Posts Tagged Pakistan
Chris Cole has written ‘Drone Wars Briefing’. It is hot off the press and is essential reading for anyone concerned with the impact of drones on human rights or the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine and Somalia.
Many people around the world are extremely troubled by the growing use of unmanned systems to launch attacks at great distances. Traditionally, one of the key restraints on warfare has been the risk to one’s own forces and, as the MoD themselves admit in their publication on UAV’s, if this restraint is taken away, unmanned systems may make war more likely. The way that unmanned drones have enabled a huge increase in targeted killing is also causing deep disquiet amongst legal experts and scholars. Of particular concern is the way that the CIA is using such unmanned systems to undertake extrajudicial killings in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – countries with which the US is not at war.
However, perhaps the greatest concern relates to what is seen as one of the most important capabilities or characteristics of drones – their ability to loiter over an area for hours or even days. Evidence is beginning to emerge that it is the persistent presence of UAVs sitting over remote villages and towns simply looking for ‘targets of opportunity’ that may be leading to civilian casualties.
Pakistan is asking the US CIA to drastically cut back drone attacks on Taliban insurgents in Pakistan.
The New York Times reports that Pakistan may ask as many as 335 US CIA employees to leave Pakistan. The Sunday Times has reported in the past that the CIA is secretly using airbases in Southern Pakistan to launch drones. This was confirmed by analysis of Google Earth photos.
Many CIA officials in Pakistan may be involved in selecting targets and managing information flows after attacks. Reports of drone attacks in Pakistan are usually accompanied by a statement by ‘an unnamed official’ claiming that all the dead were insurgents. Many CIA agents in Pakistan are probably engaged in managing the network of informants decribed in Wired Magazine.
There have been many allegations that the majority of persons killed in the CIA drone strikes have been civilians, something that the US has always strenuously denied.
Pakistan is also demanding joint selection of targets.
Pakistan has in the past asked for its own armed drones, something the US has always refused to do. In 2010 the US offered to supply Pakistan with ‘Shadow’ drones, unarmed and for surveillance only.
Canada has been leasing Russian Mi-17 helicopters in Afghanistan, and doing so outside the normal procurement process.
Thomas E Ricks, in Foreign Policy Magazine, speculates that this is so that Canadian forces can be flown across the Pakistani frontier into the Frontier areas, without arousing special attention, as Pakistani forces use the same helicopter. ‘Starbuck’, a commenter, suggests that the Canadian military is leasing the Russian helicopters because they are training Afghan forces, who are more likely to be using Russian helicopters.
This more recent story from the CBC doesn’t mention the FATA possibility but focusses on why Canada doesn’t buy helicopters from Russia, rather than the more expensive ones from the USA.
This article in Canadian American Strategic Review suggests that the idea of leasing Russian helicopters had been around for several years, due to the availability of the helicopters, their low cost, and the proximity of the manufacturing plant and parts supply to Afghanistan. Mi-17 helicopters cost one fifth the price of alternate Cormorant helicopters, and one tenth the price of Chinooks.
This article reports the announcement of the earlier lease of Russian Mi-8 helicopters in 2008. These were commercially available Russian helicopters (the Mi-17 is an ‘export’ version of the Mi-8).
Incredibly, the original lease involved the use of Russian pilots some of whom had piloted helicopters during the Russion occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
It was reported in November, 2008, that the US forces in Afghanistan had purchased dozens of the Russian helicopters, from Rosoboronexport.
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.
There were reports of five more people killed by ‘suspected US drone’ attacks in North Wiziristan on Thursday, 10 November 2010. At least six missiles were fired by one drone, killing five people described as Islamic militants, according to reports.
‘Unnamed security sources’ were on hand to provide details of the identity of the dead and an explanation of why they were killed.
Fifteen ‘militants’ were killed in Pakistan on 16 November, 2010 by US drones, according to ASDNews. Unnamed security officials said the attack was on an insurgent training centre, in Ghulam Khan village, in North Waziristan.
Though the US has agreed to give Pakistan surveillance drones, in violation of its obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime, Pakistan is pressing the US to give it the technology to undertake drone attacks itself.
Pakistani officials claim that if Pakistani forces were the ones carrying out drone attack on militants in Pakistan’s frontier zones that Pakistani anger at America would disipate.
One wonders how long it would be before US drones were being used against Indian targets in Kashmir.
Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense has recently expressed his interest in exporting US offensive drones across the world.
But only to friendly countries, of course.
On March 25, 2010, Reuters reported that the US aerospace industry believed that US demand for drones would double in the next five years, after rising 600% since 2004. They also hoped for international demand.
Gates was speaking at a US Senate hearing. It wasn’t clear what countries he was thinking of, but the US appears to be losing the drones market to aggressive Israeli arms sellers who’ve sold or leased drones to dozens of countries, including many in NATO.
The US has only sold drones to two countries, Italy and Britain, and is limited by the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime, which has 34 signatories, including many of the NATO countries. The 34 member list, has many countries which have purchased or leased drones from Israel, which is not on the list.
Among the countries receiving drones however will be Pakistan, which will receive 12 RQ-7 Shadow surveillance UAVs as part of a billion dollar to Pakistan from the Coalition Support fund.
In January, President Asif Ali Zardari spoke to Gates about the issue of giving control of the drones to Pakistani forces. Zardari told Gates that the use of armed drones to in the frontier territories had led to anti-American anger. He stated “that people would be less critical if the drones were used by Pakistani troops.”
This appears to be a Pakistani request for the US to supply them with armed drones and the capacity to carry out assassination programmes on their own territory.
While Zardari made the request specifically with respect to fighting extremists, a Pakistan armed with missile carrying drones poses an obvious threat to India, which expressed its alarm.
India wants assurances that the drones aren’t ‘targeted’ at India.
Robert Gates has been one of the strongest advocates for the US drone assassination programme in northern Pakistan.
Gates has frequently expressed concern that drone technology would fall into the hands of enemies, without specifying who he might mean (Russia?, Iran?), but noting that:
“My worry would be capabilities like this getting into the hands of non-state actors who could use them for terrorist purposes.”
Gates seems oddly concerned that he might violate the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Most of the members of the regime have been acquiring drones with happy abandon, either by building them for themselves, or buying them elsewhere, principally from America’s chief ally, Israel. According to many the Israeli technology is leading edge. And Israeli companies have provided drones to many regimes with questionable intentions, most notable Georgia.
In its attacks on targets in Pakistan, the US claims that only a small number of persons killed are ‘civilians’, ie not fighters. One report outlined in the Telegraph, suggests that about a third of the peope killed are civilians. This begs a few questions.
First, by what justification does the US kill people it claims are fighters, in Pakistan?
Second, who determines who are fighters and who are not? Where is the oversight that judges whether determinations are accurate or not? (We know from the Guantanamo experience that the majority of captured ‘fighters’ were not fighters at all. Why should we conclude that the accuracy is greater now).
Third, who takes responsibility for the murder of civilians because of mistakes or their proximity to targets?
The Times claims that Obama is under pressure (March 19, 2009) to extend drone attacks on militants into the city of Quetta, Pakistan. This would expand the area drone attacks beyond the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. The Pakistani Prime Minister has asked the US to stop the drone attacks and instead provide the Pakistani army with intelligence that could be used to attack militants on the ground.
The Times article also claimed that the Times had identified a small airstrip at Shamsi, in Beluchistan, Pakistan which is used by the CIA to launch drone attacks in Pakistan.
This article in the Asia Times Online, gives a good analysis about the US actions in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
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.