Flashback: US Air Force confirms new ‘Beast of Kandahar’ drone | Clinton confronted by Pakistanis over attacks by aerial drones | UN: Drone attacks may violate international law | Kandahar spy blimp raises privacy concerns | US drone ’shot down over Somalia’ | Canada’s military peers into future, sees drone patrols, draft, insurgency | 250-Foot Long Hybrid Airship Will Spy Over Afghanistan Battlefields in 2011 | Military spycraft patrols Ontario border from Fort Drum | Homing chips are CIA’s latest weapon against ‘al-Qaida’ targets hiding in Pakistan’s tribal belt | CIA: Our Drones are Killing Terrorists. Promise | Pentagon plans blimp to spy from new heights | Remote-controlled planes could spy on British homes | Predator drones patrolling border irk Manitoba MLA | Report: CIA runs secret bases in Pakistan | U.S. set to launch Predator drones to monitor Manitoba border | Military Tech on the Home Front: Predator drones to begin surveillance of Canada-US border | Hoverdrone to be deployed to Iraq | Kids to Help Create Drones, ‘Fuzzy’ Line to Be Drawn between Military and Civil Spheres | Canadian military acquiring new helicopters, drones | Unmanned spy planes to police Britain | Austin police testing unmanned spy drones | Nunavut taken aback by military plan for drone patrols | U.S. to patrol Manitoba border with drone aircraft
Noah Schactman, Wired.com
December 10, 2009
The headquarters for the American military’s air war in Central Asia and the Middle East is located in a converted medical warehouse on an undisclosed base in a country the U.S. Air Force would rather not name. [Ed. Note: Probably in Pakistan, as PressNews has reported.] The lights are turned down low, so the troops can clearly see the giant screen at the far end of the in this cavernous, classified facility.
On that glowing screen is a digital map of Afghanistan, showing the position of every U.S. Air Force drone, every fighter jet, every bomber and every tanker aircraft with a teal dot. Most of the dots are positioned near the hotspots of the Afghanistan war – places like Kandahar, Helmand and Nangarhar provinces. But there are three dots, representing Air Force unmanned aerial vehicles, that aren’t above Afghanistan at all. These dots have moved to the east of the Afghan border; these drones are flying missions over Pakistan.
Over the past year and a half, the United States has stepped up drone strikes against militants in Pakistan – killing as many as a thousand people, by some estimates. Press accounts have largely credited the Central Intelligence Agency with running these missions. Government officials have refused to speak in public about drone attacks, just as they routinely rebuff any attempt to probe into the CIA’s operations. “I’m not going to comment on any particular tactic or technology,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told a group of Pakistani journalists.
But the U.S. Air Force also plays an important role in the drone missions over Pakistan, according to current and former American military officials, and judging from what I saw at that undisclosed location. The military supplies the aircraft. It monitors the flights in and out of Pakistan. And, on occasion, Air Force pilots remotely fly their own drone missions over Pakistan. On that digital map are the far end of the warehouse, there’s a note reminding troops exactly how much notice they must give before U.S. military planes enter Pakistani airspace.
U.S. military drones began flying over Pakistan soon after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. “I dealt with the Pakistani air chief from the beginning,” says a former senior military officer. “At times, we operated a bit out of Pakistan.”
Today, those missions have become a regular occurrence. The U.S. Air Force has a fleet of Predator and heavily-armed Reaper drones, stationed at Kandahar and Jalalabad Air Fields in Afghanistan. All of these robotic aircraft are allowed to venture occasionally into Pakistani airspace to pursue militants. The government in Islamabad just has to be notified first. Some of the Predators also fly into Pakistan on operations in conjunction with or in support of Islamabad’s military.
These missions are remotely flown by U.S. Air Force pilots at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada; the footage is shared with the Pakistani government, including at joint coordination centers on the border.
In addition, some of the Predators and Reapers are placed under the operational control of the CIA, which uses them to conduct their own strike and surveillance missions. Some of those drones take off from Jalalabad, others from within Pakistan itself, at a remote base called Shamshi. According to the New York Times, those aircraft are operated out of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
The private security firm Blackwater, now known as “Xe,” provides local security for the robotic aircraft, and helps assemble the drones’ arrays of Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs. Those munitions are then unleashed during strikes on suspected militants, targeted by a combination of informants’ tips, radio intercepts and overhead surveillance. Al Qaeda claims that cheap, battery-sized infrared beacons are handed out to local agents, who then use them to signal for drones to attack.
From what I can tell, these CIA missions comprise the bulk of the drone flights over Pakistan. And the military has, at times, encouraged the notion that operating the unmanned aircraft was the spy agency’s job. “The overwhelming bulk of all activity in Afghanistan since the first U.S. forces went in have been basically under the control of the Central Command,” then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters in 2002. “An exception has been the armed Predators, which are CIA-operated.”
But while the CIA’s drone flights are kept largely compartmentalized from the U.S. military’s efforts in Afghanistan, there is overlap between the two. The Air Force has a total of 39 “orbits,” or air patrols, currently operating in Central Asia and the Middle East. The CIA draws its Predators and Reapers from this pool of military drones. “There are 39 orbits, that’s it. No wink, wink,” a military officer says.
No matter who controls the mission, some airmen at the undisclosed base’s warehouse-turned-war-room are aware of every flight, at least in general terms. The officers there at the Combined Air & Space Operations Center, or CAOC, need to have a basic idea of where every aircraft is, to keep them from crashing into one another in mid-air. That’s simple air traffic control, just like in the civilian world.
Because the drones can fire missiles and bombs from miles away, there needs to be an added layer of monitoring. “You have to know where every bomb went, and where every bomb is supposed to go,” a former senior military official says. “No one is just gonna allow the expenditure of ordnance out of the wild blue yonder.” It’s one of the many ways in which the air wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked.
Ironically, these two connected air campaigns are almost mirror images of one another. On one side of the border, there’s an influx of tens of thousands of U.S. troops; on the other, American boots on the ground have been largely forbidden, except for a handful of trainers from special forces. So instead, America uses a fleet of robotic aircraft, to avoid the prohibition against flesh-and-blood troops.
In Afghanistan, airstrikes have been strictly limited, to minimize casualties. In Pakistan – if news accounts about those assaults are even remotely accurate – the attacks are far, far more deadly. According to an analysis of public reports by the New America Foundation, 82 U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan since 2006 “have killed between 750 and 1,000 people.” Up to 320 of those may have been civilians. The Long War Journal, examining the same records, calculates that 447 people have been killed in 42 reported drone strikes during the first nine months of 2009. The website estimates that only 10 percent of those deaths have been innocents.
But since the Pakistani government bans reporters and aid organizations from the tribal lands, where the majority of drone strikes have been reported, no one can say for sure how many have really been killed by the unmanned attackers.
The drone strikes in Pakistan have been widely credited with taking out senior leaders of both the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda. But they’ve also come under increasing criticism, as a secret extension of the war in Central Asia fought under uncertain authority and with questionable morality.
It wasn’t long ago that the United States condemned Israel for its “targeted killings” of Palestinian terrorists. Now, the U.S. pursues a similar tactic in its campaign against Al Qaeda. “The things we were complaining about from Israel a few years ago we now embrace,” Georgetown University Law Center professor Gary Solis recently told the New Yorker. A week before the 9/11 attacks, then-CIA chief George Tenet argued that it would be “a terrible mistake” for “the Director of Central Intelligence to fire a weapon” like the Predator. Seven years later, current CIA director Leon Panetta says the drones are “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the Al Qaeda leadership.”
Recently, President Obama authorized a widening of the drone war in Pakistan. “Even more operations targeting terrorism safe havens,” one American official tells the New York Times. “More people, more places, more operations.”
It’s not clear if the U.S. military will join the CIA in this expanded campaign.
Source | See also under War: Another 7,000 NATO troops going to Afghanistan | Obama sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan | U.S. ‘missed chance’ to capture bin Laden in 2001 | Colvin’s testimony true: former Afghan MP | Condi set sights on Iraq as 9/11 unfolded: UK diplomat | German army chief resigns over Afghanistan air strike | Nato will send 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan, says Brown | Report: Blackwater approved plan to pay off Iraqi officials | UK soldier testifies comrades beat Iraqi to death | Ex-diplomat says Afghanistan in ‘civil war,’ calls for US withdrawal | UN: Drone attacks may violate international law | Bomb kills dozens in Pakistan as Hillary Clinton arrives | Pakistani Army working with ‘Good Taliban’ | Israel rules out Gaza probe | Refugee flood reveals human cost of South Waziristan’s invisible war | ‘Taliban’ resist Pakistan onslaught | Pakistani troops assault ‘Taliban’ stronghold | UN body endorses Gaza war crimes report | Rape case to force defence contractors Halliburton/KBR into the open | UN body debates Gaza war crimes report | UK to send more troops to Afghanistan, hints Obama to follow suit | Pakistan launches air strikes before offensive | Obama rules out Afghanistan troop cuts | Another War in the Works | US military could strike Iran, but at what cost? | Obama considers new strategies for Afghanistan and Pakistan | Canada, at war, to urge peace for everyone else during Olympics | Obama scales back missile defence shield in Europe | Israel ‘will attack Iran this year’ if West does not cripple Tehran with sanctions | ‘Regrettable’ if Canada quits Afghanistan: Chertoff | Top US commander signals troop increase in Afghanistan | Canada sees worsening security in Afghanistan | UN condemns ‘war crimes’ in Gaza | Canadian media watched closely in Afghanistan | In wake of 9/11, ‘War on Terror’ spawned more terrorism | NATO pledges probe of deadly Afghan air strike; civilians killed | UK: Brown defends Afghan campaign in wake of aide’s resignation | Afghanistan Drug Raid Snares Border Police Commander | Afghanistan’s Hidden Heroin Addicts | Ex-employees claim Blackwater pimped out young Iraqi girls | Selling Canada on Afghanistan | Canada should stay in Afghanistan: NATO head | ‘Coalition of the willing’ comes to end in Iraq | U.S. military seeks ’second surge’ for Afghan mission | Britain and US prepared to open talks with the Taliban | Israeli soldiers allege abuses against Palestinians | Tamils languish in Sri Lankan camps | UK PM Gordon Brown plans troops surge in Afghanistan | Western Governments Funding Taliban & Al-Qaeda To Kill U.S. Troops, Destabilize Countries | Taliban flee new U.S. drive in Afghanistan | Iraq Marks Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Cities | Brookings Publication mentions possibility of ‘Horrific Provocation’ to Trigger Iran Invasion | Pakistan remains silent as U.S. air attack kills 80 | North Korea threatens to ‘wipe out’ U.S. | North Korea threatens merciless attack if it is provoked | New Afghan mission commander vows to protect civilians | Sri Lanka has ‘nothing to hide’ yet detains, deports Bob Rae enroute to observe camps | Pakistan army backs citizens fighting Taliban | The Main Result of the “War on Terror”: The Destabilization of Pakistan | Homing chips are CIA’s latest weapon against ‘al-Qaida’ targets hiding in Pakistan’s tribal belt | Abu Ghraib abuse photos ’show rape’ | State Of War Between Two Koreas After Armistice Ended | Skepticism greets launch of Afghan detainee inquiry | UN chief flies into Sri Lanka as Tamils herded into camps | Pakistani troops battle Taliban in key Swat Valley city | Canada eyes arms sales to Pakistan | Quarter of a million Sri Lankans face two years in camps | Tamil Tiger leader killed, insurgency crushed: officials | MacKay to discuss security concerns with Pakistan | New US brigade ‘bringing in plenty of firepower’ to Afghanistan | Caught in the crossfire — the Swat valley’s fleeing families | Medics helpless, ’safe zone’ hospital shelled 2nd time in Sri Lanka | CIA: Our Drones are Killing Terrorists. Promise. | ‘More than 1,000 civilians killed’ in attacks on Sri Lanka safe zone | 500,000 fleeing Pakistani airstrikes, fighting, UN reports | US air strikes kill dozens of Afghan civilians | Pakistan’s army: as inept as it is corrupt | UN satellite imagery attests to shelling of Tamil ’safe zone’ | U.S. troops will have big impact on Afghan mission: Canadian commander | British soldiers ‘tortured and murdered 20 Iraqis, then covered it up with firefight claim’ | Killer robots and a revolution in warfare | Tamil civilians slaughtered as army shells ‘no-fire zone’ | NATO denies air strike killed Afghan civilians | NATO agrees to Afghan troop increase | Canadian Parliament votes again to let U.S. war resisters stay | Obama’s Blackwater? Chicago Mercenary Firm Gets Millions for Private “Security” in Israel and Iraq | Netanyahu: We may be forced to attack Iran | Israeli parliament approves Netanyahu’s new government | Obama adds another brigade to Afghanistan troop surge | War resister Kimberly Rivera gets 11th hour stay from deportation | Pentagon exploring robot killers that can fire on their own | Intelligence made it clear Saddam was not a threat, diplomat tells MPs | Israeli military whistleblowers: troops fired on children | US military may escalate ‘war on terror’ by striking deeper into Pakistan | Dismay at Obama plan to leave 50,000 US troops in Iraq after 2010 | Cost of Afghan mission jumps to $11.3-billion | New Canadian commander in Afghanistan welcomes U.S. troop influx | Report: CIA runs secret bases in Pakistan | Obama eyes 3 more brigades for Afghanistan | U.S. war resister gets temporary stay of removal | Israel pulls land forces from Gaza, gunboats continue shelling coast | Israel admits troops used phosphorus shells in Gaza | Israel steps up Gaza withdrawal after ceasefire | Hamas joins fragile Israeli ceasefire | Israel declares ceasefire | Video shows proof of phosphorous bombs in Gaza | Aid destroyed as UN’s Gaza HQ hit by Israeli fire | Israel ignores ceasefire plea, pounds Gaza | UN relief agency halts aid to Gaza, citing Israeli attacks on staff | Rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel | U.S. war resister, mother of 3 must leave Canada | Israeli shelling kills dozens at UN school in Gaza | They hate us for our bombs | Israeli army set for invasion | Food, medicine, fuel needed in Gaza, agencies warn | Gaza relief boat carrying former Congresswoman rammed by Israelis | ‘Abusive’ coalition raids stoking anger in Afghanistan: report | Canada ‘not onboard’ with U.S. plan to arm Afghan militias | Top U.S. general boosts troop pledge to Afghanistan | Brown: British military to withdraw from Iraq, to ’share burden’ in Afghanistan | George Bush shoe-thrower ‘too severely beaten’ for court appearance | Khadr, interred in rubble, couldn’t have thrown grenade in firefight: Evidence | Afghan war boosts recruiting | Former ISI Chief: Mumbai And 9/11 Both “Inside Jobs” | Blackwater Guards facing Charges in Case of 17 Dead Iraqi Citizens | Indian Intelligence Provided SIM Cards to Mumbai Gunmen | 3 new deaths in Afghanistan push Canadian toll to 101 | Neo-cons still preparing for Iran attack | Afghan government sacks Kandahar governor | Obama’s planned troop surge in Afghanistan could lead to more violence: ISAF | Military to probe response to sex charges | US General David Petraeus to take CENTCOM helm for Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan | ‘Reconstruction’ efforts in Khandahar not apparent to Afghanis | Peace activists demand Canada leave Afghanistan | NATO to let troops fight Afghan drug lords | US faces downward spiral in Afghan war, says leaked intelligence report | Afghan mission cost: up to $18B | Delta Force Officer: We Weren’t Allowed to Kill Osama Bin Laden | Victory impossible in Afghanistan: senior British commander | Defiant military watchdog widens detainee hearings | ‘Some’ Troops to stay in Afghanistan past 2011: McKay | CSIS faces review in Khadr case | Blackwater-linked firm to train Canadian troops | Canadian troops continue gearing up, to receive US counter-insurgency training | Asia’s new ‘great game’ is all about pipelines | MacKay dismisses Taliban threat as ‘propaganda’ | Controversial Kandahar governor replaced | America to assume command in Afghanistan | Canadian military acquiring new helicopters, drones | Low Level Driver Convicted Of Terror Charges While Bin Laden’s Senior Body Guard Was Let Go | Afghani Narco-state Continues to Blossom under Puppet President | Protesters push for Omar Khadr’s release | Obama promises 10,000 more troops for Afghanistan | Afghanistan suggests Pakistan responsible for embassy bombing | Canadian, NATO forces stood down during Afghan jailbreak | Canadian military silent on Afghan civilian deaths: UN investigator | US Counterinsurgency Manual Leaked, Calls for False Flag Operations, Suspension of Human Rights | Report: U.S. Gave Green Light For Taliban Prison Attack | Don’t look, don’t tell, troops told in response to Afghani child abuse | Post-traumatic stress disorder’s hidden scars | Over 100 complaints about access to govt. info on Afghan mission: report | Canada sets up new military spy unit | Bid to Block Afghan Detainee Inquiry Slammed | Army begins using $150,000 artillery shells | FBI documents contradict 9/11 Commission report | Truth or Terrorism? The Real Story Behind Five Years of High Alerts | 9/11 widows call for new investigation after revelations of White House, commission ties | Director of 9/11 commission “secretly spoke with Rove, White House” | Eight U.S. State Department Veterans Challenge the Official Account of 9/11 | Twenty-five U.S. Military Officers Challenge Official Account of 9/11 | Ex-Italian President: Intel Agencies Know 9/11 An Inside Job | Afghan poll not as clear as it seems | 9/11 – the big cover-up? | New Bin Laden Video: 100% Forgery | What Ottawa doesn’t want you to know: Government was told detainees faced ‘extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial’ | The Lies that Led to War | U.S. Government Caught Red-Handed Releasing Staged Al-Qaeda Videos | US Allowed Taliban, Al-Qaeda Airlift Evacuation