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 US military executed an airstrike in Somalia againt suspected al-Shabaab members who they say were attacking Somali armed forces. Meanwhile, reporting from VICE points to the toll of these strikes on Somali civilians and the lack of US government accountability.
The Pentagon said the victims of the strike were attacking members of “an elite American-trained Somali commando force.”
The strike was carried out by AFRICOM without seeking approval from the White House.
The military claimed White House approval wasn’t required because they were acting in “collective self-defense”, as AFRICOM has the authority to execute strikes to support allied forces. President Biden has previously changed the rules controlling air strikes outside active war zones, and none of the previous requests from AFRICOM had been approved by President Biden. [NYT / Eric Schmitt & Declan Walsh]
The Pentagon says there were no civilian casualties, but haven’t yet performed an official “battle-damage assessment.” [The Hill / Ellen Mitchell]
Priyanka Motaparthy, the Director of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict, and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School, on the dubious legality of these drone strikes: “The U.S. has argued it is at war with al Shabab. However, human rights advocates have long argued that many of these strikes do not meet the protections required by international human rights and humanitarian law, and constitute extrajudicial killings.”
Also keep in mind: Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Advisor for arms and military operations stated, “We have seen a broad pattern of military aged males being considered combatants based upon their proximity to confirmed members of an armed group.” [VICE / Amanda Sperber]
The attack occured amid a temporary hold on airstrikes against al-Shabaab as the Biden administration considers new policy
The Biden administration is conducting a global review of American troop deployments overseas. Among the decisions the president faces: Whether to put troops back into Somalia and whether to resume airstrikes against al-Shabaab.
Planned airstrikes against top leaders, directed by the counterterrorism task force, now require sign off from Washington, according to defense officials. Five months into his term, Biden has yet to order a single one.
“It is common for the U.S. government to pull kinetic strike authorities back to the highest level of decision makers following a change in administration,” said Maj. Gen. William Zana, commander of the U.S.-led task force in the Horn of Africa. “Militarily, we benefit from having those authorities passed back down to a level which is sufficiently agile and operationally effective.”
The lack of strikes now has really emboldened al-Shabaab a lot,” said Col. Abdullahi, who is now a security consultant for diplomats working in Somalia. He said he hoped Mr. Biden would put a smaller American force back into Somalia to train local commandos. He argued that the U.S. should resume airstrikes, but more selectively target high-level al-Shabaab commanders so as not to create resentment among ordinary Somalis.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have alleged that U.S. airstrikes have repeatedly killed or injured civilians, and that the U.S. military has done an inadequate job of investigating those cases. U.S. Africa Command says it is diligent in investigating allegations of civilian deaths, including a report that the Jan. 19 airstrike killed a noncombatant. Military investigators concluded that the only casualty was the al-Shabaab commander the airstrike was intended to kill. The military is still investigating allegations that a Jan. 1 airstrike injured three civilians. [WSJ / Michael Phillips]
RELATED: Somalia: Zero accountability as civilian deaths mount from US airstrikes [Amnesty International]
Biden administration still weighing CIA drone strike policy amid Afghanistan withdrawal
As Biden prepares to end the war, his National Security Council is studying whether to raise the bar for the CIA and the Pentagon to carry out deadly drone strikes and commando raids once US troops are gone, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sources tell CNN that the Biden administration is also still debating whether to remove the combat zone designation for Afghanistan — a technical distinction that in recent years has greatly impacted how freely the US uses lethal drone strikes and commando raids in a given country.
Under the Trump administration, commanders in the field were authorized to make targeting decisions under their own authority in countries like Yemen and Somalia, in addition to Afghanistan. But the Biden administration is reviewing the rules there as well, and it remains to be seen if the administration will put Afghanistan on a similar footing or implement specific criteria for terrorists there post-withdrawal.
If the reviews put Afghanistan under the same guidelines as non-conventional battlefields, it wouldn’t change the CIA’s legal authority to conduct strikes in Afghanistan. And the US military’s airstrike authority will also remain under the 2001 war authorization for al Qaeda and ISIS. But it could place practical limitations on the use of force there.
One option under review is to place new criteria on who the CIA can target — membership in a terrorist group like al Qaeda or ISIS would not necessarily be automatic grounds for a strike under the new policy, sources said — and the level of permission the agency would need before carrying out a strike. The new framework under consideration would require a more thorough interagency vetting process and more extensive White House involvement before the CIA conducts a lethal operation in Afghanistan. [CNN / Zachary Cohen, Natasha Bertrand and Katie Bo Williams]
COMMENTARY: President Biden’s “over-the-horizon” air operations suggests a heavy reliance on drone “assassination” and “targeting” in the Afghan theater post-withdrawal.
“We have worked out an over-the-horizon capacity that we can be value added, but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the Air Force they have, which we’re helping them maintain,” said Biden. [Common Dreams / Nick Mottern]
“U.S. diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks in the past 24 hours, U.S. and Iraq officials said on Wednesday, including at least 14 rockets hitting an Iraqi air base hosting U.S. forces.” [Reuters / Ahmed Rasheed and Suleiman Al-khalidi]
Drones are fast becoming a regular feature of asymmetric warfare, with militants using drones in their assault on US targets in Syria and Iraq this week.
U.S., Syrian Troops Foil Drone Attack on Base Housing American Forces [Newsweek / Lauren Giella]
Congress would like its war powers back
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would repeal all existing authorizations for the use of military force, require any future ones to include an end date, revoke funding for military operations that haven’t been approved by Congress, institute a requirement for Congressional approval for foreign arms sales, and repeal the War Powers Act of 1973. [Politico / Andrew Desiderio]The bipartisan National Security Powers Act, as described above, is part of recent Congressional efforts to regain some of their control over the nation’s foreign policy, especially as it relates to the use of force.
“Scrutiny intensified after President Biden’s recent decision to launch airstrikes against Iran-linked militia groups near the Iraq-Syria border.” [FOX News / Thomas Barrabi]One of the cosponsors, Sen. Mike Lee stated “America’s global standing, treasure, and brave servicemembers are being lost in conflicts the people’s legislators never debated…[i]n areas where the Constitution grants broad powers to Congress, Congress is ignored.” [Politico / Andrew Desiderio]
The bill would “more strictly-define ‘hostilities’ as any that require U.S. troops, as opposed to the current unwritten rule that basically requires U.S. service member boots on the ground.” [ABC News / Trish Turner]“Biden has endorsed several congressional efforts to reassert its authority over U.S. foreign interventions, but it is unclear whether he or Congress as a whole will endorse the trio’s bill.” [Daily Caller / Andrew Trunsky]COMMENTARY: A Giant Step Forward for War Powers Reform [Just Security / Tess Bridgeman and Stephen Pomper]
LTE: Drone strikes are taking support from America [Chico Enterprise-Record / Sharon Fritsch]
Israel used AI driven drone swarms against ”terrorist” cells in Gaza.
Israel used the technology to locate and attack Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip during the 11 day conflict in May. [Fox News / Brittany De Lea]
A reminder: The campaign, dubbed “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” killed at least 200 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians, toppled large buildings, and displaced many families. Amnesty International has said these “may amount to war crimes.” [Business Insider / Charles Davis]
This may be the first time a drone swarm has been used in combat, according to a report by the New Scientist. [The New Scientist / David Hambling]
The report said that Israeli Defense Forces employed artificial intelligence to identify and strike targets.
Isreali leaders celebrated the “precision” targeting used in the May campaign, saying that it limited civilian casualties. [Times of Israel / Judah Ari Gross ]
“We saw these advantages during Operation Guardian of the Walls, with accurate strikes, unprecedented intelligence and a campaign that saw minimal harm to bystanders in relation to the extent of the aerial operations, and precision in strikes against terrorists that was effective and powerful,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said.
Related: Israel Takes U.S. Military Weapons And Makes Them Even Deadlier [1945 / Charlie Gao]
COMMENTARY: “A new generation of AI-enabled drones could be used to terrible ends by rogue states, criminal groups, and psychopaths.” [FP / Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever]
Drone warfare kills innocent people
Watch the video: My children are spending Eid with God, says bereaved Gaza father of drone targets [AFT TV / Yahoo News]