Why would disclosing reasons for rebranding armed drones have a chilling effect?

In 2016, defence secretary Michael Fallon announced a £100m development deal with US arms manufacturer General Atomics under which the UK fleet of armed drones will double.

The new acquisitions will be variants of the Reaper, an advanced version of the Predator but the MoD has decided to rename these new drones, the Protector, a far more humane name than ‘Scavenger’, ‘Predator’ or ‘Reaper’. They are expected to be ready for service in 2021 – test flight below.

The MoD refers to the armed drones flying above soldiers on patrol to support them rather than tracking down and executing enemies – but a Jane’s article described them as being capable of carrying multiple-mission payloads, including Brimstone missiles.

In December Private Eye’s researcher made a Freedom of Information request in order to learn more about this renaming exercise from the MoD.

After a three month delay the request was refused on several grounds, which included:

  • revealing the information would be counter to the public interest
  • Disclosure of media handling might have a ‘chilling effect’ on future discussions pf a similar nature

The military and the drone industry have long tried to improve the image of killer machines and break the connection in the public’s mind between drones and targeted killing, by calling them ‘Remotely Piloted Air Systems’ and ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’. Perhaps it will soon also rename the Brimstone and Hellfire missiles.




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Legacy: “Obama scattered his drones and special forces throughout the Muslim world”

In January, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that President Obama embraced the US drone programme, overseeing more strikes in his first year than Bush carried out during his entire presidency.

A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush.

The White House released long-awaited figures in July on the number of people killed in drone strikes between January 2009 and the end of 2015, which insiders said was a direct response to pressure from the Bureau and other organisations that collect data. However the US’s estimate of the number of civilians killed – between 64 and 116 – contrasted strongly with the number recorded by the Bureau, which at 380 to 801 was six times higher.

That figure does not include deaths in active battlefields including Afghanistan. Since the end of 2014, the country has since come under frequent US bombardment, in an unreported war that saw 1,337 weapons dropped last year alone – a 40% rise on 2015. Afghan civilian casualties have been high, with the United Nations (UN) reporting at least 85 deaths in 2016. The Bureau recorded 65 to 105 civilian deaths during this period. We did not start collecting data on Afghanistan until 2015.

In February, the Military Times, published by Sightline Media Group and described as an independent source for news and information for Service Members and their families, alleged that the American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.

Andrew de Grandpre, Pentagon bureau chief, and Shawn Snow, reported that in 2016 alone, U.S. combat aircraft conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan that were not recorded as part of an open-source database maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Those airstrikes were carried out by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the U.S. Army.

U.S. Central Command indicated it is unable to determine how far back the Army’s numbers have been excluded from these airpower summaries. Officials there would not address several detailed questions submitted by Military Times, and they were unable to provide a full listing of annual airstrikes conducted by each of the Defense Department’s four military services.

In an otherwise lenient article about Obama, Simon Jenkins said that – in thrall to military advisers and lobbyists – Obama scattered his drones and special forces throughout the Muslim world, as counter-productive to peace as they ever were.




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Another airstrike killing Yemeni civilians

Yesterday the Times reported that a Saudi warplanes near Yemen’s rebel-held capital struck and killed several people on Wednesday, according to medical officials. These included a group of ten women attending the funeral in Arhab, 25 miles from Sanaa, according to a spokesman for the Houthi rebel group.


Eight women and a child were amongst those killed in the airstrike officials claim. The double strike then also hit emergency workers at the scene. Footage allegedly taken at the scene showed civilians and medics struggling to claw women and children out from underneath rubble and earth.

A coalition spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen since March 2015 in order to reinstate Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, the Yemeni president, ousted by the Houthis, a Shia rebel group backed by Saudi Arabia’s long-term foe Iran.

More than 7,400 people have been killed in the two-year conflict and hospitals, schools, weddings, homes and funerals have been bombed.

Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president who is accused by the Saudis of arming the Houthis, called for a truce in Yemen yesterday during his first visit to the Gulf since he took office in 2013. Mr Rouhani, regarded as progressive, made the comments during a fleeting visit to Oman and Kuwait, two states working to bridge the diplomatic divide between Arab countries and Tehran.

His comments echoed calls by the new UN chief António Guterres, who vowed to restart Yemen’s peace talks in a statement this week.





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President Trump, his predecessors and all ‘complicit by their silence’ are to blame for this insanity

paul-goslingPaul Gosling retweeted NYT’s report of Yemen’s anger at  the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump (covered on this site here): Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

The NYT reminds readers that the United States conducted 38 drone strikes in Yemen last year, up from 23 in 2014, and has already carried out five strikes this year – according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, which focusses on the ‘war on terror’.

In response to the raid, Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen urged followers to attack the United States and its allies in the country. Specialists in Yemeni culture and politics have cautioned that Al Qaeda would seize on the raid to whip up anti-American feelings and attract more followers.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (header below) said in a report released last Thursday: “The use of U.S. soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics plays into AQAP’s narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-U.S. sentiment and with it AQAP’s pool of recruits.”


David Godinez,  Kansas City, MO commented 10 hours ago: “There is a chain of failure, tragedy and mistakes that have occurred in our special operations and drone attacks in Yemen that now go back through the last three Presidents.

Paul McBride,  Ellensburg WA 12 hours ago, asked:

“Why can’t we instead use this story as an opportunity to re-examine America’s grotesque “Long War” on terrorism itself? Has a day gone by since we invaded Afghanistan over 15 years ago that at least one person on this planet has not died at the hands of the American military or intelligence services? Are we proud of that? Has the blood debt of 9/11 not been repaid a hundred-fold?

“We allow the Pentagon and CIA to conduct raids, drop bombs, and use drones without the slightest curiosity at to what we are accomplishing, other than, manifestly, alienating the good will of a quarter of the globe’s population. This latest raid in Yemen has generated no meaningful investigation by any mainstream media outlet, no attempt to interview the villagers affected, or to get the facts beyond the propaganda published by the Pentagon in its press releases . . .

“President Trump seems no more willing than his predecessors to halt this insanity, but the American people are complicit by their silence and acquiescence”.





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Trump’s first disastrous airstrike, followed by ‘boots on the ground’


American broadcasting network NBC was the first to report news from a senior US military official that in the first airstrike and military raid carried out under President Donald Trump, two Americans were killed in Southern Yemen on Sunday. One was a member of SEAL Team 6 a U.S. Navy component of Joint Special Operations Command, sometimes referred to as a Special Mission Unit. The raid, conducted by JSOC, was intended to capture valuable intelligence, specifically computer equipment – but local accounts describe US personnel running amok, reporting a body count of 59 combatants and civilians, including women and children.

The mission involved Trump’s preferred option of “boots on the ground” but “Almost everything went wrong,” the official said. They experienced a hard landing near the site, injuring several SEALs, one severely. The tilt-rotor aircraft had to be destroyed. A SEAL was killed during the firefight on the ground and some Yemeni civilians.


The aircraft involved was the much-vaunted MV-22 Osprey which – a search  reveals – has a really disturbing record of crashes, mishaps and accidents. In December Reuters recorded that the US military had grounded its fleet of Osprey aircraft in Japan after one crash-landed in the sea near Okinawa, in an incident that fuelled further local anger over the US deployment on the island. TV footage showed the main wings of the transport aircraft broken in two and the half-submerged fuselage drifting in the sea.

nawar-anwar-al-awlakiAmong the non-combatants killed in the raid, including several Yemeni women and children, was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born American graduate and al Qaeda leader who was killed in a U.S. drone strike five years ago.

Her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, Yemen’s former agriculture minister, told NBC News that the girl and her mother had fled the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, where he lives, to escape the heavy shelling and continued:

“My granddaughter was staying for a while with her mother, so when the attack came, they were sitting in the house, and a bullet struck her in her neck at 2:30 past midnight. Other children in the same house were killed.

“They [the SEALs] entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women. They burned the house. There is an assumption there was a woman [in the house] from Saudi Arabia who was with al Qaeda. All we know is that she was a children’s teacher”.

Will this chaos and bloodshed cause Trump to rethink ? if only . . .

(UPDATE: varying accounts of the diplomatic reaction are being published. The following sounds the most feasible: “White House spokesman Sean Spicer would not say whether Yemen’s government had requested a ban, but he said the Trump administration is “working through diplomatic channels” with Yemen – read more here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/02/08/reports-yemen-says-must-approve-us-ground-raids/97634368/.)




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Accidental civilian drone damage is a hazard: military use is hazardous and lethal

“The FT editorial “A drone is not just for Christmas but for life” – ‘Naïve’ – or worse? writes Paul Miners (Lutry, Switzerland) who takes the un-named writer to task:

“Your editorial “A drone is not just for Christmas but for life (December 24) is naive. Drones are the simplest weapon to bring down planes and drop bombs. They must be banned”.

Advertiser induced profit motive?

drone-near-missEarlier this week, after extolling the cheapness, versatility and lower environmental impact of drones, the writer of FT View deplored the ‘reckless users’ of commercial and hobby drones who might cause this ‘promising technology’ to be grounded:

“The list of ways in which drones have been irritating people is almost endless. Hobbyists have been using drones to deliver drugs to prisoners, to hover over bank cash machines to film people entering their PIN numbers, to snap topless celebrities and, more alarmingly, to buzz aircraft. In the 10 months to October this year, there have been more than 50 near-miss incidents with aeroplanes in the UK.

“Drones are rapidly acquiring an acceptability problem. Just think of the epic resistance to developing a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport. Now imagine the public irritation aroused by thousands of drones buzzing over Richmond Park (the deer certainly would not like it)”.

Industry-related profit motive?

Robert Garbett is Chief Executive and co-founder of SUAS-Global, which ‘provides a hub for operators, industry and regulators to communicate and share best practice’. He explains that ‘under-resourced regulators have fallen behind against an increasingly massive tidal wave of operators seeking guidance, public complaining about every sighting and the government requirements for direction and information’ and hopes to allay misgivings with the news that the International Standards Organisation (ISO) is currently in the process of developing a far-reaching standard for the manufacture and operations of commercial unmanned air systems (UAS), which is expected to provide an integrated safety framework designed to enable manufacturers to produce safe drones and commercial operators to fly said drones in a safe, responsible manner.

The elephant in the room – the greatest unmentioned hazard


Accidents are not the greatest hazard: will the ISO be able to restrain America and its friends from using drones to destroy infrastructure and assassinate people in several countries?

How many readers will agree with Mr Miners, who says (we repeat): ‘Drones are the simplest weapon to bring down planes and drop bombs’ and concludes,

’They must be banned’.



In 2014 Mark Shapiro drew this site’s attention to records obtained by the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

They revealed that more than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001 due to reasons including mechanical breakdowns, human error, software bugs in the “brains” of the aircraft, poor coordination with civilian air-traffic controllers and bad weather.

Military drones have crashed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in mid-air. Search engines also reveal reports of large numbers of accidents caused by commercial and hobby UAVs.




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Iraqi MPs and medics say fifty-five civilians killed in air strike on Qaim

Local hospital sources said air strikes hit a busy tailor’s market in the town of al-Qaim, an Islamic State-held town in Iraq’s Anbar province, killing 55 civilians including 12 women and 19 children, in three air strikes. The bodies of eight militants were delivered to Qaim hospital morgue.

Anbar MP Ahmed al-Salmani also said 55 civilians were killed. Another MP, Mohammed Karbouli, told Reuters that 60 people had been killed, including some of his relatives. Robert Cusack reports that those killed were among a queue of people waiting to receive government pensions and salaries from a municipal office.

Karbouli said it raised questions about the accuracy of intelligence used to target Islamic State fighters, and Salmani demanded that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi  stop the bombing and hold accountable the perpetrators of this massacre.


Islamic State’s news agency Amaq released footage showing what it said was the aftermath of the strikes it blamed on Iraq’s air force. It showed burning vehicles on a wide main road lined by shops. Corpses, some charred and others bloodied, could be seen on the street, and the bodies of several children were also shown. Several buildings had been wrecked.

A BBC report adds that the US-led multinational coalition supporting the Iraqi government in its fight against IS has also carried out air strikes around al-Qaim.

An official in Anbar, who asked not to be identified, said “Killing dozens of civilians only to target a handful of terrorists is clearly a massacre against innocent civilians.”




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