This roundup, curated by ReThink Media, looks at how the media is talking about drone warfare (and related topics) and what stories are being told.
With little transparency from governments on this topic, this roundup aims to be as comprehensive as possible, identifying breaking news, trends, developing stories, or interesting narratives. Rethink Media also use media coverage to compile a snapshot of strikes each week. The short version can be read here.
Withdrawal from Somalia
While US training of Somali security forces is expected to end, airstrikes against militants in Somalia will be continuing, since the air bases housing the US drones that carry out strikes in Somalia are currently based outside the country. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
Somali presidential elections are scheduled in just two months, war is erupting in neighboring Ethiopia, and the militants, from the Shabab, are still strong despite years of American-led raids and drone strikes. The timing of Friday’s Pentagon announcement, some Somalis say, is terrible. [NYT / Declan Walsh]
Amnesty International called on the US to not abandon civilian victims of its air strikes after the planned troop withdrawal from the Horn of Africa country of Somalia, according to a statement. The US military must not wash its hands of international legal obligations towards civilian victims of US air strikes in Somalia, Amnesty International said. [AA / Felix Tih]
Pentagon planning to withdraw support for most CIA counter-terror missions
The Trump administration is considering whether to pull back military support for the C.I.A., including potentially taking back much of the drone fleet the C.I.A. uses. The administration is considering multiple options that could take effect as early as Jan. 5. One would reduce the number of Pentagon personnel sent to the agency — many of them Special Operation forces who work in the C.I.A.’s paramilitary branch. But other changes being considered would be far broader and more consequential, making it harder for the agency to work out of military bases, use the Defense Department’s medical evacuation abilities or conduct covert drone strikes targeting terrorists in hot spots around the world. [NYT / Julian Barnes and Eric Schmitt]
A US official told CNN that the letter sent by Miller to the CIA said the Department of Defense is looking into how to update department memorandum of understanding with the CIA for the first time since 2005. [CNN / Jim Sciutto, Ryan Browne, and Zachary Cohen]
COMMENTARY: “Congress has preserved some of the most problematic aspects of the “forever war” in a nugget of legislative amber, 10 U.S. Code § 127e (known colloquially as 127e), a relatively obscure provision in law that provides the Department of Defense with funds to support partner forces who, in turn, support U.S. counterterrorism operations… Congress should take advantage of every opportunity it can to show that ending long-term wars means more than hiding them from view.” [The Hill / Elias Yousif and Dan Mahanty]
Arm sales to UAE
The Senate is expected to vote on a bill as early as this week to halt the proposed sale of fighter jets, drones and missiles to the United Arab Emirates over concerns it could fuel an arms race, cause more human misery in Yemen’s civil war and undermine Israel’s security. [POLITICO / Bryan Bender]
U.S. intelligence agencies have been looking into whether the United Arab Emirates is helping to finance the Libya operations of the Russian Wagner Group. Both the UAE and Wagner have intervened to support Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who has tried to overrun the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli. But the intelligence reporting, according to current and former officials, has done nothing to slow U.S. arms sales down to the Gulf country. [The Intercept / Alex Emmons and Matthew Cole]
The US Senate voted to reject a pair of resolutions on Wednesday aimed at blocking the Trump administration’s planned $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates. [The Times of Israel / Jacob Magid] [Al Jazeera]
On a vote of 46-50, the Senate failed to advance a resolution disapproving of the Reaper sales, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joining Democrats and Arizona’s Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema joining Republicans. The second vote, on blocking the F-35 sale, failed 47-49, with Kelly splitting his votes. [POLITICO / Andrew Desiderio]
In case you’re wondering why Sens. Kelly and Sinema voted against these resolutions, please take a look back at the 2018 New York Times’ investigation into the Arizona-made bomb that Saudi Arabia used to murder a school bus filled with Yemeni children.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy expressed fresh criticism this week over the Trump administration’s proposed $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates, asking if selling “the most highly sophisticated killing machines in the world” will make the Middle East safe or simply “just make defense companies richer.” [Common Dreams / Chris Murphy]
The latest attempt to protest Trump’s arms sales comes as Democrats begin to examine how a Biden administration will approach arms sales to the Middle East. Such concerns were punctuated by the president-elect’s decision this week to nominate Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as his defense secretary. Austin sits on the board of Raytheon, a defense contracting giant that stands to profit from the latest UAE arms deals and produced the precision-guided munitions that were used to target civilians in Yemen. [WaPo / Karoun Demirjian]
Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis privately promoted the $23 billion package to senators ahead of the vote. [HuffPost / Akbar Shahid Ahmed]
U.S. intelligence shows how the United Arab Emirates is fueling the horrifying civil wars in Libya and Yemen — and proves its role in at least one potential war crime. [HuffPost / Akbar Shahid Ahmed]
US to sell drones to Morocco as they agree to normalize relations with Israel
The United States is negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated large aerial drones to Morocco, according to three U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, and is expected to discuss the deal with members of Congress in the coming days. While the State Department has authorized the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles, the sources said, it was not known if the U.S. officials have approved exporting the drones with weapons attached. [Reuters / Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle]
Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin chosen as President-elect Biden’s Secretary of Defense
Lingering concerns about Jeh Johnson’s tenure in the Obama administration improved Austin’s standing among Congressional Black Caucus members in recent days, according to two people, including a House Democratic aide. Johnson has been criticized for his record on expanding family detention and accelerating deportations, as well as approving hundreds of drone strikes against suspected terrorists that killed civilians. [POLITICO / Lara Seligman, Tyler Page, Connor O’Brien, and Natasha Bertrand]
“Each day, the Chula Vista police respond to as many as 15 emergency calls with a drone, launching more than 4,100 flights since the program began two years ago. Chula Vista, a Southern California city with a population of 270,000, is the first in the country to adopt such a program, called Drone as First Responder… The latest drone technology — mirroring technology that powers self-driving cars — has the power to transform everyday policing, just as it can transform package delivery, building inspections and military reconnaissance. Rather than spending tens of millions of dollars on large helicopters and pilots, even small police forces could operate tiny autonomous drones for a relative pittance.” [NYT / Cade Metz]
Germany could have delivered justice for civilian drone strike victims. It failed.
“Eight years after my brother-in-law and nephew were blown to pieces by a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. drone, I am still fighting for answers… When a German court found in my favor last year, it looked like we might finally be able to bring some accountability to the U.S. drone program. But on Nov. 25, Germany’s Federal Administrative Court ruled that despite an earlier court’s finding… Germany has no obligation to do more than lodge diplomatic protests, encouraging the U.S. government to act lawfully.”
“Since my visit to Washington in 2013, I have been asking the same simple question: “How is it that two innocent men, who actively opposed terrorism, were killed?” Well-meaning politicians in the United States, Europe, and my home country of Yemen have listened to my story and expressed their sympathy, but no one has provided an answer. Not long after my trip to Washington, I was summoned to Yemen’s National Security Bureau, the CIA’s local partner in my home country. An official handed me a blue plastic bag with $100,000 in sequentially marked $100 bills inside. When I demanded to know where it came from, and what it was for, he shrugged.”
“When people count civilian casualties, they often forget that whole communities are traumatized too, and that the trauma is long-lasting. Moreover, the use of drones in this cowardly manner also helps terrorist groups by attracting young people to join them. Obama and Trump did not seem to care. Perhaps President-elect Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will reconsider.” [Foreign Policy / Faisal Bin Ali Jaber]
Forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have accused the federal government of partnering with the United Arab Emirates to use weaponized drones stationed in Eritrea. Wim Zwijnenburg, a humanitarian disarmament project leader for PAX, tells VOA the drones are in an Eritrean port city but there is no evidence they are being used in the Tigray conflict. [VOA / Salem Solomon]