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Friday, 22 February 2013

Drones Strikes


US Senator Says 4,700 Killed in Drone Strikes
AlJazeera

A US senator has said that an estimated 4,700 people have been killed in America’s secretive drone war, the first time a government official has offered a total number of fatalities caused by nearly a decade of drone strikes, local media reported.Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of the drone raids, revealed the figure in a speech on Wednesday in his home state of South Carolina.
 “We’ve killed 4,700,” Graham was quoted as saying by the Easley Patch, a local website covering the small town of Easley. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaeda,” he told the local Rotary Club.
Graham’s office did not dispute his reported remarks, but said that he had not divulged any classified information.
A spokesman told the AFP news agency that the senator “quoted the figure that has been publicly reported and disseminated on cable news.”
US officials have sometimes hinted at estimates of civilian casualties, but never referred to an actual total body count.
 “Now this is the first time a US official has put a total number on it,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
 ‘Tactical weapon’
If there was an official death toll estimate, it would be classified as secret, he added, raising the prospect that Graham could have broken secrecy laws.
Several organizations have tried to calculate how many militants and civilians may have been killed in drone strikes since 2004 but have arrived at a wide range of numbers.
The figure cited by Graham matches the high end of a tally by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It says the number killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia is between 3,072 and 4,756.
The Washington-based New America Foundation says there have been 350 US drone strikes since 2004, most of them during Barack Obama’s presidency. And the foundation estimates the death toll at between 1,963 and 3,293, with 261 to 305 civilians killed.
US intelligence agencies and the White House have refused to divulge details about the strikes, which are officially termed classified, but officials have suggested that few if any civilians have been killed inadvertently.
In confirmation hearings this month for John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, senator Dianne Feinstein said she understood that the number of civilians killed was in the “single digits.”
Despite criticism from lawmakers and rights advocates who have questioned the secrecy and the legality of the drone attacks, Graham defended Obama’s reliance on the unmanned, robotic aircraft. “It’s a weapon that needs to be used,” Graham said. “It’s a tactical weapon. A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is now armed.”
The Obama administration has insisted the “targeted killings” are “a last resort” against those plotting to attack the United States but who cannot be captured.
Opponents, however, say drone strikes amount to extrajudicial assassinations that sow resentment among local populations and lack oversight by Congress or courts.
You might have heard about the “kill list.” You’ve certainly heard about drones. But the details of the U.S. campaign against militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s national security approach – remain shrouded in secrecy. Here’s our guide to what we know—and what we don’t know.
Where is the drone war? Who carries it out?
Drones have been the Obama administration’s tool of choice for taking out militants outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Drones aren’t the exclusive weapon – traditional airstrikes and other attacks have also been reported. But by one estimate, 95 percent of targeted killings since 9/11 have been conducted by drones.  Among the benefits of drones: they don’t put American troops in harm’s way.
The first reported drone strike against Al Qaeda happened in Yemen in 2002. The CIA ramped up secret drone strikes in Pakistan under President George W. Bush in 2008. Under Obama, they have expanded drastically there and in Yemen in 2011.
The CIA isn’t alone in conducting drone strikes. The military has acknowledged “direct action” in Yemen and Somalia. Strikes in those countries are reportedly carried out by the secretive, elite Joint Special Operations Command. Since 9/11, JSOC has grown more than tenfold, taking on intelligence-gathering as well as combat roles. (For example, JSOC was responsible for the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.)
The drone war is carried out remotely, from the U.S.  and a network of secret bases around the world. The Washington Post got a glimpse – through examining construction contracts and showing up uninvited – at the base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti from which many of the strikes on Yemen and Somalia are carried out. Earlier this year, Wired pieced together an account of the war against Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group and the U.S.’s expanded military presence throughout Africa.
The number of strikes in Pakistan has ebbed in recent years, from a peak of more than 100 in 2010, to an estimated 46 last year. Meanwhile, the pace in Yemen picked up, with more than 40 last year. But there have been seven strikes in Pakistan in the first ten days of 2013.
When does the drone war end?
The administration has reportedly discussed scaling back the drone war, but by other accounts, it is formalizing the targeted killing program for the long haul. The U.S.estimates there Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a “few thousand” members; but officials have also said the U.S. cannot “capture or kill every last terrorist who claims an affiliation with al Qaeda.”
Jeh Johnson, who just stepped down as general counsel for the Pentagon, gave a speech last month entitled, “The Conflict Against Al Qaeda and its Affiliates: How Will It End?” He didn’t give a date.
John Brennan has reportedly said the CIA should return to its focus on intelligence-gathering. But Brennan’s key role in running the drone war from the White House has led to debate about how much he would actually curtail the agency’s involvement if he is confirmed as CIA chief.
What about backlash abroad?
There appears to be plenty of it. Drone strikes are deeply unpopular in the countries where they occur, sparking frequent protests. Despite that, Brennan said last August that the U.S. saw,“little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits.”
General Stanley McChrystal, who led the military in Afghanistan, recently contradicted that, saying, “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.” The New York Times recently reported that Pakistani militants have carried out a campaign of brutal reprisals against locals, accusing them of spying for the U.S.
As for international governments: Top U.S. allies have mostly kept silent. A 2010 U.N. report raised concerns about the precedent of a covert, boundary-less war. The President of Yemen, Abdu Hadi, supports the U.S. campaign, while Pakistan maintains an uneasy combination of public protest and apparent acquiescence.
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