Origin of CIA’s not-so-secret drone war in Pakistan

As the battles raged in South Waziristan, the station chief in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ehsan ul Haq, the ISI chief, and made an offer: If the C.I.A. killed Mr. Muhammad, would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas?

In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets. And they insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India.

The ISI and the C.I.A. agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.

Mr. Musharraf did not think that it would be difficult to keep up the ruse. As he told one C.I.A. officer: “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”

(Source : The New York Times)

pakistan US drones war Politics

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has articulated a controversial twist to the debate on the use of drones in Fata. She recently said that Pakistan does not disapprove the use of drones to kill terrorists in Fata – it only wants them to operate in a legal context. This is a reiteration of an old Pakistani demand. The issue for Pakistan is one of ownership of the drone program, rather than the nature of casualties inflicted by drones.

Ms Khar doesn’t have any problems defending the use of Pakistani F-16s against terrorist targets in the tribal areas, regardless of the extent and nature of civilian casualties. If she could own and use the drones too, she wouldn’t much care for the mass trauma of local populations from this fearful weapon of war.

(Source : thenews.com.pk)

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US draws up plans for nuclear drones

"It’s pretty terrifying prospect," said Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK, which campaigns against the increasing use of drones for both military and civilian purposes. "Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot. There is a major push by this industry to increase the use of drones and both the public and government are struggling to keep up with the implications."

Wow. And for some reason it’s Iran which is the problem. 

(Source : Guardian)

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High-Altitude Surveillance Drones: Coming to a Sky Near You

Last week President Obama signed a sweeping aviation bill that, among other things, will open the skies to “unmanned aircraft systems,” more commonly known as drones.

What, exactly, will these drones be able to see? A lot, as it turns out. They will record the route and speed of every vehicle on the streets. They will observe the movements of individual pedestrians. At night, they will capture the precise moments when the lights in living rooms and bedrooms are turned on and off. The data they acquire, which can be correlated with information from mobile devices and smart meters, will become an important component of the growing digital record of nearly everything we do.

(Source : blogs.scientificamerican.com)

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A question of legality

According to a wide range of international law experts consulted by the Bureau, for the CIA’s drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen to be legal they would at the very least need to be covered by the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC).

Professor Dapo Akande, who heads Oxford University’s Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, believes that under LOAC the killing of civilian rescuers is problematic: ‘The question is, can rescuing be regarded as taking part in hostilities, to which for me the answer is clearly “No”. That rescuing is not taking part in hostilities.’

If LOAC does not apply – as some respected lawyers believe is the case – then the far more restrictive international human rights law (IHRL) applies. This explicitly forbids attacks except in the most restricted circumstances, namely when the possibility of being attacked is absolutely imminent.

‘Not to mince words here, if it is not in a situation of armed conflict, unless it falls into this very narrow area of imminent threat then it is an extra-judicial execution. This is absolutely unlawful under IHRL and of course under domestic law in any place in which such an attack might occur. And illegal under US law,’ says Naz Modirzadeh, Associate Director of the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University.

‘So then we don’t even need to get to the nuance of who’s who, and are people there for rescue or not. Because each death is illegal. Each death is a murder in that case.’

The concept of ‘imminent threat’ may now be in jeopardy. Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, told a recent gathering at Harvard Law School that ‘We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of “imminence” may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups.’

Brennan also continues to claim that no civilians have been killed in CIA drone strikes since mid-2010, despite a Bureau investigation which has proved the contrary.

Clive Stafford-Smith believes that Obama, like Bush before him, is seeking to undermine international law in order to achieve US military objectives: ‘They’re trying to say that the Geneva Conventions are quaint and outmoded. What they really mean is they’re inconvenient.’

Yet Islamabad has almost certainly signed secret deals permitting the Americans to attack – deals it so far dare not dismantle.

If US policy assumes that those who live with or assist combatants are also necessarily combatants, what about the wife of the drone pilot who drives him to work in the morning? How is that person any different from the people in the house that the Taleban combatant is living in? - Professor Dapo Akande, Oxford University 

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Drones also targeting mourners and rescuers

An investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed that the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to rescue victims or were attending funerals. 

The report was published days after US President Barack Obama claimed that the drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” in Pakistan.

However, according to research by the Bureau, it was stated that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. The report claims that: “A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.”

The first confirmed attack on rescuers took place in North Waziristan on May 16, 2009. According to Mushtaq Yusufzai, a local journalist, Taliban militants had gathered in the village of Khaisor and at least 29 people died in total.

The Bureau reports that along with Taliban militants, locals said that six ordinary villagers also died that day. They were identified by Bureau field researchers as Sabir, Ikram, Mohib, Zahid, Mashal and Syed Noor.

Interestingly, the reports also reveal that often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seal off the site to retrieve the dead. However, “an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers. Mosques often exhort villagers to come forward and help, for example – particularly following attacks that mistakenly kill civilians.”

Quoting Christof Heyns, a South African law professor who is United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial Executions, the report states that “Allegations of repeat strikes coming back after half an hour when medical personnel are on the ground are very worrying. To target civilians would be crimes of war.” Heyns is calling for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings.

The Bureau’s report also states that according to Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Initiative at the Brookings Institution, the US now has 7,000 dronesoperating and 12,000 more on the ground.

Aside from Pakistan, there is also debate over the use of drones in Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The Bureau’s report in the Sunday Times claims that three US citizens were also killed by missiles fired from drones in Yemen last September.

pakistan US drones war on terror