Sikander Ahmed Shah: first objective, halting drone strikes – the second, reparation

For years the legality of using armed drones has been challenged by individuals and organisations – as a search on this website will reveal.

Another analyst, Sikander Ahmed Shah of Lahore University of Management Sciences, Department of Law and Policy reflected in 2011 on the intense anger in Pakistan provoked by US drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He pointed out that in the absence of certain extenuating circumstances, the overwhelming majority of international law experts would find the drone strikes in FATA illegal under international law. They do not qualify as acts of self-defence under customary international law or as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and so violate Article 2(4), which upholds the territorial integrity of a state.

In his book, International Law and Drone Strikes in Pakistan: The Legal and Socio-political Aspects (Routledge Research in the Law of Armed Conflicts 2014), paperback 2016, Shah explores the legal and political issues surrounding the use of drones in Pakistan and asks whether the drone strikes by the United States comply with international humanitarian law.

Officially, the government of Pakistan has condemned the US drone strikes as illegal under international law and a violation of its territorial sovereignty, but it had permitted the USA to use the Shamsi Air Base which is thought to have been the US base for drone and associated surveillance flights. Shah asks whether such authorization qualified Pakistan as consenting to drone attacks, with the result that the US had not violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and had not acted unlawfully.

In 2015 he stressed that though working towards halting drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas should be the first objective of Pakistan; the government should convince the US to provide ‘reparation’ for the drone strikes in the form of compensation under Article 36 of the Draft Articles on State Responsibility (DASR) for damage to civilian life and property: “(Compensation) will provide the necessary funds for the needs of the affected civilian population, especially women and children. It is high time that the real victims of the war on terror received some form of reparation for the losses they have had to endure”.

Shah surmises that a transparent and accountable system to determine compensation and enable its swift dispensation to victims of drone strikes might act as a deterrent and lessen the frequency of drone strikes because of the additional economic cost of civilian harm.

He summarises: “Drone strikes seriously challenge fundamental human rights including the right to life, protections against extra-judicial killings, the right to a fair trial and access to justice, the right to assembly, the right to freedom of movement and the right to compensation and redress”. We hope to hear more from him.

Sikander Ahmed Shah is an Assistant Professor in the Lahore University of Management Sciences Department of Law and Policy. He teaches Advanced Public International Law and focuses his research on state sovereignty and territoriality, use of force, self-determination, global terrorism, human rights and humanitarian law, WTO laws and corporate governance.





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Saudi allies applaud President Trump as shameful Yemeni killings escalate

Donald Trump bows to receive gold medal yesterday from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

President Trump’s regime has perpetrated more than 80 strikes in Yemen since January and a disastrous Special Forces raid that killed 25 civilians, including 10 children.

In March America’s NBC News reported that U.S. officials say the Trump administration is planning to make it easier for the CIA and military to target terrorists with drone strikes, even if it means tolerating more civilian casualties. The Pentagon no longer would have to show that the targets posed an imminent threat to the U.S. or declare a near certainty that no civilian would be harmed. The military’s declaration that parts of Yemen and Somalia are war zones has already had deadly consequences. Details are given on the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s website.

The latest news comes from The Intercept website this week, reporting on a drone strike late in April. In the remote Al Said area of Yemen’s Shabwah province an American drone observed a group of men eating lunch at a security checkpoint. The men did not panic – for many in the region, the sound of American drones in the sky has become part of daily life.

Suspecting that these men were Al Qaeda, the drone unleashed its missiles, and all eight were killed. A 27-year-old grocer said that neither his uncle nor the two young men with him were connected to any militant group and that five others killed left AQAP two years ago.

One man’s nephew heard the explosion from his home nearby and some accounts say that a second missile struck his relatives as they went to help.

Several areas of Yemen are suffering from the food shortagesdisease epidemics and a large number of civilian casualties due to the U.S.-backed Saudi military campaign. But despite growing international outcry, no political solution seems to be in sight, as the Saudi-led alliance has repeatedly committed itself to crushing the Yemeni Houthi rebel movement at all costs.




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Aerial attacks: ISIS uses coalition tactics – albeit on a smaller scale 

Tim Bradshaw (Financial Times) reports that ISIS has been using low-cost “quadcopters”, assembled using kits instead of buying ‘off-the-shelf’, to drop improvised bombs in Syria and Iraq.

US military officials have become increasingly concerned about ISIS’ use of drones such as the Phantom, designed for consumer photographers and controlled using a smartphone or remote control, costing a few hundred dollars.

After using them for surveillance, ISIS started dropping grenades and improvised explosives on Iraqi forces in Mosul and nearby areas. A unit called “Unmanned Aircraft of the Mujahideen” was  formed in January and released video footage of the attacks on its websites.

The manufacturers allow customers to override or “unlock” some restricted areas, which its website states are “advisory only”. Shenzhen’s DJI, one of several manufacturers whose devices have been used by ISIS, has created new “no fly zones” for its products across Iraq and Syria. It has updated its ‘geofencing’ system, normally used to prevent its customers from flying their drones in restricted areas such as airports, prisons and power plants. These new no-fly zones in the Middle East were introduced to its mobile app in February.

MIT Technology Review (founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899) says that it’s not clear how constructive the move will be.

As described above, the no-fly zones can still be circumvented by tweaking a drone’s software and by building aircraft from scratch, using component parts and rudimentary airframes.

The review also points out that the modifications could affect operations by Iraq’s military, which has started to use modified consumer drones to attack ISIS in recent months.





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‘Friendly fire’ in northern Syria killed 18 allied fighters

This photo from the Kurdish-run Hawar News Agency shows fighters from the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces at a funeral procession in Tal Abyad, Syria, on April 13, 2017, for 18 comrades who were killed by a misdirected airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition. (Hawar News Agency via AP)  

Two days ago, in the Los Angeles Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Contact Reporter, recorded news issued by the U.S. Central Command – that a misdirected airstrike this week killed 18 friendly fighters who were fighting Islamic State alongside the international coalition in northern Syria. Coalition aircraft were given the wrong coordinates by the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces for a strike intended to target militants south of their stronghold in Tabqa.

It is not clear how many friendly fire strikes there have been since the campaign began against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2014.The coalition releases monthly reports of civilian casualties from airstrikes, both those confirmed and under investigation. But friendly fire strikes are tracked internally.

The London-based monitoring group Airwars, which works with the coalition to track airstrike casualties, has found 37 reported friendly fire strikes in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Four have been confirmed by the coalition, including the one in Tabqa, according to Airwars director Chris Wood. The others are:

  • A strike on Dec. 18, 2015, in Fallujah that killed at least nine Iraqi soldiers and injured 32 more.
  • A strike on Sept. 17, 2016, in Al Tharda, Syria that killed at least 15 friendly Syrian forces.
  • A strike on Oct. 5, 2016, south of Mosul that killed 18 friendly Sunni tribal fighters.

“It’s very difficult to know how many more friendly fire events there have been since the coalition does not disclose this information,” Woods said, adding that it’s difficult to track total casualties from the strikes, and their estimates vary widely.

U.S. Army Col. Joe Scrocca, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, said he was “not aware of those incidents; we do not keep cumulative data on them, so I cannot readily verify their validity.”

More have been reported in Iraq, where there have been 224 to 419 suspected friendly fire casualties from coalition strikes, than in Syria, where there have been 35 to 86, Woods said. 


Airwars site adds: latest Coalition report: April 13th – April 14th 2017: 14 new airstrikes

Information updated till December 2016






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Armed drones: how remote-controlled, high-tech weapons are used against the poor

In 2011 David Hookes explored the ethical and legal implications of the growing use of armed, unmanned planes in the ‘war against terrorism’.

The rapidly increasing use of aerial robot weapons in the so-called ‘war against terrorism’ is raising many ethical and legal questions. Drones, known in military-speak as ‘UAVs’ or ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ come in a range of sizes, from very small surveillance aircraft, which can be carried in a soldier’s rucksack and used to gather battlefield intelligence, to full-scale, armed versions that can carry a sizable payload of missiles and laser-guided bombs.

The use of the latter type of UAV in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere has aroused great concern, since it often entails considerable ‘collateral damage’ – in other words, the killing of innocent civilians in the vicinity of the targeted ‘terrorist’ leaders. The legality of their use in carrying out what are effectively extra-judicial executions, outside any recognisable battlefield, is also a raising serious concern.

Read the article here:




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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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