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.
- The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said American strikes in the country rose for the second straight quarter, even though U.S. aircraft are no longer conducting offensive strikes and are only doing defensive operations in support of Afghan forces. Air Forces Central Command last year stopped publicly reporting the total number of airstrikes, and specific numbers are not available. [Air Force Mag / Brian Everstine]
- In his first foreign policy speech, President Biden announced an end to US support for “offensive” operations in Yemen, a review of the US global force posture, and a freeze on troop withdrawals from Germany.
- COMMENTARY: “Biden noted that the U.S. government would continue to help Saudi Arabia to defend itself from missile and drone attacks. But he didn’t address other abuses by one-time members of the Saudi-led coalition, such as the United Arab Emirates, which has been supporting highly abusive forces in Libya. The U.S. government should have nothing to do with that, either.” [Just Security / Kenneth Roth]
- Biden’s national security advisor said the ban does not extend to U.S. actions against al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the region, AQAP, “which are actions in service of protecting the homeland and America’s interests in the region, and our allies and partners.” [Defense News / Howard Altman and Joe Gould]
- COMMENTARY: Sarah Holewinski takes stock of “the progress the United States has made on civilian protection after two decades of war and counterterrorism operations since 9/11” and finds that despite “some progress” made thanks to concerned officers, people in the Departments of Defense and State, and lawmakers, “the big picture remains bleak. For example, the Pentagon still doesn’t have a good sense of how many civilians it has killed or injured. Still doesn’t teach operational planners about civilian harm in operational plans (OPLANS) for any conflict including future ones. Still doesn’t have a standard for investigating civilian harm. And a dozen more things. [JS / Sarah Holewinski]
- COMMENTARY: “U.S. government officials have spoken in the past about doing “everything possible” to protect civilians in conflict, but actions in the past have fallen far short of that aspiration. Building on my research—reading one operational report after another, studying patterns and trends in conflict after conflict—and experience working with the United States and its partners to seek improvements, I offer three reasons for the U.S. lack of progress: We don’t learn, we don’t lead, and we don’t help our partners—or hold them to a high enough standard.” [JS / Larry Lewis]
- COMMENTARY: “Thanks to the work of journalists such as Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, along with the civilian casualties monitoring organization Airwars, we know that the six killed included Ali Khalaf al Wardi, his 5-year-old son and two daughters, ages 18 and 14. The surviving family members have never been contacted by the U.S. military and, in spite of an annual $5 million appropriation from Congress, have not been offered any form of compensation for their loss. The Biden administration has committed to improving transparency around U.S. civilian casualties. It also should work with Congress to improve the government’s record of doing something about them.” [The Hill / Dan Mahanty]
- “Security cameras. License plate readers. Smartphone trackers. Drones. We’re being watched 24/7. What happens when all those data streams fuse into one?” [WIRED / Arthur Holland Michel]
- Recommended Reading: In Newsweek, Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson urges President Biden to reign in the US drone war.
- Nine years ago, Buzzfeed’s Jason Leopold filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI for documents on Samir Khan, the other US citizen who edited Al-Qaeda’s magazine and was killed in a drone strike with Anwar al-Awlaki. FBI referred 4 pages to the Department of Defense in 2019. Last night, DoD responded to Jason, withholding all information.
- How the US military wants to make its drones more survivable [The National Interest / Kris Osborn]
- Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it carried out a drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport on Wednesday which the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen said caused a fire in a civilian aircraft. [The Times UK / Richard Spencer]
- A highly detailed, 336-page UN report, obtained in full by PassBlue in early January, before it was publicly released, accuses all sides in the continuing Mali conflict of wrongdoing, including Malian government troops and local militias as well as the French military. French forces operating in Mali have often acted independently of Malian government and UN troops, the report finds, and they are implicated in the deaths of innocent civilians in airstrikes on numerous occasions.
- In 2014, the co-founder of an anti-drone technology company decided to leverage an unusual marketing asset: his employment at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The employee obtained classified information, arranged access to lawmakers and other officials, and even entered his company, DroneShield, in government-sponsored drone competitions before his use of official credentials to boost his side hustle brought him down. [Defense One / Patrick Tucker]
- Drone swarms are getting too fast for humans to fight, US general says. [Forbes / David Hambling]
The head of the Pentagon’s counter-drone effort wants every soldier — from cooks to riflemen — trained to fight off swarms of enemy unmanned aerial systems capable of inflicting casualties on combat units. [Military.com / Matthew Cox]
- Google says it has “no immediate plans” to re-engage on a project that would test drones for fire-fighting and monitoring operations. [Fox Business / Lucas Manfredi]
- Small drones anyone can “go out and buy at Costco right now” pose the most concerning tactical development since the rise of the improvised explosive device in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, said Monday. “These systems are inexpensive, easy to modify and weaponize, and easy to proliferate,” McKenzie said during a virtual event hosted by the Middle East Institute. [Military.com / Gina Harkins] [Army Times / Kyle Rempfer]
- How unmanned aircrafts are redrawing battle lines [Defense News / Tom Kington]