On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a new “sanitised” kind of war is reshaping the future of America’s military industrial complex.
The use of unmanned drones – robotic war – is carried out through a string of military sites stretching from the Creech Air Force Base in the Nevada desert, traversing through CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, before landing on new desert airstrips in the Middle East. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ (to give them their correct name) main mission is the tracking and targeted killing of alleged terrorists.
Earlier this month, a drone using the newly introduced, more accurate, Small Smart Weapon or Scorpion missile, delivered a direct hit by mistake near Rada in Yemen, killing 13 members of one family. Following the raid, Yemeni activist Nasr Abdulla said, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of Al Qaeda… This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously.” Last May, a Yemeni official told The Washington Post, “There is a psychological acceptance of Al Qaeda because of US strikes.”
In modern history, no military power has been able to win, unequivocally, a guerrilla war. The hardest fought battle is for the hearts and minds of the average person; the US is squarely losing this war. The killing of innocent bystanders by drone attacks breeds resentment and new recruits for Al-Qaeda.
The latest was not an isolated incident. A 2009 study by Daniel Byman at the Brookings Institute concluded that drone strikes have killed “10 or so civilians” for “every mid- and high-ranking (terrorist) leader”. US officials continue to downplay the loss of civilians while publicly asserting their best efforts to avoid “collateral damage”.
But this claim is disputed by Micah Zenko of the Council of Foreign Relations, who wrote recently: “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 non-battlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the US defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past 10 years.”
Another major blunder was last November’s killing of more than 24 Pakistani soldiers in what became known as the Salata incident, prompting the government to close the border for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. Last June, 18 civilians were killed at a wedding in the village of Logar, forcing the Afghan president to demand a halt to drone strikes.
Eleven years after 9/11, every branch of the US military, including the CIA, has its robotic drones operating throughout the world. US Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Georgetown University professor Gary Solis warned that allowing civilian CIA agents to engage in armed conflict would directly contravene US laws.
The drone franchise business has branched into a new extension of the military industrial complex, with its parallel lobbying arm backing the new, permanent war economy manifested by more than 60 new cross-functional military bases around the globe.
Late last year, online magazine Salon referred to a Congressional Budget Office report saying that the “Department of Defence plans to purchase 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” in the next decade.
Like the intercontinental missiles in the sixties, and Star Wars technology in the 1980s, robotic drone warfare is reinventing the military industrial complex of the 21st century.
The only victor in this longest of US foreign wars is a coalition of single-issue think tanks, political leaders and business hucksters driven by mutual interest fostered by a culture of killing, vengeance and profit.
*Mr Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes frequently on Arab issues and is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.