Secret Wars and No Accountability: 5 Reasons Why 2013 Is Already Year of the Drone
For a war-weary American public, President Barack Obama’s inaugural address last month sounded perfect. “ A decade of war is now ending,” the president said. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”
But on that day, a much different--and more honest--message blared through ABC News and out of a U.S.-piloted unmanned aircraft: the drone war being waged in secret and without accountability was here to stay. It’s become clear that, a month and a half into 2013, this year will see the continued use of drone strikes around the world. You can already call 2013 another year of the drone, if not the year of the drone.
ABC News aired an interview that day with outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Asked by journalist Martha Raddatz whether the 2014 pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would mean an increased reliance on drones, Panetta said: “ I think that's reality. We've done that in Pakistan. We're doing it in Yemen and elsewhere. And I think the reality is it's going to be a continuing tool of national defense in the future.” Panetta further confirmed this grim reality in a February interview with Agence France Presse.
Additionally, the U.S. carried out a drone strike in Yemen on Inauguration Day, allegedly killing “four suspected al Qaeda militants,” although it’s impossible to say who exactly was killed, given that the U.S. does not publicly confirm strikes or keep track of civilian casualties.
The confirmation hearing for CIA director-to-be John Brennan and the disclosure of a memo justifying the assassination of American citizens has sparked even further discussion of drone policy and the covert war the Obama administration is waging.
Here are five reason why it's clear that 2013 will be an important year for U.S. drone policy.
1. Escalation in Drone Attacks
The slight decrease in drone strikes in 2012 was nothing but “a fluke,” as Antiwar.com’s Jason Ditz writes. This year has already seen an escalation in the amount of drone attacks carried out in Pakistan and Yemen.
The Washington Post reported January 10 that “the CIA has opened the year with a flurry of drone strikes in Pakistan...A strike Thursday in North Waziristan was the seventh in 10 days, marking a major escalation in the pace of attacks. Drone attacks had slipped in frequency to fewer than one per week last year.” U.S. officials told the Post that the escalation was due to “a sense of urgency surrounding expectations that President Obama will soon order a drawdown that could leave Afghanistan with fewer than 6,000 U.S. troops after 2014.” The drone strikes, according to these officials, “are seen as a way to weaken adversaries of the Afghan government before the withdrawal and serve notice that the United States will still be able to launch attacks.” But they also increase the intense hatred for the U.S. in Pakistan because of the drone program, and provide a potent recruiting tool to Pakistani militants.
And before January 10, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) had documented that at least five other strikes had been carried out by the U.S. on Pakistan in the tribal areas. While hard numbers of casualties are tough to come by, the Bureau says that at least 20 people were killed in those strikes. Two civilians may have been a mong the dead in a January 8 strike.
CNN reported on a January 3 strike that reportedly killed 15 people; that operation also included two missiles fired “as people rushed to try to rescue the occupants,” according to Pakistani officials. The practice of firing on those trying to administer help to victims of drone strikes, know as a “double tap,” is being investigated as a war crime by United Nations officials. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism also collected data on a February 8 drone strike in Pakistan that reportedly killed four to nine militants.
Yemen has also seen an escalation in drone attacks this year. On January 23, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama administration had hit Yemen four times in a span of five days. A Yemeni official said the latest strike, which killed five on January 23, marked “a significant escalation in the U.S.-Yemeni campaign against that country’s Al Qaeda affiliate.” While the Times did not mention any reports of civilian casualties in the January 23 strike, the BIJ noted that “ anonymous sources gave a contradictory account to Xinhua [and] said the strike missed the bikes, hitting a house belonging to Abdu Mohammed al-Jarrah. Two of his children were reportedly killed and three more family members injured.”
The BIJ also documented seven other strikes besides the January 23 drone attack. Those strikes on Yemen may have killed civilians as well, according to media accounts curated by the Bureau.