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U.S. drone airstrikes continue to murder Pakistani civilians

The Pentagon's remote-controlled reign of terror

Predator drone

Last month, the United States military initiated its first multiple-drone attack in Pakistan. During the first week of February, 18 missiles were fired from eight unmanned aircraft, killing 16 people and wounding over 100 others in the village of Datta Khel. Among the killed were three schoolgirls.

The U.S. military is averaging three airstrikes launched from unmanned drones per week in Pakistan. Last year, that number was one per week. (The Sunday Times, Feb. 7) Drone pilots fly these spy planes from halfway around the world in Nevada, using joysticks and computer monitors. It is no wonder that Pakistanis consider the U.S. presence in their country the greatest threat to their security.

The Pentagon brass has defended the use of such drone attacks, claiming they are responsible for destroying the second and third tier of Al-Qaeda’s leadership. When it comes to the hundreds of civilian deaths that have resulted, they have been mute.

Beyond Pakistan, the use of drones, such as the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, is expanding. The U.S. Air Force fleet included nearly 200 Predators and 28 Reapers as of 2009. (New York Times, Mar. 16, 2009)

The Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles. The Reaper can carry 14 air-to-ground weapons or four Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs.

Both the Predator and the Reaper are manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, with a price tag of $4.5 million and $10.5 million per unit, respectively. Every Hellfire missile costs about $68,000 to manufacture.

Apart from their unmanned bombing capabilities, drones are increasingly being used for intelligence and surveillance operations. Drones can linger over an area for hours, beaming back instant video.

Until 2002, drones were not used to support ground troops in battle due to concerns that imprecisely aimed missiles could injure or kill U.S. troops on the ground.

But in response to growing demand for more drone attacks from field commanders, the U.S. Air Force in 2007 launched a crash program to train pilots specifically to maneuver drones. The first trainees were recruited from non-flying backgrounds—not traditional pilots. They included deskbound airmen, military police officers and “missilers.” The crash program was nine-months long, whereas traditional pilots typically undergo two years of training. (New York Times, Feb. 28)

In October 2009, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions warned that the use of the Reaper and other unmanned drones would be regarded as breach of international law unless the United States could demonstrate it had taken appropriate precautions to prevent civilian deaths.

Instead, under the Democratic Party, the illegal use of drone attacks has increased rather than contracted. Under one year of the Obama administration, the U.S. military has carried out at least 69 drone attacks on Pakistan, compared to 45 drone attacks during the entire Bush presidency.

The U.S. government’s declared “war on terror” in Pakistan is in fact a war of terrorism. What word other than “terrorism” can describe the ruthless and wanton massacre of 40 civilians, who died in one recent attack?

The ruling-class politicians are well aware that increased U.S. casualties would have political consequences at home. In order to minimize such casualties, they are inflicting a remote-controlled reign of terror on innocent civilians abroad. It is up to the people of this country to make clear that we do not accept this crass trade-off. Neither U.S. soldiers nor Pakistani villagers should be sacrificed to advance Washington’s cruel imperialist enterprise in South Asia.

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