunday Times suggests that hundreds of thousands of people in the tribal areas are fleeing US drone attacks, creating a humanitarian emergency. Drone attacks and attacks by the Pakistani Air Force have filled refugee camps with people from tribal villages in Pakistan. These refugee camps were formerly only occupied by Afghans fleeing the war in Afghanistan. The article claims that many villages have been flattened by the Pakistani Air Force, which is pressured by the US to step up its attacks on al Queda refuges.
The US is increasingly using unmanned UAV’s (drones) in attack on insurgents in Iraq (up to 11 attacks per month by April, 2008. Robert Gates, US Defence Secretary, called for more drones to be rushed to the conflict zone in Iraq. (Tom Vandenbrook, Drone Attacks Hit High in Iraq, USA Today, April, 2008)
Note: it would appeat that Robert Gates is pushing for the use of drones to assassinate insurgents, much as is happening in Afghanistan. Of course despite advances in imaging technology, drone attacks have killed a large number of civilians wherever they have been used.