Killer drones a key part Obama's endless war

Reversing earlier promises to end US military involvement in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has announced that US troops will remain indefinitely. He said they will not be ground combat forces, but trainers and advisers to the forces of the US-imposed warlord-dominated regime.

US air strikes in support of the regime, by both piloted aircraft and drones, will continue. One such strike was the deliberate bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz.

The US made the decision as a desperate attempt to save its puppet regime. It is unlikely that advisers, trainers and air strikes will be sufficient to turn the tide, raising the spectre of US troops again entering into combat.

At almost the same time as Obama's announcement, documents were released detailing the US drone program, provided to the independent news organisation, The Intercept by a whistle blower in US intelligence. The Intercept published them as The Drone Papers.

The Intercept was set up after the revelations by NSW whistleblower Edward Snowden. Its editors are Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who released the Snowden files, and Jeremy Scahill, the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

The exposé of the drone program casts light on why the Washington-imposed Afghan regime is in trouble and needs indefinite US military support.

The leaked internal documents cover drone strikes mainly in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. They show that Washington falsifies the number of civilian killed by drones. The classified materials show that the US military describes fatalities from drones as “enemy killed in action” even if their identity is unknown or if they were not the intended targets.

The documents also corroborate previous reports that all foreign males in a target zone have been treated as “militants” — to use the military's jargon — unless they have been proven innocent after death.

In a statement, Amnesty International said the leaks should spark an independent inquiry over “whether the USA has systematically violated international law”.

The attacks often kill far more civilians than admitted, which runs counter to White House and Pentagon assertions that the strikes are precise and result in minimal casualties.

Documents detailing a mission called Operation Haymaker showed that drone strikes killed more than 219 people in north-eastern Afghanistan from January 2012 to February 2013. Only 35 were intended targets.

In one five-month period of Haymaker, nearly 90% of those killed were not the intended targets. The unnamed source said that US government statements minimising the number of civilian casualties were “exaggerating at best, if not outright lies”.

The intelligence the US relies on to target its air strikes is, the documents acknowledge, “poor and limited”.

The strikes by drones and manned aircraft are targeted largely on the basis of electronic communications data, email and phone recordings, tips from the governments involved or tips from individuals (often holding grudges against proposed targets).

A secret group called the Deputies Committee tries to analyse this. They draw up files of individuals who may be targeted. They call these files “baseball cards”.

Then they arrange these “baseball cards” in order and make recommendations on who should be killed or not killed. The intelligence source said the people in these meetings, far from the war zones, enjoy “playing God”. The recommendations then go up the military chain of command and eventually to the White House.

There, they are examined by lawyers of top administration officials, and then go for approval by a Principals Committee composed of all tops heads of the cabinet, National Security Council, the CIA and the president.

The decisions on who to kill are made by people far removed from any actual intelligence on the ground, which itself is “poor and limited”.

Then Obama gives the order, and the military has 60 days to carry it out. This gives the lie to his claims that strikes are only carried out when there is “imminent threat” of an attack.

We must assume there is some rationality behind all this. And indeed there is. Many reports from ordinary people in Afghanistan indicate that the drone strikes terrorise the population. It is not only the families and friends of those killed who are terrorised, but whole communities.

Imagine what happens when the sound of a drone appears over a village. Everyone knows that there will be a strike, many will be killed, but no one knows who are the targets. Of course the whole village is terrorised.

The rationale, the logic, in the imperialist mindset is that creating such terror will force the population to acquiesce and flock to the puppet government to avoid being associated with the “Taliban” opposition and thus becoming a target.

To inflict terror is the goal — and civilian “collateral damage” furthers that aim. That is why the strikes continue, even though the government is fully aware of the casualties, as The Drone Papers prove.

This was also the case the recent bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz. The city had been recently taken over for a time by the Taliban: a demonstration of its growing strength in the country and an embarrassment to both the Kabul regime and the US.

The US decided it had to teach the population a lesson, and started bombing the hospital, the only medical facility in the region.

Washington now says that was a “mistake” but that is a joke. MSF charges that the bombing was deliberate, as they had given the coordinates of the hospital to the US and Afghan militaries many times. Once the US planes started bombing, the hospital staff alerted the US military. Disregarding this information, the planes kept coming in waves, with precision attacks, for another half an hour, killing many doctors, nurses and patients, and wounding many others. Many are still missing.

The hospital had to be abandoned, leaving the population of Kunduz and the region without any medical facilities. That'll teach them for “allowing” the Taliban to override their city!

Besides terrorising the population, the bombing also was aimed at terrorising MSF itself. The hospital treated anyone needing healthcare in the population, as well as wounded combatants from all sides of the conflict and civilian “collateral damage” — in keeping with MSF's stated purpose to administer to all those in need of medical attention in regions of conflict. That purpose runs counter to imperialist aims.

MSF has called for an independent investigation. But that would require permission from Washington and Kabul — don't hold your breath.

As we saw with the initial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US terror campaign backfires.

“Shock and Awe” as then-Secretary of Defence [War] Donald Rumsfeld gloated over the initial massive bombing of Iraq, led to disaster.

US policy is driving Afghanis into supporting the Taliban, which has now caused the US to double down and once again embark on indefinite war.

The only way out of this vicious circle is for US imperialism to get out of Afghanistan and the whole region including the Middle East.

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.