No magic bullet
Deadly strikes by heavily armed drones made in So Cal and controlled in Vegas only deepen the Af-Pak quagmire
By John Grula 12/02/2010
Our war in Afghanistan, now in its 10th year and expanding to include Pakistan, is not going well. Launched soon after Sept. 11 to topple the Taliban government that harbored Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the war has failed to deliver a military defeat of the Taliban, which is stronger than ever. More US troops have died in Afghanistan during 2009-10 than during 2001-08. Clearly there is something very wrong, in many ways, with this picture.
At a recent NATO summit in Lisbon, President Obama and other NATO leaders endorsed a plan to gradually turn combat duties over to Afghan security forces by 2014. This means tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan will still be dying in large numbers and killing many Afghans well beyond the end of Obama’s first term. Even this is probably an overly optimistic timetable. Meanwhile, the war effort is costing US taxpayers more than $100 billion a year — budget deficit hawks, take note!
Despite 10 years spent training Afghan security forces, many units remain poorly trained, corrupt and unable to successfully battle the Taliban without Western assistance. Even worse, there have been multiple instances of Afghan security personnel turning their weapons on their Western mentors. Obviously, the Taliban has successfully infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan army and police.
As in Vietnam, we are also failing to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. A major reason for this is the brutal tactics of our counter-insurgency efforts, such as nighttime “capture-and-kill” raids by Special Operations forces, which terrorize and infuriate many Afghan civilians. And it doesn’t help that our man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, is viewed by most of the populace as riddled with corruption and unable to provide trustworthy local government that deserves and wins popular support.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan has metastasized to Pakistan as Taliban fighters have sought refuge and alliances with like-minded insurgents in the tribal areas of Western Pakistan. Because US combat troops on the ground are prohibited from entering Pakistan by the Pakistani government, in recent years we have increasingly used unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, to launch air-to-surface missile attacks against insurgents in Pakistan. Modern warfare, already incredibly brutal, inhuman and desensitized, is getting even more so as this trend toward robotic war gathers steam. The US has already launched more than 100 drone strikes this year against Pakistan, killing hundreds.
Drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theaters are controlled 7,000 miles away at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas. Where is the morality or courage in the ability of a drone “remote pilot,” sitting before a computer screen at Creech, to launch a missile strike against a target in Pakistan? So far, missiles from errant drones have killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and vehement opposition to this form of warfare is increasing in both countries.
Consider also the mentality and morality (or lack thereof) of an American Empire that builds these kinds of robotic war machines, gives them names like “Predator,” “[Grim] Reaper,” and “Global Hawk,” and then equips them with 500-pound “Hellfire” missiles and sensor systems like “Gorgon Stare,” named for the creature in Greek mythology whose gaze turns its victims into stone. As Max Von Sydow famously remarked in Woody Allen’s film “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on, he’d never stop throwing-up!”
The number of drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan has increased dramatically during the last three years. Has it helped our war effort? No. The situation in both nations is worse than ever. Recently, Pakistan refused a US request to expand the areas where drone missile strikes can target Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives because of fierce civilian opposition to these strikes.
Indeed, a good argument can be made that our drone strikes are only multiplying the ranks of the insurgents faster than we can kill them.
Of course, the sophisticated technologies employed by our drones are always touted as the latest magic solution to our failing war efforts. Recently, we have been promised eventual success because new sensors enable drones to listen in on cell phone conversations and even pinpoint the location of the caller on the ground. But if these new technologies are so great, why are we still losing? We also had a huge technological advantage during the Vietnam War, and we all know how that ended.
The disaster unfolding in Af-Pak is giving a big boost to Southern California’s fast-growing drone industry, which employs an estimated 10,000 people and has been fueled by at least $20 billion in Pentagon and CIA spending since 2001. It’s a crime we can’t find more civilized ways to gainfully employ our region’s aerospace workers.
John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists