The Intricate Dynamics of US’ Drone War Strategy

We are well aware of the fact that one of the major reasons of causing the present situation of serious de-stability in Pakistan is the devastations caused by the illegal killings of men, women and children in FATA by US’ drone attacks, which result in the wide spread retaliatory bomb and suicidal revenge attacks by the affected persons. At times, there is also some mention of US’ drone attacks in Yemen, and US’ cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear setup. However, what is not much in public knowledge yet is the whole spectrum of this inhuman and brutal US’ Drone War Strategy, the application of which has already covertly covered many parts of Asia and Africa. Besides that, US is also ensuring further technological advancement in the offensive capability of this strategy on a fast track. This evolving strategy has serious security implications, specially for the countries like Pakistan and Iran which are considered ‘Islamist’ by US and its allies. It is, therefore, of prime significance to critically analyse and clearly grasp all the aspects of this strategy. Those aspects include the mindset of those who have evolved this strategy and are applying it, the related technological and operational aspects, its application in Pakistan, reasons for its support by the US public, its objective, its serious adverse implications for world peace, and the way out for us. Though US officialdom has endeavoured much to keep the related data shrouded in secrecy, yet some of the credible information linked to this strategy has recently found the ‘leakage route’ to foreign (including US) media. Some of the aspects related to this strategy and its application, thus searched out and analysed, are presented in this paper.

The first aspect to be understood in this context is the mindset of US government and its senators, majority of whom are least interested in the inhuman and unethical aspects of this strategy as long as their aim of targeting the ‘Islamist’ countries and people appears attainable. That fact is testified by many reports, including the one captioned, ‘Democrats, Republicans criticize leaks, not drone murders’, published on 9 June 2012 by Patrik Martin. According to this report, after getting a closed door briefing from the Directors of National Intelligence and of FBI, the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committee denounced leaks to the press about US drone missile attacks and other covert actions. They objected, not to the violations of international law being carried out by the Obama administration, but to media reports making these violations known to the American people”. Among the report leaks considered by them against US national security interests were many relating to the drone operations; like:-

  1. A May 29 report in the New York Times detailing President Obama’s personal role in approving a “kill list” of targets for US drone missile strikes.
  2. A May 29 report in Newsweek magazine, excerpting more details about the drone missile attacks reported in a book by Newsweek staffer Daniel Klaidman.
  3. A June 1 report in the New York Times confirming the US-Israeli collaboration in devising the Stuxnet worm and introducing it into the computer systems of Iran’s nuclear program, causing considerable damage.

About the mindset of US’ government and its legislators, Martin further highlights,

“According to the Times account, Obama has established the principle that any military-age male in a target zone may be killed as a presumed terrorist, regardless of his actual status”. 2  

            It is also a matter of note that according to the latest Pew survey (which asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilot-less aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?”), 62 % US respondents conveyed their approval, only 47 % of the British respondents opposed drone strikes, and 47 % Indian respondents did not answer; whereas the respondents of the other 17 countries overwhelmingly conveyed their disapproval. 3

As for the inventory of drones there are a number of these, including different types used for different tasks like surveillance, espionage, missile attack, etc. Vice Admiral (Retd.) Taj M. Khattak has mentioned the details in his article. He mentions that out of those, Grey Eagle, Predator, and Reaper are armed; and Reaper has a radius of action of 1,150 miles and endurance of 16 – 20 hours carrying 3,750 pounds payload of missiles and bombs. He has also mentioned, In 2000, the US had barely 90 drones with plans to increase the inventory to 200 by 2010. By March 2012, however, it had more than 9,500 of all types 4.  Leila Hudson, Colin S. Owens, Matt Flannes have also provided many details in their essay. As for the drone inventory, they have also mentioned the drone named Fire Scout MQ – 8B as the surveillance-cum- armed strike drone. 5 And now there are reports of the addition to that inventory of the much lighter drones carried by the soldier. Some details about these have been provided by W.J. Hennigan of Los Angeles Times 6, and by Jonathan Franklin of Sydney Morning Herald 7. According to the data provided by W.J. Hennigan, these drones named ‘switchblade drone’ have a length of less than 2 feet, wing span about 2 feet, weight less than 6 (about 5 . 5) pounds, firing time 5 minutes, and a speed of upto 98 m.p.h.; and these are operated by one man. These carry small amount of explosive warhead, and are guided and controlled in flight by the launch soldier with a hand-held screen. These drones were tested by US’ troops in Afghanistan last year; and more were scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan this summer. Leila Hudson, et.al. have also confirmed many of these details; adding that these have been widely tested by the US Army, Marines and Airforce; and that Defence analysts believe warfare in the future will see many more mini armed drones, called ”loitering munitions”, that provide ground troops with a view described as coming from ”the tip of the bullet”.

The number of Bases in different locations which can be used by US for drone operations is in hundreds. Just to name some in South-West / West Asia, Indian Ocean, and Africa, there are ten bases in Afghanistan (Jalalabad, Kandahar, Bagram Airbase, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Bases Edinburg, Delaram-II), besides a number of bases in Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Seychelles, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Within the ambit of this US strategy, besides the tasks of espionage and surveillance, drone operations are currently being focused on two major tasks. First, extra-judicial ‘target killings’ of the merely ‘suspected’ people irrespective of the mounting numbers of those innocent men, women, and children who also get killed, wounded, or maimed in such attacks. It appears that President Obama and his team have no hesitation in ordering such killings, as evident from the fact that even in the case of Somalia President Obama authorised two drone strikes and two commando raids. Second, initiation of cyber war / computer attack, as in the recent case of Iran. 8

In the case of Pakistan, the facts about the huge losses in the form of the loss of innocent lives, wounded and maimed, forced migration and displacement of affected population, destruction of property, widespread disruption of social life and eruption of serious de-stability – all due to this US strategy, are well-known. However, what is of significance to note is the pattern and scale of escalation of US’ ‘drone brutality’. In that context it is also important to note that the casualty and destruction data given by the Western sources is usually quite lesser as compared to the ground realities, probably due to their insufficient access to the drone-attacked area. However, even that data presents the real face of the ‘horrors of the US Drone War Strategy’. The data presented in the table below is compiled from the aforementioned essay of Leila Hudson, et.al., of Patrick Dehan 9 and the data of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (UK) 10.

The following table shows the number of people killed by the drones during the period 2002 – 2010. Number of people killed in drone attacks during the period 2011 – Mid 2012 (about 18 months) is in addition to this data.   

President Bush Suspects” Killed Non-Suspects” Killed Ratio of Killed Suspects: Non-Suspects
Period 2002-2004 2 11 1.5
Period 2005-2007 2 53 1:26
Period 2008-2009 5 333 1:66
President Obama
Period 2009-2010  7 1029 1:147

This table shows that total number of people killed by drone attacks during the period 2002 – 2010 was 1426. It also shows the escalation of Drone Killings and of the ratio of the suspectedand the non-suspectedkilled during that period. As for the data of the period 2011 – Mid 2012, it can be extracted from the data given in the aforementioned Bureau report. According to that report, the total number of people killed in drone attacks from the beginning till Mid. 2012 is 3,202; thereby indicating that a total of 1,776 people were killed in drone attacks during the period 2011 – Mid. 2012 (the period of 18 months after the year 2010).

As for the number of US’ drone strikes, following data published in the aforementioned Bureau report is quite revealing:-

  • Total number of drone strikes during the period 2002 – 2010 (108 months) was 217; and during the period 2011 – Mid 2012 (just about 18 months) has been 117, indicating the escalation.
  • Total number of US’ drone strikes from the beginning to Mid. 2012 was 334; out of which the number of strikes launched during President Obama’s tenure is 282; meaning thereby that about 85 % of the total number of US’ drone strikes in Pakistan have been launched by President Obama.            

All this data, as also the aforementioned facts, bring forth the following unmistakable realities:-

  1. The drone attacks are launched to track and extra-judicially kill those who are ‘merely suspected’ to be working against US’ interests, on the orders of President Obama who is US’ official approver of the target-kill list; and the ‘kill orders’ are executed on the whims of those US’ CIA / military persons who try to locate the ‘suspects’ on their screens sitting thousands of nautical miles away in their country – no wonder, therefore, that many a times they have targeted and killed scores of men, women and children even in the funeral processions, marriage ceremonies, and the social assembly of locals in their traditional ‘Jirga’, etc. That is the ‘system of justice of US’, collectively delivered to the innocent Muslim men, women and children!
  2. The mean average per year of the people killed by drone attacks, during the period 2002 – 2010 was 158 per year. During the period 2011 – Mid. 2012, it has risen to 1,184 per year.
  3. The ratio of killing of the ‘merely suspected’ : ‘not even suspected’ has risen from the initial 1 : 5 to the horrific 1 : 147 or above; that is, about 150 of those who are not even suspected are killed by US in the kill hunt of just one suspected person.
  4. About 62 % of US public opinion approves this system of ‘Justice’, only 47 % of British public opinion opposes it, and 47 % of Indian public opinion prefers to turn a blind eye on this ‘system’ of gravest injustice !
  5. e. The escalation in the application and the tenor of this strategy clearly indicate that President Obama and his team are bent upon continuing with this strategy even after withdrawal from Afghanistan, irrespective of the voices raised against it anywhere in the world and the massive wave of hatred for US erupting in the target countries. That fact of continuation of this strategy is also verified by many reports, like the report by Nick Turse quoting Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes, who while commenting upon US Air Force’ plans mentioned, We are constantly evaluating potential operating locations based on evolving mission needs. If the last decade is any indication, those “needs” will only continue to grow”. The report also mentions further likely expansion of the network of US’ drone bases / locations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. 11

The grasp of the realities of this US’ drone war strategy, thus attained, signifies the need for the answer to two key questions. First question relates to the change in US’ culture, whereby majority of US’ public is supporting the US acts of brutalities, like this drone war strategy; and the second relates to the objective. Those questions are: (1) how is it that the societal texture of US, once renowned to be liberal, peace-loving and tolerant, has transformed into a culture in which the officialdom, majority of law-makers and public alike have become the perpetrators of ruthless and murderous violence on militarily weaker nations to dictate their terms?; and (2) what is the real objective of this US strategy?

Answer to the first question needs a bit of explanation, authenticated by related reports emanating from US itself. In that context, the fact has to be acknowledged that during the period of last about three decades the previous culture of US has gradually been transformed into the societal texture of militarisation; and the driving force for that change has been the power-wielding combine of the ‘Jewish-Christian’ lobby and the stake holders in the expanding US military industrial complex. During that process militarisation was made to permeate in all segments of US society, including even the schools. That process picked up momentum during the tenure of US President Bush (senior), whereby the horrific cycle of US’ war mongering started with the first US invasion of Iraq,  with the proven falsehood of destroying weapons of mass destruction (which the whole world knows were not there at all). Thus, while the Jewish-Christian lobby found its own ideological satisfaction in the destruction of a target Muslim country (though its government was secular), the stake holders of the military industrial complex started finding a boom in their industry through the additional requirements of weapon-technological advancement and production of the military wherewithal for own consumption and for the ‘forced sales’ to the countries around the target area (eg., Saudi Arabia was made to accept military purchases from US worth a whooping about 50 billion dollars, on the pretext of a still lurking danger from the crippled Iraq as shown by US). That momentum was then never lowered by US President Bush (junior), who on the pretext of the rather mysterious destruction of the twin towers even publicly declared ‘Crusade’ (Christian’s holy war against Muslims), though he later called it ‘war on terror’. The US invasion of Afghanistan on the concocted threat to mainland US from the small Al-Quaida group in Afghanistan, and a second US invasion of Iraq even without a pretext, then followed to keep the US national militarism strong. US President Obama has followed the same policy with more vigour, finding new pretexts in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria also to keep on the upbeat the momentum of external military domineering of US. Besides that, the pretexts to militarily intervene in Pakistan and Iran are also on hand. That fact of militarisation of US culture is credibly sustained by published data and documents. The brief excerpts from two of the publications and a document should, however, suffice.

Jorge Mariscal is a member of Project YANO, a San Diego-based organisation made up of veterans and activists who are working to demilitarise US’ schools. His report, therefore, is from the grass-root level of US society. His publication, “The Militarization of US Culture” provides a real insight to testify the aforementioned cultural change in US. He quotes Scholar John Gillis who clarified that in the process of the older forms of militarisation, civil society used to be separated and subordinated to military authority; but in the process of contemporary militarisation, “civil society organizes itself for the production of violence”. Jorge Mariscal has clarified that the military culture values have been made to permeate the US society by a number of means. He has given examples of those means; to quote some: The incursion of military recruiters and teachings into the public school system is well known. The proliferation of JROTC units in American schools began in the early 1990s and continues today. Television spots, print ads, and websites for all the service branches are sophisticated marketing tools designed to attract young people who are unsure of their future. These and other practices that glorify the instruments of real and symbolic violence will have unforeseen and long-term consequences. In the meantime, billions of dollars for the military-corporate-educational complex ($399 billion for the Pentagon alone according to the administration’s FY2004 Discretionary Budget Request), color-coded “terrorist alerts”, police and “homeland security” raids on immigrant communities, and FOX news bulletins for even the most mundane Defense Department briefing all work to create a climate of fear and anxiety that is unprecedented in U.S. history”. He also asserted, “If we feel less safe today than ever before, it is because the entire culture has organized itself with the dual objective of either perpetrating violence or defending itself from violence”. 12

Tom Engelhardt, editor Huff Post Politics, in his article dated 5 July 2012 “The Lessons Washington Can’t Draw from the Failure of the Military Option” has also given detailed account of the militarisation of US culture. His article being a bit lengthy, some of the excerpts which suffice to highlight his findings are: And yet the militarization of the United States and the strengthening of the National Security Complex continues to accelerate The Pentagon is, by now, a world unto itself, with a staggering budget at a moment when no other power or combination of powers comes near to challenging this country’s might. In the post-9/11 era, the military-industrial complex has been thoroughly mobilized under the rubric of “privatization” and now goes to war with the Pentagon.  With its $80 billion-plus budget, the intelligence bureaucracy has simply exploded There are so many competing agencies and outfits, surrounded by a universe of private intelligence contractors, all enswathed in a penumbra of secrecy, and they have grown so large, mainly under the Pentagon’s aegis, that you could say intelligence is now a ruling way of life in Washington — and it, too, is being thoroughly militarized Even the once-civilian CIA has undergone a process of para-militarization and now runs its own “covert” drone wars in Pakistan and elsewhere. In a sense, even the military has been “militarized”. In these last years,secret army of special operations forces, 60,000 or more strong and still expanding, has grown like an incubus inside the regular armed forces. As the CIA’s drones have become the president’s private air force, so the special ops troops are his private army, and are now given free rein to go about the business of war in their own cocoon of secrecy in areas far removed from what are normally considered America’s war zones. Diplomacy, too, has been militarized.  Diplomats work ever more closely with the military, while the State Department is transforming itself into an unofficial arm of the Pentagon — as the secretary of state is happy to admit — as well as of the weapons industry13.

Engelhardt’s assertion of the happy admission of the US Secretary of State is also validated by a document of US Department of State, which contains the speech given by Secretary Hillary Clinton in the gala dinner of US’ Special Operations Command at Tampa, Florida on 23 May 2012. Some excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s speech are noteworthy in this regard: “So we have made it a priority to have our soldiers, diplomats, and development experts work hand-in-hand across the globe”. “To my mind, Special Operations Forces exemplify the ethic of smart power”. Admiral McRaven talks about two mutually reinforcing strategies for Special Operations: the direct and the indirect. Well, we all know about the direct approach. Just ask the al-Qaida leaders who have been removed from the battlefield. But not enough attention is paid to the quiet, persistent work Special Operations Forces are doing every single day along with many of you to build our joint capacity. We also need diplomats and development experts who understand modern warfare and are up to the job of being your partners”. 14

The militarisation of US culture and the mode of its external application having thus been grasped, the answer to the second question regarding the real objective of US in its Drone war strategy becomes very clear. As already well-known, after the breakup of Soviet Union, US had openly commenced its external military domineering initiatives in many parts of the world, so as to gain and retain its control specially on world energy resources, with the focus mainly on Asia. And, the US’ ‘war on terror’, basically engulfing Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, was factually launched for that purpose. According to the researched data published by Eisenhower Study Group at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the cost of human (military and civilian) losses during the decade of the US’ ‘war on terror’ amounts to an enormous total of 2,24,475 killed; 3,65,383 wounded; and 78,15,000 displaced / migrated. On part of US, it suffered 6,051 U.S. service members and 2,300 U.S. contractors killed; 99,065 U.S. soldiers and 51,031 U.S. contractors wounded; besides the economic cost of a trillion dollars 15. Out of this whole catastrophe, the factor which has been most perplexing for US government was the return of US’ dead bodies and wounded back to US, because the loss of their own men was becoming unbearable for American public. That problem has been greatly resolved by the US’ drone war strategy. Now with the application of this strategy, US can continue with its design of intervening with espionage, surveillance, cyber attacks and missile attacks in the target countries keeping those countries in a state of ‘controlled de-stabilisation’ so as to coerce those countries into political subjugation – and all that without risking US’ own men.

Though at present the US government is jubilant on its newfound strategy, yet there are also certain serious implications for the world peace. Those may be summerised as follows:-

  1. Continuation of this strategy by US will surely provide a precedent to other power-hungry countries to apply any of the available means to intervene in their target countries – a dangerous precedent which needs no elaboration.
  2. Even the ‘non state elements’ can use this precedent for their own version of ‘war on terror’ against any country – and US will be naive to exclude itself from such a danger.
  3. The scale of extreme hatred of masses for US and its Allies is phenomenal in the countries affected by this inhuman and brutal US war mongering design; and it is increasing without let – no wonder that a latest credible survey has brought forth the fact that about two-third of the once US-respecting people of Pakistan now hate US to the extent of considering it as an enemy. The similar hate wave is also surging in other countries of Asia and Africa targeted by US and its Allies. That is the most dangerous implication – the ‘weapon of mass human hatred’ is far more dangerous than the ‘weapon of mass destruction’.

There are obviously very serious implications for Pakistan too. According to the aforementioned Eisenhower Study Group’s data, Pakistan has lost 3,520 members of security forces and 35,600 civilians as killed; 19,819 civilians wounded; and 10,00,000 persons displaced in the decade of the US’ war on terror. Besides that, Pakistan has also suffered immense economic losses. However, the most serious damage inflicted by US’ war on terror’ is the eruption of very serious de-stability in our country. For us the only way out of this grave situation is the immediate initiation of the massive endeavour by the people of Pakistan to reorganise our social texture, imbued with the spirit of internal cohesion of the nation and the spirit of sacrifice for the development of our national power potential; and to effect a major change in the political setup of our country by bringing only those to political power who have the integrity of character, national spirit and vision for leadership. Fortunately, the majority of Pakistanis, specially the youth, is not only cognisant of this urgent requirement, but is also gearing up to meeting it in a spirited manner. The time for change doesnot appear far.

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  1. Author is a Retired Brigadier, a postgraduate from Army War College with command, General Staff, and rich battle-field experiences. He is a post-retirement PhD from University of Peshawar, a published research-analyst, and lectures in social sciences in the universities of Islamabad. (e-mail—- ahsankhan1944@gmail.com)
  2. World Socialist Website http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/jun2012/leak-j09.shtml Accessed 10 June 2012.
  3. Council on Foreign Relations http://blogs.cfr.org/zenko/2012/06/13/the-world-and-women-hates-u-s-drone-strikes/ Accessed 15 June 2012.
  4. “Drone and Moral Dimensions”. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-118373-Drones-and-the-moral-dimension Accessed 5 July 2012.
  5. “Drone Warfare: Blowback from the New American Way of War”. http://www.mepc.org/journal/middle-east-policy

archives/drone-warfare-blowback-new-american-way-war?print Accessed 28 June 2012.

  1. “Pentagon to soon deploy pint-sized but lethal Switchblade drones”. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-kamikaze-drone-20120611,0,3893056.story Accessed 12 June 2012.
  2. “Backpack drones latest US weapon”. http://www.smh.com.au/world/backpack-drones-latest-us-weapon-20120613-20afb.html Accessed 25 june 2012.
  3. “Drones, Computers New Weapons of US Shadow Wars”. http://www.3news.co.nz/Drones-computers-new-weapons-of-US-shadowwars/tabid/417/articleID/258015/Default.aspx Accessed 21 June 2012.
  4. AT ISSUE: Are US Drone Strikes in South Asia, Middle East Ethical? http://www.middleeastvoices.com/2012/06/at-issue-are-us-drone-strikes-in-south-asia-middle-east-ethical-97033/ Accessed 28 June 2012.
  5. Covert War on Terror – the Data”. http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drone-data/ Accessed

6 July 2012.

  1. America’s Secret Empire of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed for the First Time” http://www.worldcantwait.

net/index.php/features-mainmenu-220/predatordronescovertwar/7388-americas-secret-empire-of-drone-bases-its-full-extent-revealed-for-the-first-time   Accessed 6 July 2012.

  1. “Militarization of US Culture”. http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/05/03/the-militarization-of-us-culture/ Accessed

7 July 2012.

  1. “The Lessons Washington Can’t Draw from the Failure of the Military Option” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-engelhardt/the-military-solution_b_1651192.html Accessed 6 July 2012
  2. US Department of State document. “Diplomacy in Action”. http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/05/190805.htm Accessed 7 July 2012.
  3. 15. “The Real Cost of War”. http://truth-out.org/news/item/8238-the-real-cost-of-war Accessed 8 July 2012.

(Published in The Frontier Post in two installments on 17 and 18 July 2012.)

(Reprinted in Eurasia Review 0n 25 September 2012.

http://www.eurasiareview.com/25092012-the-intricate-dynamics-of-us-drone-war-strategy-analysis/ ).