Wednesday, February 06, 2013

CIA operating drone base in Saudi Arabia

For those who oppose drone strikes (an indefensible position in my opinion - see the Moral Maze episode on this topic), this news story is interesting, as the drone base was constructed to reduce civilian casualties.


CIA operating drone base in Saudi Arabia, US media reveal
BBC News
6 February 2013

The US Central Intelligence Agency has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years.


[C]onstruction was ordered after a December 2009 cruise missile strike in Yemen, according to the New York Times. It was the first strike ordered by the Obama administration, and ended in disaster, with dozens of civilians, including women and children, killed.


JP said...

More brilliant clarity & insight from Friedman.

Hellfire, Morality and Strategy
George Friedman
February 19, 2013

Airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles have become a matter of serious dispute lately. The controversy focuses on the United States, which has the biggest fleet of these weapons and which employs them more frequently than any other country. On one side of this dispute are those who regard them simply as another weapon of war whose virtue is the precision with which they strike targets. On the other side are those who argue that in general, unmanned aerial vehicles are used to kill specific individuals, frequently civilians, thus denying the targeted individuals their basic right to some form of legal due process.


There are two points I have been driving toward. The first is that the outrage at targeted killing is not, in my view, justified on moral or legal grounds. The second is that in using these techniques, the United States is on a slippery slope because of the basis on which it has chosen to wage war.


In this sort of war, the problem of killing innocents is practical. It undermines the strategic effort. The argument that it is illegal is dubious, and to my mind, so is the argument that it is immoral. The argument that it is ineffective in achieving U.S. strategic goals of eliminating the threat of terrorist actions by jihadists is my point.


Unmanned aerial vehicles provide a highly efficient way to destroy key enemy targets with very little risk to personnel. But they also allow the enemy to draw the United States into additional theaters of operation because the means is so efficient and low cost. However, in the jihadists' estimate, the political cost to the United States is substantial. The broader the engagement, the greater the perception of U.S. hostility to Islam, the easier the recruitment until the jihadist forces reach a size that can't be dealt with by isolated airstrikes.

In warfare, enemies will try to get you to strike at what they least mind losing. The case against strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles is not that they are ineffective against specific targets but that the targets are not as vital as the United States thinks. The United States believes that the destruction of the leadership is the most efficient way to destroy the threat of the jihadist movement. In fact it only mitigates the threat while new leadership emerges. The strength of the jihadist movement is that it is global, sparse and dispersed. It does not provide a target whose destruction weakens the movement. However, the jihadist movement's weakness derives from its strength: It is limited in what it can do and where.

The problem of unmanned aerial vehicles is that they are so effective from the U.S. point of view that they have become the weapon of first resort. Thus, the United States is being drawn into operations in new areas with what appears to be little cost. In the long run, it is not clear that the cost is so little. A military strategy to defeat the jihadists is impossible. At its root, the real struggle against the jihadists is ideological, and that struggle simply cannot be won with Hellfire missiles. A strategy of mitigation using airstrikes is possible, but such a campaign must not become geographically limitless. Unmanned aerial vehicles lead to geographical limitlessness. That is their charm; that is their danger.

JP said...

Event Summary: ‘Are drones the new Guantanamo?’
Henry Jackson Society
by Robin Simcox and David Neifeld


* From 2009-2010, we have seen the increase of counterterrorism strategies that fall outside the normal boundaries of conventional law enforcement. Prior to this time, the main US counterterrorism strategy was focussed on capturing and then detaining terrorism suspects.
* The United States became unsure what to do with these detainees. If released, there was a fear that they would be a risk to the United States in the future.
* Drones came to be seen as a way of targeting high-level terror suspects at the same time as minimizing innocent casualties.
* The use of drones has sparked a large debate about their legitimacy and whether they are the most effective form of counter-terrorism strategy.




* Drones are also regarded by the rest of the world with some degree of disrepute. The United States considers it lawful conduct under the laws of war in a war it regards itself as fighting. The rest of the world – as well as significant minority of the U.S. population – does not, including a significant element of the conservative movement. Part of this is at the possibility that there could be a domestic drone strike – an implausible scenario.
* Drones are not fundamentally different from any other weapons system, and the U.S. has conducted air strikes for decades.
* The fundamental difference between a drone and other standoff weapons platforms is that it allows the weapon to survey the target for long periods of time in order to minimise casualties and maximise confidence in the identity of the target.
* This is a dramatic step toward greater precision in targeting, yet despite this there is a legitimacy crisis about the use of drones in the way there is not with conventional warfare.
* The reasons for this are likely to be: mystification associated with the technology, the idea of ‘big scary flying robots that kill people’; a fear of aggressive US counterterrorism action outside the context of conventional law enforcement; and the question of secrecy, with countries that the U.S. uses drones in having good reasons not to acknowledge U.S. actions there.


* Given the importance of the policy, it is essential that a way of discussing drones without being too apologetic nor too bombastic is forged.
* Ungoverned spaces of the world have a magnetic quality to terrorist groups, who congregate there because they operate as safe havens. These can be pursued by sending large numbers of troops to kill or capture them (which eventually led to the Guantanamo Bay problem) or by the use of drones.
* Both of these have developed a significant set of legitimacy problems. However, it cannot be that the only tactic that is lawful and acceptable from a human rights point of view is the one tactic that cannot reach people in ungoverned areas: the use of law enforcement in places that the writs of courts don’t run.