Drone Wars report for January 2014 is compiled for Great North News Service by Elayne Jude. It contains news, commentary, and on page 2, a listing of known armed strikes during the month.
American intelligence agencies are concerned that, if US troops pull out of Afghanistan completely, they could lose the air bases used for drone strikes in Pakistan, and for monitoring regional nuclear stockpiles. An American withdrawal from Afghanistan would result in the closure of the C.I.A.’s there, in the absence of military protection.
Long-term American security interests in neighbouring Pakistan are viewed as at least as important as those in Afghanistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials.
The nearest alternative bases are too far away for drones to reach the mountainous territory in Pakistan. Those bases would also be too distant to monitor and respond as quickly as American forces can today to missing nuclear material or weapons in Pakistan and India.
The United States has said that if it is unable to reach a final security arrangement with Mr. Karzai, it is prepared, reluctantly, to pull out completely. President Karzai seems to be betting that the damage that a withdrawal would do to American intelligence operations is so great that he may be able to leverage a better deal.
In recent years Pakistan has accelerated its drive to build small tactical nuclear weapons — similar to what the United States placed in Europe during the Cold War — that could be used to repel an invasion from India. But those weapons are considered more vulnerable to theft or use by a rogue commander, and they are one reason that American intelligence agencies have invested so heavily in monitoring the Pakistani arsenal.
In 2009, the United States reportedly suspected that nuclear material was missing in Pakistan. A permanent monitoring and search capability was established. But in 2011 the intelligence base was closed after a shooting involving a C.I.A. security contractor, Raymond Davis, and the raid into Pakistani territory that killed Osama bin Laden.
An RQ-170 drone from the Afghan side of the border performed critical surveillance of Bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad. Afterwards, Pakistan speculated whether its nuclear arsenal was under similar UAV surveillance.
The C.I.A.’s UAV bases in Afghanistan, especially one in the eastern part of the country allows the Predators and their larger, faster cousin, the Reapers, to fly longer missions into Pakistan. The Reapers have a range of up to 1,100 miles. That puts Pakistan’s tribal areas within range of US bases outside Afghanistan - ie, Manas, Kyrgyzstan, from where air operations, include cargo and troop flights, have originated for over a decade. But the US is scehduled to withdraw from Manas in July 2014.
There are bases in the Persian Gulf from which the Reaper could fly into Pakistan. But the distances would place an extra starin on operational effectiveness, and even US-friendly nations might be expected to balk at controversial missions emanating from their territories.
In eastern Yemen, an American drone crashed mid month. A brigade team was dispatched from al-Mahrah province to retrieve the wreck from the crash scene. An officer with the 123rd Infantry Brigade, under the command of the local 'Axis,' or local military headquarters, in the town of al-Ghaydah, said that his commander responded to information from local Bedouin.
In Britain, cross-party proposals to increase surveillance of US military bases were put forward on the grounds that the bases are being used for drone strikes and mass spying activities. Draft proposals by peers call on the Government overhaul the “outdated” rules under which the Pentagon’s network of UK outposts operate.
RAF Croughton, for example, the US Air Force base and CIA relay station in Northamptonshire, was involved in the monitoring of the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. RAF Croughton also has a secure data link to a US counter-terrorism facility in Djibouti, used for strikes in Yemen. The Ministry of Defence has denied that US bases in Britain have a role in the Pentagon’s drone campaign.
Several senior peers have tabled amendments to defence legislation including the creation of a new “scrutiny group” for each US base to ensure they comply in every instance with British law. Critics of current arrangements claim that meaningful oversight is impossible.
The proposals would place a duty on the Interception of Communications Commissioner, responsible for reviewing the eavesdropping activities of national security services, to produce an annual report on whether US bases are operating within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Lord Hodgson, a Conservative supporter of the proposals, told ‘The Independent’:“They will enable proper scrutiny in Parliament so that ministers responsible can decide whether steps should be taken to review laws and agreements which, in the light of innovative uses of modern technology, appear increasingly outdated.”
Labour MP Tom Watson said: "These proposals would enable proper review of interception and communications activities carried out from our country."
The amendments will be debated in the House of Lords in February.
At the end of the month, Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande held a mini Anglo-French Summit at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, discussing, among other defence topics, the Anglo-French drone programme, Future Air Combat System. The two countries have agreed to commit a further £120m to the Future Air Combat System programme, for a two-year feasibility study to be led jointly by BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation.
In November 2010, France and the UK signed a Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation, including a specific commitment to work together on UAVs. BAE Systems and Dassault began developing Telemos, a new Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone. After some delays over funding and the possible involvement of Germany in the programme, a new declaration was signed in early 2012, agreeing to explore joint working on an advanced combat drone. The Telemos project seems quietly to have been dropped. In 2013, France was negotiating to buy Reapers from the US. Today British Reapers are in use in Afghanistan, and unarmed French Reaper drones patrol over Mali.
8 January - Yemen. Two AQAP killed in the first recorded strike in Yemen or Pakistan in 2014.
Missiles were fired at a vehicle travelling in the Al Qutn area Hadramout province. Two were reported killed, identities as yet unknown. No senior AQAP personnel have been named as dead. AQAP has not commented on the strike.
Hadramout is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, and the province is said to have become an AQAP stronghold in recent years. In 2012, strikes against AQAP in Hadramout increased. Prior to May 2012, there had been none in this region.
15 January - Yemen. A civilian was killed in the second strike in the eastern province of Hadramout this year.
Reuters reported that missiles killed a farmer in the village of Houta near Shibam: “ Witnesses said the farmer was killed by shrapnel from two rockets fired by the drone early in the morning as he walked home in the village.”
Today's is the third strike recorded in Yemen since Dec. 12, when 15 civilians were killed in a wedding party in Rada'a in Al Baydah province. US officials denied that civilians died in the strike, claiming that between nine and 12 AQAP fighters were killed. The US has opened an investigation into the incident.
23 January - Yemen. Four alleged AQAP fighters killed,in the third drone strike in Yemen so far this year.
Several missiles were fired at a vehicle in Wadi Abida, in the central province of Marib. A Yemeni official said the strike was executed "in coordination with the Yemeni interior ministry." Yemen's Interior Ministry claimed that it foiled an attempt by al Qaeda militants to seize government institutions.
Four people were killed and seven wounded in the strike. The Associated Press reported that "three suspected al Qaeda militants" were killed.
Wadi Abida has been targeted three times previously, in 2013 and in 2012. A few years earlier, in March 2008, Wadi Abida was identified as the base of an AQ affiliate group, Yemen Soldiers Brigade, who claimed responsiblity for mortar attacks against the US Embassy, the Italian Embassy, and a Western housing complex in Sana'a in 2008.
Thursday, 06 February 2014 18:18