Posts Tagged Iraq

US drones continue to aid Turkey against Kurds

The US has again helped Turkey with its war against the Kurds by supplying them with four Predator drones.  The Predators will be controlled from an air base in Nevada (presumably Creech), and the images obtained will be processed in the US and forwarded to the Turkish army. Thus the Turks will not have access to real time images at the present time. The Predators will be flown from Incirlik air base in Turkey, and directed over Kurdish positions in Iraqi territory.

Turkey wanted access to the Predator drones presumably because five of the ten Heron drones purchased from Israel are undergoing maintenance in Israel. Relations between Turkey appear to have deteriorated so badly that the Daily Beast has reported that some players in Israel may be considering supporting the outlawed PKK in its war against Turkey.

It’s obviously not the first time that Predators have flown over Iraqi Kurdistan, and certainly not the first time they have aided Turkey. But this movement of the Predators to a base in Turkey marks an escalation of US assistance to Turkey in its fight against Kurds seeking to establish an independent Kurdistan.

The Turkish government also wants to purchase MQ9 Reapers, a more modern version of the Predator but this may be forestalled by congressional opposition, due to the deteriorating relations between Turkey and America’s closer ally Israel.

It’s possible that the Predator deal may be a ‘Trojan Horse’. Some have noted that Predators flying over Turkish territory on their return from Iraq could as easily be spying on Turkey, since Turks do not have control over them. This illustrates the complex diplomatic environment the US finds itself in, as it tries to balance its interest among various warring allies.

Defense News notes that Turkey has become dependent on US supplied aerial intelligence in its war on the Kurds, no doubt increased by the fact that its use of Israeli suppplied drones is now curtailed. Turkey has countered this apparent deficit by creating its own drone program, the ANKA, which has not yet been built.

Meanwhile in other news, some people allege that the PKK may have downed an Israeli Heron drone operated by the Israeli military. The drone crashed in the Mediterreanean in Turkish waters and was recovered by Turkey.

The prime beneficiaries of all this appear to be the arms companies. The losers are the civilians of border areas of Kurdistan.

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Drones Often Violate Airspace

Drones give nations impunity to overfly other nations air space.

Surprisingly, many states have been overflying their neighbour’s territory with some level of impunity. Israel has overflown Lebanon, and left its drone there for many hours, before departing. Hizbollah has flown drones many times over northern Israel, to the embarrassment of the Israeli military. In 2006 the Israelis shot down at least two Hezbollah drones.

Georgia has overflown South Ossetia, which it claims, but which is controlled  by Russia. Here is a video of a Russian MIG shooting down a Georgian UAV, apparently over South Ossetia in 2008.

The US regularly overflies Pakistan with drones, and indeed launches deadly attacks from them. At least two US drones have been shot down recently over North Waziristan.

In 2009 the US shot down its own out of control Predator drone before it entered Tajikistan.

Iran has overflown Iraq, and had at least one drone shot down by US forces. US forces claimed the trespass was intentional, Iranian and Iraqi officials claimed it was an accident.

Why are there so many violations of airspace, using drones? Are they more likely to be used than manned aircraft? Clearly many drones are surrepticious, difficult to detect, and difficult to shoot down because of their size, especially without collateral damage on the ground. Because most drones are clearly for surveillance, the country sending the drone may feel they can get away with incursions even if detected, because they are a ‘minor’ threat.

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Raven drones in Iraq, 2007

A leaked report shows that the US had 144 drones in Iraq, mostly Ravens. I think that this is likely only a partial list, because it would be surprising if there weren’t any Predators, or other drones. Also, the UK has drones and perhaps other countries as well. I think that the Iraqi government has also acquired drones.

Ravens are very small surveillance drones, weighing a little more than two kilograms. It seems unlikely that there are only 144 deployed in Iraq. Here’s a YouTube video of a Raven drone.

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Drone attacks increasing in Iraq

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.

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L-3 Wescam of Burlington, Canada arms supplier to conflict zones

L-3 Wescam, of Burlington Ontario, is an arms exporter that produces, among other things,  ‘web cam’ like imaging equipment, (including laser finding and targeting) for military aircraft, including drones. A key product is an imaging turret for use on the nose of aircraft, manned or unmanned. Their web site:

L-3 Wescam is the result of the September, 2002 acquisition of Wescam by L-3 Communications of the US (formerly Titan Corp). Before that the Canadian company had difficulty in getting large contracts with US arms contractors. Source

One product of the Burlington plant is the MK-20 imaging system, which has been deployed on several types of aircraft, including Predator drones in use in Afghanistan and Iraq. L-3 Wescam’s XL-20; Expanded Cababilities for Expanded Missions, In:

The company appears to be strongly oriented to the US market, both for surveillance under homeland security, and selling parts for advanced American weaponry. The company works with General Atomics of the US, to produce drones for the Iraqi airforce. Press release from General Atomics:

In 2006 there was a protest at the Burlington plant, drawing attention to the use of L-3 imaging equipment on Predator drones, armed with Hellfire missiles. Excellent write-up:

The protest flyer claims that (Industry Canada as the source) L3 Westcam products end up in such human rights violators as: Colombia, Egypt, Algeria, China, Iran, Libya, Saudia Arabia, U.S., and U.K Source


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