US drone attack warfare plan for East Africa risky
Posted Sunday, October 2 2011 at 16:32
In moving to expand its use of pilotless surveillance and attack aircraft in
East Africa, the Obama administration has calculated that the potential
military benefits of intensified drone warfare outweigh the political risks
of such a strategy.
The Washington Post reported that the US is building bases for drones in
Ethiopia and on the Arabian Peninsula while arming Somalia-focused drones
launched from the Seychelles.
The US is also continuing to fly drones from its long-established base in
In addition, the Pentagon has supplied Ugandan and Burundian troops in
Somalia with at least four hand-launched reconnaissance drones.
These moves reflect the Obama administration's decision to escalate its war
on militants in Somalia and Yemen who it identifies as terrorists.
Increasing reliance on drones also enables the US to fight this war at a
distance that will ensure its own forces do not sustain casualties that
would cause political problems at home.
The US will likely be criticised in global forums on the grounds that it is
undermining international human rights law by carrying out remote-control
killings in countries with which it is not formally at war.
'PlayStation' mentality to killing
Philip Alston, an international law expert employed by the UN to investigate
extra-judicial killings, warned earlier this year that because drones "make
it easier to kill without risk to a state's forces, policymakers and
commanders will be tempted to interpret the legal limitations on who can be
killed, and under what circumstances, too expansively."
Alston further cited the "risk of developing a 'PlayStation' mentality to
killing." He noted that drones are controlled by technicians thousands of
miles away who rely on computer programs and video feeds in carrying out
push-button missile launches.
There is also the danger that drone strikes will turn civilian populations
in East Africa against the US, as has occurred in Pakistan.
Revulsion over this type of warfare stems in part from the collateral
destruction that the drones are said to have caused in Pakistan villages.
The Pentagon claims that its drone attacks on targets in Pakistan have
killed hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters while sparing civilians.
That assertion of 100 per cent accuracy has been met with scepticism on the
part of some investigators.
The British Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports, for example, that
the number of Pakistani civilians killed by drone-fired weapons is somewhere
between 385 and 775 out of as many as 2863 deaths due to drone attacks.