Increased Drone Atrocities on the Way

Nick Mottern, | March 3, 2017

Will U.S. drone killings increase under Donald Trump?  The evidence says “Yes,” in part because expansion of the killer drone program was baked into cake by Barack Obama.

Last year, the USAF was reported to have plans to increase daily drone combat patrols from 60 per day now to 90 per day in 2019. 

The USAF is also replacing all its MQ-1 Predator killer drones with the larger, more deadly MQ-9 Reaper killer drone.

The linked article and press release in the paragraph above say that the Reaper missions will be expanded to include more air support for ground operations (close air support) as well as continued assassination missions. Reconnaissance is always cited by the government as a major killer drone mission, but this is to avoid having to discuss assassination.  

It is important to understand with respect to close air support that the wide-ranging surveillance power of the drone and its ability to stay aloft for long periods over target areas will almost certainly lead to increased killing of “suspects”.

Note also that it is likely that these killings will be unaccounted for by the press and the government as simply casualties of air support missions.  Not reported also will be the fact that the drone assassinations are illegal under international law and that they are happening in wars in which U.S. involvement is illegal.

Drone attacks are also being conducted by the U.S. Army, using the Grey Eagle killer drone, as reported in this Military Times article.  It is clear from this report that the extent of Army and Air Force drone and other air attacks are not being sufficiently monitored or recorded.

To this prescription for increased drone killing that is already part of the U.S. drone war program, we add Trump’s apparent willingness to remove some or all of Obama’s controls over drone and other targeted killing, as indicated in this Daily Beast report.

Evidence of what this may mean has come swiftly with a drone blitz in Yemen launched on March 2, described as “unprecedented” by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

These attacks were clearly intended as assassinations; the U.S. has no ground forces reported in the attack zone.

To be sure, Obama is responsible for thousands of drone killings, compared to hundreds murdered by drones on orders of George W. Bush, primarily in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Obama expanded the killer drone campaign to include: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Philippines. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 7,500 people may have been killed by U.S. drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia alone since drone killing began in 2001.  (The Bureau did not start counting drone killings in Afghanistan until the beginning of 2015, nor has it counted U.S. drone killings in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Philippines.)

But Trump has used a rhetoric of disregard for human life beyond that of Obama Donald ‘Kill Their Families’ Trump Played Into al Qaeda’s Hands - The Daily Beast, and this talk is likely to infect drone control centers and empower commanders and drone operators who have felt constrained under Obama.  This is of particular concern because drone operators are already under a variety of pressures that can lead to extremely deadly mistakes.  See “Drone Operators’ Issues.”

A dramatic expansion of drone attacks, presaged by the March 2 killings, will bring the United States and the world into a new level of danger.  Not only do the strikes increase the likelihood of retaliation inside the U.S. but also overseas, including against targets critical to global commerce.  For example, the new drone attacks might hasten a decision by Yemenis to disrupt traffic in the important shipping channel of its shores, Bab al-Mandab.

The expansion of the U.S. killer drone program was planned before Trump even became a presidential candidate as an essential, integral part of U.S. military operations viewed essential to U.S. global dominance.  Now the U.S. faces the consequences of expanded use of killer drones, weapons that have been embraced by U.S. politicians, military leaders and a public entranced by the sick fantasy of being able to kill without consequences. 

That those being targeted by U.S. drones are all people of color has a special meaning in a time when the notion of white supremacy is so openly supported in the White House.  Tragically, this notion has underwritten drone killing from the beginning, as disregard for lives of people of color has historically been central to U.S. ambitions for global dominance, beginning with the European conquest of North America.

Nick Mottern is on the Advisory Board of World Can't Wait