The Syrian war is not over: there are attacks by Israel & the US-led coalition – ‘a new trajectory’ ?

Middle East Monitor reports, on April 15th, that an Israeli intelligence firm, ImageSat International has released satellite images claiming to show “the complete destruction of a possible Iranian surface-to-surface missile factory” in Syria’s Masyaf District, allegedly struck by Israel on Saturday.

“The main industrial structures were completely destroyed, including the main hangar and the adjacent three production hangars and buildings. The rest of the structures were affected and damaged by the blast,” the firm said, adding that they “assess that all the elements and/or equipment which were inside are completely destroyed as well.”

Syrian local media reported that the Israeli airforce strikes were carried out against army positions near the city of Masyaf in the Hama province, destroying some buildings and wounding 25 people.

Israel is said to have been hitting Iranian targets in Syria since May 2018. Israeli air strikes intensified in January 2019, occurring in broad daylight. Acknowledging the strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s “permanent policy” was to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

A day later came reports from sources on the ground and local Syrian media of the killing of least three people (one man and two women) in the last 24 hours in the area of Dayr az Zor, Syria, in air strikes by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.

Plans to link the railway networks of Iran, Iraq and Syria and facilitate better trade links, have been revealed by a source at the Syrian Ministry of Transport to Al-Watan  newspaper. And Syria announced earlier this month its intention to lease the port of Latakia to Iran from October following a official request from Tehran to Damascus in February 2018.

Will such allied efforts to rebuild proceed in safety?

 

 

 

 

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Under the spotlight: European assistance to the ‘War on Terror’ drone strikes

President Donald Trump, who has stepped up the use of drones in Somalia and other areas, recently revoked a requirement for U.S. intelligence officials to give public reports listing the number of civilians killed in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside war zones – a practice which was part of an accountability effort to minimize civilian deaths from drone strikes. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, however, has announced that he will seek to reimpose the intelligence community’s reporting on civilian casualties through a provision in this year’s Intelligence Authorization Act.

Amnesty USA focusses on UK, German, Dutch and Italian role in America’s lethal drone strikes

A report by the Open Society’s Justice Initiative highlights how, with German support, the United States has carried out illegal killings as part of its “War on Terror” doctrine—which represents a threat to the rule of law everywhere.

Yesterday, the Higher Administrative Court of North Rhine-Westphalia in Münster heard arguments from lawyers representing a Somali herdsman whose father was killed in a U.S. drone strike in February 2012.

The charge argues that allowing U.S. bases on German territory to support such drone strikes violates both the German constitution and Germany’s Status of Forces Agreements with NATO, under which U.S. forces are granted the right to operate on its territory while respecting German law.

The legal team earlier filed an application to the Higher Regional Court of Zweibrücken arguing that that the United States’ so-called “global war on terrorism” is not justifiable under German law, and that the German government has a duty to prevent any U.S. military action under that category that is supported from German territory.

The complaint asserted that German officials are jointly responsible for the deaths of the two men because Germany hosts two U.S. military facilities indispensable for planning and operating drone strikes in Africa: the U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein, which plays a crucial role in conducting U.S. drone operations worldwide, and the U.S. military’s African command headquarters (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart, which is responsible for all military operations in Africa.

The application seeks a judicial declaration that Germany has committed these violations and an order directing the prosecution to conduct the necessary investigations into this case.

STOP PRESS:

Business Insider reports that yesterday the Senate voted to withdraw United States support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, reported on several posts on this site, eg https://dronewarfare.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/our-special-friend-increases-executions-without-trial-regardless-of-yemens-suffering/

 

 

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Afghan civilians die as American negotiators seek ‘leverage’ in peace talks

 

The New York Times reports that ten civilians were killed and several others were wounded over the weekend (February 10-11) during American airstrikes in southern Afghanistan.

Two residents of the Sangin district of Helmand said eight members of a single family were killed by airstrikes in one house and two more in a nearby structure, among them women and children.

Another local resident, Aslam Khan, said the home of his brother, Assti Khan, in the Sangin district, was fired upon by a helicopter when he switched on a flashlight to find his shoes. The shots killed Assti Khan’s 10-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter and wounded his wife and 18-year-old daughter, his brother said in a telephone interview.

A Sangin resident, Haji Mohammad Dawoud, said Taliban fighters had fired from a building next to the home of a local man, Nader Shah, whose eight family members were said to have died.

Mohammad Hasim Alokozai, a member of Parliament from Helmand, put the death toll higher, saying in an interview that 14 civilians were killed and six wounded in the two houses.

An American military spokeswoman in Kabul, Sgt. Debra Richardson, said that American aircraft had conducted airstrikes in the province late Friday night and early Saturday morning, but that she could not confirm or deny that civilians had been killed.

Two airstrikes killed 29 people in January, most of them women and children, in southern Helmand Province. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Mujib Mashal report that in recent months, more civilians have been in harm’s way as the American military has ramped up attacks against Taliban insurgents, part of an effort to give American negotiators leverage in peace talks with the Taliban.

 

 

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Enabling RAF chaplains to provide guidance to drone pilots

See our 2014 post

The Times and the Commercial Drone Professional reported recently that the Church of England has announced a programme helping RAF chaplains to offer pastoral care and support to drone pilots. They will spend a year studying for a master’s degree in ethics at Cardiff University so they can provide guidance to drone pilots in the British Army on the moral dilemmas that come with killing an enemy on the other side of the world.

Reverend David Coulter, chaplain-general, told The Times: “It’s very different in asymmetric warfare when people are going to work flying drones and then going back to their families in the evening.” He added: “They’re not deploying overseas and disappearing for months on end. So that brings a very interesting dynamic pastorally as well as professionally.”’

Officials became concerned about how drone pilots feel when committing attacks from such a distance.

Seven years ago, a Ministry of Defence report (Joint Doctrine Publication, right) noted ethical concerns: It added: “It is essential that . . . by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance, that we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely” – but this report is now officially declared ‘no longer authoritative’.

GQ (formerly Gentlemen’s Quarterly), an international monthly men’s magazine based in New York, added that Air Force psychologists had completed a mental-health survey of 600 combat drone operators. 42% of drone crews reported moderate to high stress, and 20% reported emotional exhaustion or burnout. The study’s authors attributed their dire results, in part, to “existential conflict.”

During the 2015 Hay Festival, Peter Gray, a university lecturer and former RAF navigator (Air Commodore), said: “It’s interesting when you talk to some of the people who are doing this kind of thing. It’s interesting when you start getting statistics that show that post-traumatic stress disorder is higher in drone operators than it is in many aircrew. They follow the pattern of life in a target environment, and they get so used to that, living day in, day out with these people, that when an attack has to be made, they feel it every bit as much as a pilot of a fast jet who just drops the bomb.”

On 17th December ‘Eye in the Sky’ was shown on television. One review said that the film “provides a valuable dramatization of what we’re asking of the public servants who carry out the missions we passively or actively endorse. This is the rare military drama that conveys both the graphic physical effects of war and its lingering psychic cost”.

The New American asked: “[Would] the members of the United States Armed Forces not be better served by eliminating the source of the trauma rather than treating its effects?”

 

 

 

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Should we focus on autonomous weapons or the human agencies directing them?

A member of Scientists for Global Responsibility has drawn attention to a report by Peter Burt: Off the Leash: The Development of Autonomous Military Drones in the UK.

In a Guardian article*, Jamie Doward points out that though the government insists it “does not possess fully autonomous weapons and has no intention of developing them”, since 2015, the UK has declined to support proposals put forward at the UN to ban them.

Israel Defense summarises: ”The report maps out the agencies, laboratories, and contractors undertaking research into drones and autonomous weapon technology in support of the Ministry of Defence, examines the risks arising from the weaponization of such technologies, and assesses government policy in this area”.

“We have already seen the development of drones in Britain which have advanced autonomous capabilities, such as the Taranis stealth drone developed by BAE Systems, and the development of a truly autonomous lethal drone in the foreseeable future is now a real possibility,” Burt said.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “There is no intent within the MOD to develop weapon systems that operate entirely without human input. Our weapons will always be under human control as an absolute guarantee of oversight, authority and accountability.”

The BBC reported in November that at least 6,660 Yemeni civilians have been killed and 10,560 injured in the fighting, according to the United Nations.

It is hard to imagine fully autonomous weapons inflicting much more death and destruction than current technology under human control.

*link will not embed: go to https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/10/autonomous-drones-that-decide-who-they-kill-britain-funds-research)

 

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Google abandons three projects which could ’cause harm’

In June, Mark Bridge reported that Google software engineers refused to work on a security feature to isolate and protect Pentagon data, because of moral concerns about the company helping the US to wage war. A dozen employees resigned in May according to Engadget and 4000 staff signed a petition against the project which was halted.

The unnamed engineers were then joined by like-minded staff In a protest against an existing contract – Project Maven – to develop drone technology, using Google’s artificial intelligence to scan military drone footage to identify people and vehicles (video here)). Although Google said that it would be used for “non-offensive purposes” only, workers feared it would be used to identify targets for drone strikes in countries such as Afghanistan, where strikes have caused civilian casualties.

Google decided to end its involvement with Project Maven in 2019 when its contract expires

Earlier in October, the Washington Examiner reported Google’s decision not to compete for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing JEDI contract to improve the U.S. military’s  leverage of artificial intelligence capabilities because the project might conflict with corporate limits on the use of its technologies, which include a pledge not to build weapons or other systems intended to cause harm.

The Tech Workers Coalition, an organization of industry employees concentrated in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle whose members have expressed concern about the ethics of certain uses of artificial intelligence, said the decision was based primarily on “sustained employee pressure.” It alleged that Google had intended to compete for the contract and had ‘courted’ military officials extensively with the hope of winning such projects.

Google has issued admirable new ethical standardsArtificial Intelligence at Google: our principles

Speaking to The Verge, an American technology news and media network, a Google representative said that had these principles been published earlier, the company would not have become involved in Project Maven which used AI to analyse surveillance footage. Although the application was described as being for “non-offensive purposes” and was therefore permitted under these guidelines, a company representative said that Google will continue to work with the military “in many other areas” but that particular project was ‘too close for comfort’.

The document makes clear that the company will not develop AI for use in weaponry and is thought to suggest that Google will ‘play it safe’ with future military contracts.

 

 

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Imran Khan: “American drone strikes in Pakistan must stop. It’s butchery, and the true horror of it is hidden from the West”

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Since 2004, the US government has attacked thousands of targets in tribal areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. It used unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the US Air Force under the operational control of the CIA’s Special Activities Division. Attacks increased substantially under Bush’s successor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.

A non-violent campaign in Pakistan against drone strikes by the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, led by Imran Khan, involved blocking the route to pressure Washington to stop targeting armed groups in the region bordering Afghanistan. NATO supply containers to and from Afghanistan via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were stopped at border points until US drone attacks stop and a formal apology was later given to the government for the killings in Pakistan. It ended in 2014.

Imran Khan attacks those countrymen who support NATO’s war on the Taliban:

*“They have absolutely no idea. They sit in the drawing room. They read the English-language newspapers, which bear very little resemblance to what is real Pakistan. I promise you, they would be lost in our villages . . .

Khan believes the US are responsible for the rise of the Pakistani Taliban, allies of the Afghan Taliban.

“We ended up sending our army into our tribal areas at the request of the Americans. And our areas got devastated. We had, more or less, a civil-war situation there. The aid was minuscule compared to the loss of billions and billions and the blood our country spilt.”

A leaked document confirmed that 81 civilians including children died in this 2006 CIA drone strike

He adheres to the Sufi tradition of egalitarianism and the acceptance of all creeds and beliefs in society and believes: “All terrorism is politics. All this nonsense of religious terrorism. There’s no such thing as religious terrorism. It’s politics behind it. The political injustice. Perceived injustice is why people pick up arms — throughout history.”

 

*Direct quotations from a hostile account in the Times

 

 

 

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