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To Drone or Not to Drone

America’s War on “Terror”

Organised warfare has existed in virtually all property societies, including present-day capitalism. But the methods and numbers of combatants are rapidly changing. And the cost of modern warfare, it would seem, is becoming too expensive even for the United States. Hence the increasing use of what “US officials describe as a cheap, safe and precise tool to eliminate enemies” (Internal Herald Tribune, 3 October), such as the use of predator drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and elsewhere. Not that drones come on the cheap, or are as safe and accurate as US propagandists often claim.

Says Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations: “The lessons of the big wars is obvious. The cost in blood and treasure is immense, and the outcome is unforeseeable. Public support is declining towards rock bottom. And the people you’ve come to liberate come to resent your presence.” Quite.

The result is what the Tribune calls “shrinking budgets”, which no longer accommodate the deployment of large US forces overseas. Apparently, each soldier costs the American state about one million dollars per year.

There have been improvements over the last decade in the technical capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft. Although the article does not say so, such drones - first, as spy planes and then later as missile-carrying aircraft - have been developed in Nevada at Area 51, the supposedly secret base much beloved by UFOlogists. Again, although not generally publicised in the mass media, they are controlled from the US Air Force Base also in Nevada.

Since General Petraeus (he now likes to be called “Mister”!) has become director of the CIA, he has pioneered the use of drones, with the support of Defence Secretary, Leon E. Panetta, who has been an enthusiastic advocate of drones in Pakistan.

The operation of drones is however, not that simple. Each aircraft requires a team of more than 150 personnel, maintaining and repairing it, as well as the collection of radio signals, videos and “voluminous intelligence necessary to prompt a single strike”. And the so-called pilot (a murderer by remote control) sits in front of a computer thousands of miles away in America. The US Air Force spends at least $5 billion a year just on its remotely piloted drone systems.

Yet compared with a conventional war it is not particularly expensive – the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will by the end of this year have cost America at least $4 trillion!

The CIA consider that attacks by drones alienate, and kill, fewer people than conventional armies, but admit that they have angered many Pakistanis, who resent the inevitable civilian casualties when, as often happens, the drones go awry, or are directed not to “terrorists” (that is anti-American ones), but to villagers.

According to the Pentagon, the use of drones is just one of the many capabilities at America’s disposal “to go after terrorists and others”. It is tied to a policy; not just the use of them as weapons for weapon’s sake.

They are deployed where it is tough to go after an enemy by conventional means – such as in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas.

Zenko is concerned about the growing perception that the use of drones is the answer “to terrorism, just a few years after many officials believed that invading and remaking countries would prove the cure”.

It would seem, however, that they never learn.
PETER E. NEWELL