DOD sends UAV, 80 Airmen to help Nigerian search

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — TheDefenseDepartment’sadditionofanunmannedaerialvehicleand 80 Air Forcetroops to U.S.effortssupporting Nigeria’ssearchforover 200 missingschoolgirls hasturnedthemissionintoanairoperation,Army Col.SteveWarren,the directorofPentagonPressOperations,saidMay 22.The UAV system and Air Force personnel were deployed not to Nigeria but to neighboring Chad under an agreement with the Chadian government, Warren said, because basing the air assets there, closer to the search area, allows the aircraft to spend more time overhead.

The Nigerian government has requested such assistance and, Warren said, “This is the third system that we’ve put into Chad in addition to (systems that have) been providing (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) up until yesterday.”

dronebase

The coordinated air operation is using a mix of manned and unmanned assets as the situation dictates, he added.

“I don’t know right now of any plans to send additional ISR assets, and all 80 Air Force personnel are not (yet) on the ground,” Warren said, adding that there are no plans now for a U.S. military operation on the ground in Nigeria.

It’s been five weeks since members of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped the girls from the Government Secondary boarding school in the town of Chibok.

Boko Haram is a phrase in a language spoken in inland West Africa, according to academic linguistic texts, that translates figuratively to “Western education is a sin.”

The Airmen are joining 16 military personnel from U.S. Africa Command who earlier this month joined an interdisciplinary team led by the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria.

On May 21, as required by the War Powers Resolution, President Barack Obama notified Congress of the deployment of Air Force personnel to Chad in a letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate.

“These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” Obama said in the letter.

“The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required,” he added.

“The team in Chad is there in support of one of our ISR assets — an unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicle that is helping support the search for the students,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III told American Forces Press Service.

“The majority of the Air Force personnel are dedicated to the launch, recovery, and maintenance of the aircraft,” Caggins added. “They have a small security detachment to round-out the team.”

They are not infantry troops and will not conduct ground operations, he said.

“The weapons they deployed with are strictly for self-defense and local security at the airfield,” Caggins added.

ISR is one of the key DOD contributions to the search, he noted, and U.S. operations are around-the-clock, including time for aircraft maintenance and recovery.

The missions will take place over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area, Caggins said.

“Flying these aircraft from Chad significantly increases search time over potential Boko Haram camps in Nigeria and surrounding countries,” the DOD spokesman said, adding, “We’re thankful for cooperation from the government of Chad and our international partners for this basing agreement.”

On May 21, during a hearing on Boko Haram before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda J. Dory said DOD officials are taking action to help the Nigerian government find the students and address the growing threat posed by Boko Haram.

Initial DOD efforts involve working with Nigerian security personnel to identify gaps and shortfalls and provide requested expertise and information, including ISR support, she told the panel.

“We’re also working closely with the U.K., France and other international partners in Abuja to coordinate multilateral actions,” Dory said.

“Our intent is to support Nigerian-led efforts to safely recover the girls,” she added, “and help catalyze greater efforts to secure the population of Nigeria from the menace of Boko Haram.”

Ifsustainedsecurity is to beachieved,Dorysaid,thegovernmentof Nigeriamustdevelopandimplementimmediateand long-term solutions toproblemscreatedbytheextremistgroup.The Boko Haram threat has existed in its current form since 2009 but over the past several years has extended its geographic reach and increased the sophistication and lethality of its attacks, she explained.

“Along with other U.S. departments and agencies, DOD has been engaging for some time with the government of Nigeria to help build its capacity to respond,” the deputy assistant secretary said.

Beginning in 2011, DOD used the State Department-led U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission as a main forum to enhance counterinsurgency efforts and develop a civilian-centered approach to security, Dory said.

DOD supports creating a counter-IED and civil military operations capacity in the Nigerian army, she added, and it has supported creating a national-level intelligence-fusion capability to promote better information-sharing among Nigerian national-security entities.

In late April, DOD began working with Nigeria’s newly created counterterrorism-focused ranger battalion.

In addition, DOD and the State Department are working closely to enhance border security along Nigeria’s borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, to counter the Boko Haram threat, Dory told the panel.

The idea, she said, is to build border security capacity and promote better cooperation and communication among each country’s security force to reduce the extremist group’s operational space and safe havens.

In the meantime, the search for the students in Nigeria is ongoing, Caggins added, and the Nigerians are in the lead.

DOD, he said, continues to lend its unique assets and capabilities to help in the search.

“We’ll continue to evaluate the resources we might bring to bear in support of the effort in close consultation with the Nigerian government,” Caggins said.

Source: USAF 5/22/14

Meet i-Robot : The First Soldier to Enter Terror Tunnels

I-robot is the first IDF soldier to enter discovered terrorist tunnels. This robot, developed by the Ammunition Corps, has the ability to go through almost every terrain and is equipped with video cameras, encrypted wireless communication as well as lighting apparels, so it can travel underground.

“We can adapt the I-robot to many operational needs,” explains Shai Hada, the public relations officer of the Ammunition Corps.

The I-robot can also be armed and can open fire if need be. “It’s this kind of robot that was used in the recent tunnel discoveries. It streamed live images back to the soldiers who were controlling it,” explains Hada, referring to the recent terror tunnels found on the Gaza border with Israel. Infantry soldiers transport the robot, in a bag, and then activate it in the field. “We receive feedback from the soldiers and adapt the robot to the needs,” adds Hada.

With a couple of hours of autonomy, this robot is largely used around the Gaza Strip region but can also be used in urban areas. It is essentially a robot extension of a tracker.

Video Here

Source:Jews News 574/2014

Yemen: US drone strike kills 6 al-Qaida militants

In this photo provided by Yemen’s Defense Ministry, Yemeni army vehicles take position on the frontline of fighting with al-Qaida in the southeastern province of Shabwa, Yemen, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Yemeni armed forces on Thursday swept al-Qaida fighters out of a district in the country’s south, one of the main goals of the major offensive waged by the military the past two weeks, the Defense Ministry said, amid fears of retaliatory attacks which officials say prompted the closure of the US embassy in the capital as a precaution. (AP Photo/Yemen’s Defense Ministry)

SANAAYemen (AP) – A suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed six al-Qaida militants on Monday, military and security officials said.

The drone hit a car with al-Qaida fighters in Marib province, in the Husoun al-Jalal area in Abieda Valley, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. They said authorities were checking for the identities of the slain militants.

Last year and in early January, drone strikes killed more than 12 suspected al-Qaida militants in the same area of Marib province.

The U.S. considers Yemen’s branch of al-Qaida, also known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the most dangerous in the world. The group overran large swaths of territory in southern Yemen in 2011 but the military has pushed back and over the past few weeks, the army and security forces have stepped up an offensive to rout militants from their strongholds.

The U.S., which trains Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, has been waging a heavy campaign of drone strikes in the impoverished country against suspected al-Qaida targets, launching more than 100 such strikes since 2002, according to the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation.

However, civilian casualties in the drone strikes have sparked anger in the country and among human rights groups.

Yemen’s Interior Ministry corrected late Sunday an earlier press release saying three suspected al-Qaida militants were killed in clashes with security forces not far from the presidential palace in the capital, Sanaa, during the day. The new statement said the three victims were civilians who died in the crossfire.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said two al-Qaida militants were killed and one was wounded in Sunday’s clashes with government troops in Hadramawt and Shabwa provinces.

The statement identified the slain militants as Abu Mohammed al-Hadrami, who was killed in Hadramawt, and Yahia Baruwais, killed in Shabwa. It said al-Qaida fighter Said Bawazeer, also known as Abu Fatima, was wounded in Hadramawt

Outside Yemen, the country’s al-Qaida branch is blamed for a number of unsuccessful bomb plots aimed at Americans, including an attempt to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with explosives hidden in the bomber’s underwear and a second plot to send mail bombs hidden in the toner cartridges on planes headed to the U.S.

Source: WashintonTimes

 

How We Read a NYTimes Story on Drone Strikes in Yemen

In this post, we’re trying something new. Below, we present an almost line-by-line annotation of yesterday’s New York Times story on US and Yemeni military operations in Yemen. Among other things, the following is intended to identify legal implications of the news being reported, the significance of some of the revelations, and paths for further investigative reporting.

U.S. Drones and Yemeni Forces Kill Qaeda-Linked Fighters, Officials Say
By Eric Schmitt. Saeed Al Batati contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.
New York Times

WASHINGTON — American drones and Yemeni counterterrorism forces killed more than three dozen militants[1] linked to Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen over the weekend in one of the largest such attacks there in months[2], officials[3] from both countries said Monday.

[1] Note that the story leads with “militants” instead of “alleged militants.” Technically this difference is solved by the reference to “officials … said” at the end of the sentence. Still, the lede creates an initial impression that the individuals killed were indeed militants, rather than signalling to the reader that the issue might be contested. This kind of formulation — asserting militancy as fact, and later attributing those claims to officials —  occurs frequently throughout this story.  Given the anonymity of the official claims, repeated cases in which official claims have subsequently proven unreliable, the difficulty of determining “militancy,” and what is at stake in the categorization, the NYT could assist its readers by including more nuance in such coverage. In addition to signals such as “alleged,” some stories could place an initial reference to “militants” in scare quotes.

[2] It is a significant understatement to call this one of the largest attacks in “months.” If the reported casualties are accurate, the weekend strikes were one of the largest attacks in the history of US strikes in Yemen. Prior attacks resulting in such large numbers of deaths in a short amount of time include the July-August 2013 cluster of strikes (9 strikes, 31-49 estimated deaths), March 2012 strikes, and the December 2009 al-Majala strike.

[3] As is often the case in news pieces on US “targeted killings,” the bulk of the information in this story is sourced to unnamed “officials” from both Yemen and the United States. In this story, anonymous officials are cited frequently throughout; yet CIA, Pentagon, and White House spokespersons refused to comment or to comment specifically on these strikes.

At least three airstrikes were carried out against Qaeda fighters[4] in a convoy and in remote training camps in southern Yemen. They were militants who were planning to attack civilian and military facilities[5][6], government officials said in a statement.

[4] Note that the reference to “officials said” drops from sentences such as this one, and now terms like “Qaeda fighters” have neither that qualification nor a qualification like “alleged.”

[5] According to other news outlets — such as Reuters and Agence France-Presse – Yemeni official statements included the fact that these facilities were in Bayda province. This is important because it would suggest the militants were not directly threatening US persons. (And President Obama’s new rules of May 23, 2013 limit US lethal actions to threats only to US persons.) Are you curious as to whether Reuters/AFP got this right, and the NYT missed its relevance? The official statement on the Yemeni Defense Ministry’s website identifies Bayda as the target.

[6] It is striking that in light of such a “massive and unprecedented” operation, there has not been more reporting on what exactly the militants were allegedly up to.

Yemen’s Interior Ministry said Monday that as many as 55 militants had been killed, but a senior Yemeni official put the figure in the 40s.[7][8] The government’s statement also acknowledged that three civilians had been killed and five wounded in one of the airstrikes on Saturday.

[7] It would be helpful to inform the reader that Yemeni official statements like these have in the past proven wrong after time passes following a strike.

[8] Such widely varying numbers should raise questions about the quality of the intelligence before (as well as after) the strikes. The poor quality of these numbers also raises questions about whether the US and Yemeni authorities were able to know — in advance — that no civilians were at risk of being killed. (This is important because President Obama’s new rules of May 23 permit lethal force only if there is “near certainty” that civilians “will not be injured or killed.”)

Yemeni officials said they were working to identify those killed[9] in the attacks. As part of a campaign using armed drones in Yemen, the United States has been trying to kill Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s master bomb maker. But American officials said Monday that those men were not the intended targets in these strikes.[10]

[9] This phrase may mean the officials are certain that all the individuals killed were militants, and the government is simply working to determine their specific roles and identities. That said, the phrase also raises questions about the quality of intelligence before the strike. If the intelligence was lacking, how certain were the US and Yemeni governments that the targets were only militants and not also civilians? How certain were they that the militants were “leading elements” of AQAP, as Yemen’s government alleged?

[10] This is a major revelation. It contradicts rumors and speculation that Asiri was a target of the operations, and notably it contradicts an earlier report by the Long War Journal which concluded that he was a target.

The precise role of the United States in the airstrikes and ground operations was not immediately clear. American officials said the airstrikes had been carried out by drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, but an agency spokesman declined to comment. Other officials said American Special Operations military personnel had supported the Yemeni operations on the ground with intelligence and possibly logistical assistance.[11] The Pentagon declined to discuss the operations.

[11] This is also a major revelation. It also raises specific concerns about whether the US is now fighting a domestic insurgency alongside the Yemeni government.  As with reports that the US military may pilot CIA drones, these operations in Yemen also show the need for a more nuanced understanding of the CIA’s vs. Pentagon’s roles in targeted strikes–more nuanced than common accounts otherwise suggest.  This would be a fruitful area for investigation.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, referred all questions about the operations, which started on Saturday and continued past midnight on Sunday, to the Yemeni government,[12] and he spoke only in broad terms about the counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries.

[12] Might Carney’s statement involve an implicit form of endorsement of the Yemeni government’s representation of the facts?

“We have a strong collaborative relationship, as you know, with the Yemeni government and worked together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from A.Q.A.P.,” said Mr. Carney, referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

American officials sought to play down the United States’ role and to allow Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s president, to bolster his domestic credibility and claim credit for the operations.[13] They had a troubled relationship with the longtime president who preceded him, Ali Abdullah Saleh, but they have voiced confidence in Mr. Hadi and increased aid to the country.

[13] This statement is potentially more nefarious than first meets the eye. Recall the Wikileaks cable from General Petraeus’s meeting with Yemen’s then-President Saleh:

“‘We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,’ Saleh said, prompting Deputy  Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG [Republic of Yemen Government].’”

The drone attacks were the largest barrage of airstrikes carried out in Yemen this year — 11 in all so far, according to The Long War Journal, a website that tracks drone strikes — and one of the largest strikes carried out since President Obama outlined a new strategy last May for targeting Qaeda militants in battlefields outside Afghanistan.

In his speech in May, Mr. Obama said targeted killing operations were carried out only against militants who posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” He also said no strike could be authorized without “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” a bar he described as “the highest standard we can set.”[14]

[14] Hallelujah! It is terrific to see a news report squarely raise these two questions. Despite significant media coverage of these strikes, to our knowledge, Schmitt’s piece was the first to do this so explicitly.  The strike standards are set forth in a government document, “U.S. Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.” Only a summarized version of the document is publicly available. When the standards were released on May 23, 2013, we raised initial questions about their content and we expressed concerns about the continuing lack of transparency. It is important to raise those same questions and concerns in light of the events in Yemen and elsewhere.

Given that the administration would not even confirm that American drones carried out the strikes over the weekend, it was unclear how the people targeted in the strike posed a threat to Americans.[15] The Qaeda affiliate has in the past targeted the United States Embassy in Sana, the Yemeni capital.

[15] This is a very important assessment, and again raises a key question about the strikes. Given that it remains completely unanswered, it is precisely the kind of questioning that should appear in news reports. When the last significant series of strikes occurred in Yemen in July-August 2013, news reports routinely quoted from officials who claimed that al Qaeda was planning to attack US embassies. We are surprised that there has been so little reporting now about what specific threat these alleged militants posed to “US persons.” There may be sound reasons that justify the US assisting Yemen with attacks against threats to Yemeni installations or persons, but the US has been very clear that it will strike only if there is a threat to US persons.

The raid by Yemen’s Counterterrorism Unit late Sunday, which occurred on the main road connecting the southern province of Shabwa with the adjacent province of Marib, culminated nearly 48 hours of intensive airstrikes.

“The operation delivers a strong message to the criminal and terror operatives that the armed forces and security personnel are ready to foil and thwart terrorist acts in any time and place,” Mr. Hadi said in the government’s statement.

The statement said three airstrikes had destroyed al Qaeda training camp in a remote mountainous area in Abyan, a southern province, killing two dozen militants, including foreign fighters.

The government said several other airstrikes had targeted vehicles and militants in Abyan, Shabwa and Bayda Provinces.

Mohsen Labhas, a resident of Al Lahab, a village near a highway that connects the cities of Ataq and Bayhan in Shabwa Province, said that after hearing gunfire on Sunday night, he and other residents jumped in their cars and raced to the scene. They were met by American drones and helicopters.[16] “We abandoned our car since we thought that the aircraft might target us, but it turned out that it warned us from approaching the area,[17]” he said.

[16] The use of helicopters — manned, low-flying aircraft — is important in considering whether the US is now a party to an internal armed conflict in Yemen. Unlike drones, helicopters expose US forces to risk of casualties, which may implicate whether congressional authorization is required. (See also the reference above to the US providing support “on the ground with intelligence and possibly logistical assistance.”)

[17] Assuming the witness accurately understood these events, it is very positive to see reporting — in the context of targeted killings and drone strikes — on efforts taken by the US and Yemen to warn civilians, and to keep civilians away from areas of active fighting. We do not recall such efforts being reported in relation to previous strikes.

“Nearly half an hour later, the aircraft fired a missile at a target on the ground,” Mr. Labhas said.

A strike on Saturday morning targeted a vehicle in Bayda Province, killing 10 militants and wounding one, according to the Yemeni government. It said intelligence had indicated that the fighters were planning to attack important installations.

“Regrettably, three civilians were also killed during the attack and five were injured when their pickup truck unexpectedly appeared[18][19] next to the targeted vehicle,” the statement said.

[18] Given the central role that allegations of civilian deaths and injuries have played in targeted killing debates, we were surprised to see the details about this aspect of the operations so far down in the article. Nevertheless, it is important to note that it has been rare for officials to acknowledge so quickly that civilians were killed. This is a positive step, and we hope it signals a new approach to responding to civilian harm. Finally here, one news story can’t do everything, but it would be good to see some journalists now follow up this story to investigate whether the governments pay compensation to these victims and families, and whether there is any form of public acknowledgement to the families of these mistakes and an explanation of their family members’ deaths.

[19] The civilian vehicle “unexpectedly appeared”? This suggests an answer to earlier questions raised by some commentators about whether the civilians were killed simply by accident, or whether they were targeted on the mistaken assumption that they were al Qaeda. Yet the claim that the civilian vehicle unexpectedly appeared raises its own questions, particularly about what precautions are taken before attacks, how a “near certainty” standard is applied in practice, and whether the technical capacities drones have to enable precision targeting match the capabilities often claimed by officials.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security. Ryan is the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. Follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.

 is Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University School of Law, and a Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Follow her on twitter @SarahKnuckey.

Source: JustSecurity

CIA’s Pakistan drone strikes carried out by regular US air force personnel

A regular US air force unit based in the Nevada desert is responsible for flying the CIA‘s drone strike programme in Pakistan, according to a new documentary to be released on Tuesday.

The film – which has been three years in the making – identifies the unit conducting CIA strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, which operates from a secure compound in a corner of Creech air force base, 45 miles from Las Vegas in the Mojave desert.

Several former drone operators have claimed that the unit’s conventional air force personnel – rather than civilian contractors – have been flying the CIA’s heavily armed Predator missions in Pakistan, a 10-year campaign which according to some estimates has killed more than 2,400 people.

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, said this posed questions of legality and oversight. “A lethal force apparatus in which the CIA and regular military collaborate as they are reportedly doing risks upending the checks and balances that restrict where and when lethal force is used, and thwart democratic accountability, which cannot take place in secrecy.”

The Guardian approached the National Security Council, the CIA and the Pentagon for comment last week. The NSC and CIA declined to comment, while the Pentagon did not respond.

The role of the squadron, and the use of its regular air force personnel in the CIA’s targeted killing programme, first emerged during interviews with two former special forces drone operators for a new documentary film, Drone.

Brandon Bryant, a former US Predator operator, told the film he decided to speak out after senior officials in the Obama administration gave a briefing last year in which they said they wanted to “transfer” control of the CIA’s secret drones programme to the military.

Bryant said this was disingenuous because it was widely known in military circles that the US air force was already involved.

“There is a lie hidden within that truth. And the lie is that it’s always been the air force that has flown those missions. The CIA might be the customer but the air force has always flown it. A CIA label is just an excuse to not have to give up any information. That is all it has ever been.”

Referring to the 17th squadron, another former drone operator, Michael Haas, added: “It’s pretty widely known [among personnel] that the CIA controls their mission.”

Six other former drone operators who worked alongside the unit, and who have extensive knowledge of the drone programme, have since corroborated the claims. None of them were prepared to go on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Bryant said public scrutiny of the programme had focused so far on the CIA rather than the military, and it was time to acknowledge the role of those who had been carrying out missions on behalf of the agency’s civilian analysts.

“Everyone talks about CIA over Pakistan, CIA double-tap, CIA over Yemen, CIA over Somalia. But I don’t believe that they deserve the entirety of all that credit for the drone programme,” he said. “They might drive the missions; they might say that these are the objectives – accomplish it. They don’t fly it.”

Another former drone operator based at Creech said members of the 17th were obsessively secretive.

“They don’t hang out with anyone else. Once they got into the 17th and got upgraded operationally, they pretty much stopped talking to us. They would only hang out among themselves like a high school clique, a gang or something.”

Shamsi said the revelations, if true, raised “a host of additional pressing questions about the legal framework under which the targeted killing programme is carried out and the basis for the secrecy that continues to shroud it.”

She added: “It will come as a surprise to most Americans if the CIA is directing the military to carry out warlike activities. The agency should be collecting and analysing foreign intelligence, not presiding over a massive killing apparatus.

“We don’t know precisely what rules the CIA is operating under, but what we do know makes clear that it’s not abiding by the laws that strictly limit extrajudicial killing both in and out of traditional battlefields. Now we have to ask whether the regular military is violating those laws as well, under the secrecy that the CIA wields as sword and shield over its killing activities.

“Congressional hearings in the last year have made it embarrassingly clear that Congress has not exercised much oversight over the lethal programme.”

In theory, the revelation could expose serving air force personnel to legal challenges based on their direct involvement in a programme that a UN special rapporteur and numerous other judicial experts are concerned may be wholly or partly in violation of international law.

Sitting 45 miles north-west of Las Vegas in the Mojave desert, Creech air force base has played a key role in the US drone programme since the 1990s.

The 432d wing oversees four conventional US air force Predator and Reaper squadrons, which carry out surveillance missions and air strikes in Afghanistan.

There is another, far more secretive cluster of units within the wing called the 732nd Operations Group, which states that it “employs remotely piloted aircraft in theatres across the globe year-round”.

This operations group has four drone squadrons, which all appear to be linked with the CIA.

The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron “test-flies” the RQ-170 Sentinel, the CIA’s stealth drone which made headlines after one was captured over Iran in December 2011.

The 22nd and 867th Reconnaissance Squadrons each fly Reaper drones, the more heavily armed successor to the Predator.

But it is the last of the four units – the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron – that is now under the most scrutiny.

It is understood to have 300 air crew and operates about 35 Predator drones – enough to provide five or six simultaneous missions during any 24-hour period.

It operates from within an inner compound at Creech, which even visiting military VIPs are unable to access, say former base personnel. Former workers at Creech say the unit was treated as the “crown jewels” of the drone programme.

“They wouldn’t even let us walk by it, they were just so protective of it,” said Haas, who for two years was a drone operator. He was also an operational trainer at Creech.

“From what I was able to gather, it was pretty much confirmed they were flying missions almost exclusively in Pakistan with the intent to strike.”

In the Operations Cell, which receives video feeds from every drone “line” in progress at Creech, mission co-ordinators from the 17th were kept segregated from all the others.

Established as a regular drone squadron in 2002, the unit transitioned to its new “customer” in 2004 at the same time that CIA drone strikes began in Pakistan, former personnel have said.

The operators receive their orders from civilian CIA analysts who ultimately decide whether – and against whom – to carry out a strike, according to one former mid-level drone commander.

Creech air force base would only confirm that the 17th squadron was engaged in “global operations”.

“The 732nd Operations Group oversees global operations of four squadrons – the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, 22nd Reconnaissance Squadron, 30th Reconnaissance Squadron and the 867th Reconnaissance Squadron. These squadrons are all still active … their mission is to perform high-quality, persistent, multi-role intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in support of combatant commanders’ needs.”

Although the agency’s drone strikes have killed a number of senior figures in al-Qaida and the Taliban, the CIA also stands accused by two United Nations investigators of possible war crimes for some of its activities in Pakistan. They are probing the targeting of rescuers and the bombing of a public funeral.

• Tonje Schei’s film Drone premieres on Arte on 15 April.

• Chris Woods is the author of Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars, which is published next winter in the US and Europe.

Source: The Guardian

Obama Will Finally Have to Explain Why the US Can Kill Americans with Drones

In the years-long conversation about President Barack Obama’s incredible drone wars, we’ve heard opaque, albeit scintillating, references to threat matrices and kill lists. But there’s one thing we’ve never heard: What is the president’s legal rationale for extrajudicial killing of Americans with drones?

Finally, we can expect to find out soon. US Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the New York Times and the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act case levied against the Department of Justice, Defense Department, and CIA. The case was initially filed after the above agencies refused to comply with a FOIA request “seeking documents relating to targeted killings of United States citizens carried out by drone aircraft.”

The order from a three-judge panel requires the government to release a raft of documents regarding drone strikes, including the classified Department of Justice memo that initially authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American al-Qaeda imam, and Samir Khan, the Pakistani American publisher of the al-Qaeda affiliated Inspire magazine, who were killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. (Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was killed two weeks later in another drone strike. Both strikes were just a part of the US’s long drone war in the country.)

Crucially, the court ruled that all correspondence pertaining to both the legal and factual bases for the strikes must be released. Most importantly, this includes the rationale the Department of Justice, at the direction of the White House, approved for the killing of American citizens without due process, and especially the criteria used for classifying the two men and a teenager as enemy combatants.

The ruling is especially crucial as, just a month and a half ago, we learned of Abdullah al-Shami, the next American—and alleged militant—that the White House would like to execute by drone. It’s unclear how the legal framework for al-Awlaki’s killing might apply to al-Shami.

A White House memo released in May of last year explained that the “United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to US persons.  It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to US persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.”

With that in mind, the bar for killing an American abroad seems to have been lifted higher since 2011. But it’s also important to note that the classification of the al-Awlakis and Khan as “imminent threats” is a key piece of evidence the NYT-ACLU suit is trying to uncover.

It’s important to note, as Circuit Judge Jon. O. Newman does in the ruling, that the “lawsuits do not challenge the lawfulness of drone attacks or targeted killings.” Instead, they simply seek information about how the government argued—in secret, mind you—that it could legally kill three Americans abroad without due process.

As the justices noted, it’s vital information for the public, especially considering the conversion of the CIA into a drone-powered paramilitary organization, as well as the Obama Administration’s continued reliance on targeted killings. And as Ars Technica notes, the ruling may also have key knock-on effects for other FOIA cases. But at its most simple, the ruling is monumental: Finally, the public will learn—barring more legal wrangling, of course—how the government approves its drone kills.

Source:Motherboard

Gaza: The Hamas Terror Group’s Quadcopters

The Hamas in Gaza has purchased an unknown number of quadcopters and is using them to gather intelligence on Israeli operations across the border line

Israeli sources say that the quadrcopters are from the type available on the civil market and were probably smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels.

Quadcopters, also known as quadrotors, are very small unmanned aerial platforms lifted and propelled by four rotors powered by batteries. Some small-scale quadcopters have frames that enclose the rotors, permitting flights through more challenging environments, with lower risk of damaging the vehicle or its surroundings.

Some of the relatively larger quadcopters are capable of carrying a basic camera.

Israeli experts told i-HLS that it can be assumed that the small unmanned craft do not have a data link to send images to the ground “it is a very basic way of getting some kinds of imagery of areas but the fact that these have been brought into Gaza show the direction in which this terro rorganization goes”

Source:  I-HLS. Posted by