The military doctrine is simple and was summed up with admirable brevity in recent testimony by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: the U.S. military should ânever face a fair fight.â There is nothing new or at all cowardly about that. If the object is to win, then enter the battle with the odds in your favor. Sun Tzu wrote more than 2,000 years ago: âIf your enemy is in superior strength, evade him.â
But there is a danger of complacency when the United States has the worldâs most formidable and best-equipped military. The United States has some 600 overseas military bases, with many other outposts of various sorts. How much thought and attention has been given to their security from air attacks, as opposed to perimeter security on the ground?
Policy-making is susceptible to the same unspoken assumptions. When the United States gives full support to Saudi Arabia in its relentless air campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen, is there a tacit belief that the pain would largely run only one way? For several years, Saudi aircraft and bombs were able to hit targets, including many civilian sites, with impunity. Despite a few border skirmishes, it seemed unlikely that the Houthis could do any serious damage to Saudi Arabia itself or to any facilities affecting U.S. interests. That began to change over the past year, with largely ineffective strikes against airports. This weekendâs events reversed the calculation. Some five percent of the worldâs oil supply was at least temporarily removed from the market by two devastating strikes on highly protected Saudi oil facilities.
Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills, and our car seems to go over every one of them as we drive from the small town of Muhanga to the even smaller town of Kinazi. The 50-kilometer trip into western Rwanda will take us well over an hour. We’re on our way to rendezvous with a blood-carrying drone that will make the trip in under 14 minutes.
The drone is operated by Zipline, a California-based company focused on delivering medical supplies in areas with poor infrastructure. And not long after we arrive at Kinazi’s hospital, the fixed-wing drone materializes out of the blue. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the drone descends, opens a set of doors in its belly, and drops a small package that parachutes to the ground. The drone immediately begins to climb and vanishes over the hills as a staff member crosses the hospital parking lot to pick up the package—a shipment of blood ordered by WhatsApp less than half an hour earlier.
Delivery by drone is a futuristic idea that has caught the public’s imagination, and there are plenty of attempts to turn it into a commercial reality. Amazon, Google, and Domino’s Pizza have all pulled off carefully controlled demonstrations and pilot projects, delivering items such as sunscreen, burritos, and (of course) pizza to backyards and fields. But the world is waiting to see whether any company can find a business model that makes drone delivery a sustainable and profitable endeavor.
The answer may be here in Rwanda, where Zipline is delivering blood to 25 hospitals and clinics across the country every day. Zipline is betting that transporting lifesaving medical supplies, which are often lightweight and urgently needed, will be the killer app for delivery drones.
Last Wednesday, the U.S. military did something it had not done before, inviting a sizable delegation of local leaders to a secretive $110 million drone base it’s building in Niger. The Nigerien group was led by the governor of the Agadez region, and the visit was the first for many members of the group, which included religious leaders, civil society members, and a handful of journalists, according to a report by a local radio station, Studio Kalangou.
The invitations were sent out on Tuesday, just one day before the visit, according to Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, a journalist who participated in the tour. That was just two days after the Intercept published a lengthy investigative article exploring how the base could be a destabilizing factor for the country, raising military tensions in the Sahara, and that it might even be illegal under the Nigerien constitution. The story noted that the U.S. military had conducted very little outreach to the local community, and that the residents of Agadez had little idea why the base was being built next to their airport and expected little benefit from it, if not harm. (...)
The number of US air strikes jumped in Yemen and Somalia in 2017, pointing to an escalation of the global war on terror.
President Donald Trump inherited the framework allowing US aircraft to hit suspected terrorists outside of declared battlefields from his predecessor, Barack Obama. Bar some tinkering, his administration has largely stuck within the framework set by the previous one.
However, the quantity of operations has shot up under President Trump. Strikes doubled in Somalia and tripled in Yemen. (...)
Five years ago, I made a simple iPhone app. It would send you a push notification every time a U.S. drone strike was reported in the news.
Apple rejected the app three times, calling it “excessively objectionable or crude content.”
Over the years, I would occasionally resubmit the app, changing its name from Drones+ to Metadata+. I was curious to see if Apple might change its mind. The app didn’t include graphic images or video of any kind — it simply aggregated news about covert war.
At its core was a question: do we want to be as connected to our foreign policy as we are to our smartphones? My hypothesis was no. Americans don’t care about the drone war because it is largely hidden from view.
In 2014, after five rejections, Apple accepted the app. It remained in the App Store for about a year. According to Apple’s internal statistics, Metadata+ was downloaded by more than 50,000 people.
But the following September, Apple decided to delete the app entirely. They claimed that the content, once again, was “excessively objectionable or crude.” (...)
Update: 2:32pm : Apple has removed Metadata from the App Store.
In a long-anticipated gesture at transparency, the Obama administration on Friday released an internal assessment of the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in nations where the U.S. is not officially at war.
According to the data, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya killed between 64 and 116 civilians during the two terms of the Obama administration — a fraction of even the most conservative estimates on drone-related killings catalogued by reporters and researchers over the same period. The government tally also reported 2,372 to 2,581 combatants killed in U.S. airstrikes from January 20, 2009, to December 31, 2015.
Releasing the figures — which appeared on a Friday afternoon, on a holiday weekend, after seven years of selective leaks and official secrecy — along with an executive order prioritizing the protection of civilian life in counterterrorism operations, reflected core American principles, the president asserted. (...)
Nabila’s favorite memories of her grandmother come from weddings. It didn’t matter who was getting married – relative or neighbor – her grandmother, Mamana, was an active participant, owing to her matriarchal perch above their village.
Mamana was as responsible as she was festive. An uneducated woman, she was the local midwife, and served as an impromptu primary care physician, even a veterinarian, when the need arose.
On a fall afternoon in 2012, Mamana called Nabila and a squad of her siblings and cousins outside to the family’s okra fields, part of their sprawling garden in tribal Pakistan. It was about to be the Eid festival and the Rehman family needed to gather and prepare vegetables. Nabila, nine years old, had set to work when the drone fired its missiles.
A dark plume of dust rose from the garden and mixed with acrid smoke. It spared Nabila and the other children the sight of their grandmother’s mutilated corpse. (...)
Just 10 of the scores killed by US drones in Pakistan last year have so far been identified, according to data collected by the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project.
The names for all 10 came from either terrorist propaganda or the US government, with officials from Pakistan’s government, military and intelligence services declining to provide any names of those killed by the CIA for the first time since strikes started in 2004.
Only a minority of those killed are ever identified, but the number of those named in 2015 was particularly low. In total, according to Bureau research, of the minimum 2,494 people killed by US drones since 2004, only 729 have been named. At least 1,765 victims remain nameless.
The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project is an attempt to identify more of these victims to better ensure accountability for the drone strikes. The CIA continues to carry out signature strikes in Pakistan – attacks on people it claims are terrorists from extensive surveillance and data analysis operations – but the targets’ names are often not known. (...)