Living under constant threat of drones

Much of the public debate about drone strikes in Pakistan has focused narrowly on whether strikes are ‘doing their job’—i.e., whether the majority of those killed are “militants.” That framing, however, fails to take account of the people on the ground who live with the daily presence of lethal drones in their skies and with the constant threat of drone strikes in their communities.

Numerous other reports have highlighted the disastrous impacts of Taliban and other armed actor operations in Pakistan. Those impacts must also factor into the formulation of governance and military policy in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This report, however, aims to draw attention to a critical gap in understanding, specifically about life under drones and the socio-economic impacts of drone strikes on civilians in North Waziristan.

Available evidence suggests that these impacts are significant, and challenges the prevailing US government and media narrative that portrays drones as pinpoint precision weapons with limited collateral impact. It is crucial that broader civilian impacts and the voices of those affected be given due weight in US debates about drones.

New site Living under drones for further reading.

Lost drones


It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your drone is?

Oh, the confusion of it all! The U.S. military now insists it was deeply befuddled when it claimed that a super-secret advanced RQ-170 Sentinel drone (aka “the beast of Kandahar”) which fell into Iranian hands on December 4th — evidently while surveying suspected nuclear sites — was lost patrolling the Afghan border. The military, said a spokesman, “did not have a good understanding of what was going on because it was a CIA mission.”

Whatever happened, that lost drone story hit the headlines in a way that allowed everyone their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Dick Cheney went on the air to insist that President Obama should have sent Air Force planes into Iran to blow the grounded Sentinel to bits. (Who cares about sparking off hostilities or sending global oil prices skyrocketing?) President Obama formally asked for the plane’s return, but somehow didn’t have high hopes that the Iranians would comply. (Check out Gary Powers and the downing of his U-2 spy plane over Russia in 1960 for a precedent.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swore we would never stop our Afghan-based drone surveillance of Iran. Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked that his country be kept out of any “adversarial relations between Iran and the United States.” (Fat chance!) The Iranians, who displayed the plane, insisted proudly that they had hacked into it, “spoofed” its navigational controls, and brought it in for a relatively soft landing. And Kim Kardashian… oops, wrong story.

Further reading.

Justin Raimondo on mechanized imperialism

The Obama administration has found a good way to avoid both the domestic political and international fallout that comes of waging constant warfare: let machines do the dirty work. Of course, the Obamaites don’t get the full credit for the discovery – drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan were part of the Bush team‘s strategic plan, but the Obama White House has gone much further in utilizing this tactic to escalate and extend American military operations around the world, and they’re doing it in secret – without congressional oversight, without public debate, and without the knowledge or consent of the American people.

The theater of operations is vast – potentially as vast as the world itself, given the rationale of pursing “terrorists” wherever they might be detected – and, so far, the range extends from the tribal regions of Pakistan to the African savannah, where pilotless “Reapers” take off from airfields in Ethiopia and Djibouti in search of prey. According to reports, US bases have also been established in Saudi Arabia and the Seychelles for this purpose. The latter, I hear, are quite happy about what this has done for local business: Americans may be standing in the unemployment lines, while their taxes go to fund endless war, but the Seychellois are in relatively good shape these days.

In any case, the latest targets of these unmanned killer-drones are located, as far as we know, in Somalia, where the Islamic group al-Shabab is alleged to have some vague ties to al-Qaeda. But that’s just what they’re telling us: because this is a secret war, we don’t know the real targets. It is highly likely, however, that among those targets are numerous rebel groups rising against the tyranny of Ethiopian “president” Meles Zenawi.

Further reading.

Friendly fire they call it

A U.S. Marine reservist and a Navy corpsman were killed in a drone airstrike in Afghanistan last week in an apparent case of friendly fire, U.S. military officials tell NBC News.

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast were reportedly killed Wednesday by a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. Air Force Predator in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity, NBC reported. Smith and Rast were part of a Marine unit moving in to reinforce fellow Marines under heavy fire from enemy forces outside Sangin in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

Further reading.

Mail from NDE’s Jim in Kabul

March 21, 2011
Jim Haber via email from Kabul, Afghanistan:

Today’s discussions with the young Afghans was so powerful, hearing their individual stories. Also, they have specific ideas for us to share with our friends at home. We’re looking forward to sharing with you the images of their actions, the powerful slogans that we can share and amplify. The candle light of hope that we hope to ignite with you, sparked from candles we return with from the vigil here the other night. Their commitment to ending the killing in their country is strong. The clarity with which they call on all the warring factions to stop killing is so powerful. The risks for peace they take are so real. The 25 members of this delegation are inspired by this small group to redouble our work to get their message out, to combat the ignorant perspectives of the people of Afghanistan.

People were warned about threats of violence today, the Afghan New Year, the first day of Spring. 50,000 people gathered, and throughout the city there was a bit of an earthquake in the afternoon, but no bombs or attacks. It was a day of celebration. Tomorrow, Mary Lou and I will visit a internally displaced person’s camp on the edge of town. I’m sure it will be sobering, but we’ll also have more to share when we return.

Finding Hope in Afghanistan
By Jake Olzen
March 20, 2011

In a country torn by thirty years of war where the promise of peace is continually broken, despair and resignation seem to be the norm for Afghan society.  War – and its corollaries of social decay, poverty, corruption, and trauma – does not discriminate. 

Not a family in Afghanistan has been left unaffected by the death or disappearance of a loved one and the daily, traumatizing stress of living in an occupied war zone.  Billions of aid intended for reconstruction has been siphoned off leaving little left over for meaningful, local development. 

Afghanistan is an unstable society wracked by corruption at nearly every level of government and a pervasive distrust of strangers and neighbors alike is the expectant result of such disintegration of social ties.  But as the late Studs Terkel reminds us, “hope dies last.”  And this is certainly true for the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a small but growing group of young Afghans committed to a life of peace in the midst of so much violence.

While cynicism and disbelief  run deep across generations, the AYPVs have an alternative vision for their country embedded deep in their hearts – and they believe this hope for peace is already in the heart of every Afghan.

Hope in the Afghan Spring
Fifty-five young saplings mark the beginning of a new year in Afghanistan.   The various apple, apricot, and almond trees were planted in a Kabul elementary and high school as a sign of hope and promise of peace.  Organized by the AYPVs, twenty-five international partners joined together with over fifty ordinary Afghans to declare a commitment to an Afghanistan without war.

The previous day, the AYPVS along with members of the Open Society organized and participated in an inter-ethnic walk for an end to the war.  As far as anyone can tell, this is the first public gathering calling for peace in Afghanistan that is not politically aligned or sponsored.  The bright blue scarves of the AYPVs, their smiles and words of gratitude to the accompanying riot police, and banners denouncing warmongering is a considerable different message that most Kabulis are not used to seeing or hearing. 

The steadfast commitment to nonviolence of the AYPVs and their deep desire for peace offers a kind of hope that is unheard of in Afghanistan but it also offers a breath of fresh air.  Slowly but surely the AYPVs and their partners – both Afghan and international – are growing into a sizable community with a peace-filled vision for Afghanistan. 

The planting of trees is a small gesture indeed and the challenges for ending the foreign occupation of Afghanistan, confronting corruption and human rights abuses (particularly of women), and promoting a culture of peace are many.  But the planting of trees is a beginning and it may very well be the birth of a movement that transforms Afghanistan.       

Jake Olzen is a member of the White Rose Community in Chicago, Il.  He writes from Kabul, Afghanistan.  He can be reached at jake.olzen@gmail.com

March 19th: Candlelight commemoration remembering the children recently killed in Afghanistan – Nau Roz

From Kathy Kelly´s article on Antiwar.com, entitled One blue sky above us:

On March 19th, in Kabul, Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers will hold a candlelight commemoration, remembering the children recently killed in Afghanistan. Following this ceremony they will plant saplings as a symbol of their dedication to a nonviolent future. Their compassion extends beyond Afghanistan to young people in other lands, some of whom they will connect with through a “Global Day of Listening,” a 24-hour Skype communication which they’ll host on the first day of spring, Afghanistan’s “Nau Roz” (New Year’s Day) holiday. Colorado College students, on their spring break, plan to participate.

Read the whole article http://original.antiwar.com/kathy-kelly/2011/03/18/one-blue-sky-above-us/”>here.

International peace activists arrive in Afghanistan for week of actions

From Wagingnonviolence.org

by Eric Stoner | March 18, 2011

A group of 28 peace activists from the US and Australia, including Waging Nonviolence contributors Simon Moyle, Jim Haber and Jake Olzen, has just arrived in Afghanistan. They immediately connected with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a truly inspirational group of young people who I had the good fortune of getting to know during my trip there in December. As Voices for Creative Nonviolence co-coordinator Kathy Kelly explains in an article that was widely published today:

Last evening, they showed us photos of an unusual walk they’d held in the streets of downtown Kabul that morning. Dressed in white, with the young women wearing sky blue veils and the young men in the same color neck scarves, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers carried sky blue and white banners proclaiming that Peace is a Pre-Requisite for Progress. They are seeking an end to wars in their country. “Why did you choose sky blue?” I asked. “Because it shows that there is just one sky over all of us,” Chahara replied. Although they came from different ethnicities and various provinces, they walked shoulder to shoulder, 40 of them, on a bright, warm day.

The delegation’s itinerary over the next few days is jam-packed. Kelly writes that:

On March 19th, in Kabul, Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers will hold a candlelight commemoration, remembering the children recently killed in Afghanistan. Following this ceremony they will plant saplings as a symbol of their dedication to a nonviolent future. Their compassion extends beyond Afghanistan to young people in other lands, some of whom they will connect with through a “Global Day of Listening,” a 24 hour Skype communication which they’ll host on the first day of spring [March 20], Afghanistan’s “Nau Roz” (New Year’s Day) holiday… (see: www.livewithoutwars.org and www.ourjourneytosmile.com or email globaldayoflistening@gmail.com to arrange participation for yourself and/or your community.

Hopefully over the next few days we will be running the dispatches from our contributors on the ground, so check back for updates on the work of these courageous activists.