Drone roundup March 23 – 30
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.
New Mwatana report details civilian harm from the US’ use of lethal force in Yemen. Mwatana for Human Rights, an independent Yemen-based organization, examined 10 US drone strikes and two ground raids targeting suspected terrorists in five Yemeni governorates between January 2017 and January 2019. At least 38 Yemeni civilians, including 13 children and six women, were killed in those 12 counterterrorism operations.
Mwatana’s researchers say many of the documented deaths were civilian men who left behind large families dependent on their incomes. The casualties also included teachers, beekeepers, fishermen, drivers and other civilians who “were going about their everyday lives.” Kristine Beckerle, legal director for accountability and redress at Mwatana, said the new report speaks to how wide the “echo effects” are on any particular airstrike.
Mwatana presented its 150-page findings to US Central Command, which has so far acknowledged the civilian cost of just one of the documented incidents — a January 2017 raid in the southern al-Bayda province that former President Donald Trump said killed more than a dozen militants and yielded vital intelligence on al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. According to witness testimonies gathered by Mwatana, at least 15 civilians died in the three-hour US operation, including 10 children under the age of 10, and the village was left “paralyzed with fear.”
Mwatana says it is not enough for Biden to revert to the status quo under Obama, where the pace of strikes soared and much-touted drone reforms only “marginally increased transparency.” The rights group is instead calling on the new administration to conduct a full review of the civilian impact of US operations in Yemen, make those findings public and provide the victims with reparations. “Only by taking a hard look at what’s happened, can the US credibly make a decision on what it should be doing moving forward,” Beckerle said. She concluded, “If you actually want to respond to the Yemeni communities that have dealt with this for 20 years, you can’t just be like, ‘Whoops, we’re sorry. Let’s move on.’” [Al-Monitor / Elizabeth Hagedorn] [Common Dreams / Brett Wilkins]
COMMENTARY: “Recently, news reached Yemen that President Joe Biden opened a classified review into U.S. counterterrorism operations. My immediate response was relief: finally, someone was going to look into the harm drone strikes and raids have done. Finally someone was going to see my family members for what they are: innocent people killed by bad intelligence. My village was the target of former President Donald Trump’s first act as president—a nighttime raid he called a “winning mission” that many agreed was a disaster. We awoke to gunfire and ran for our lives. My sister-in-law, Fatim, was shot in the back with her 2-year-old in her arms. I will never forget the sight of her body the next morning, riddled with bullets, her arms still cradling her son Mohammed.” [Newsweek / Mohammed Al-Ameri]
Yemeni men appeal US drone attack case to highest German court. Two Yemeni men who allege their relatives were killed in a 2012 American drone attack have appealed their case to Germany’s highest court, urging a ban on the US military’s use of a base in the country to help control such attacks, their lawyers have said. The attack has not been acknowledged by the United States. [Al Jazeera]
It comes after a federal administrative court last year weakened the 2019 decision of the Muenster administrative court, which had ruled the German government had partial responsibility to ensure that drone strikes involving the U.S. Ramstein Air Base were carried out in line with international law. The Muenster court stopped short of ordering the ban that the human rights activists had called for. [AP / David Rising]
“Germany must do more to protect the right to life of the Jaber family,” added Andreas Schüller, head of ECCHR’s International Crimes and Accountability team. “The danger posed by drone attacks via Ramstein has not been averted, which is why we are turning to the Federal Constitutional Court today.” [Reprieve / Andrew Purcell]
Yemen’s Houthi forces launched a drone attack on an airport in southern Saudi Arabia, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesman said on Tuesday, a day after Riyadh presented a new peace initiative that includes a nationwide ceasefire. [Reuters]
Let’s talk about Biden’s promises on foreign policy, specifically “ending endless war.” “The honeymoon between Biden and the left wing of the Democratic Party appears to be nearing an end. As progressives become more vocal about their foreign policy frustrations, it could further burden an administration already faced with [a myriad] of challenges… Progressives’ critique of Biden is not without nuance… They understand that it’s still early… Still, there’s puzzlement over other moves — or lack thereof — by Biden and his top aides. [POLITICO / Nahal Toosi]
The Biden administration wants to keep a controversial Trump policy that jump-started sales of armed drones to countries whose human rights records are under scrutiny in the United States and elsewhere, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Though no decision has been passed up to the undersecretary cabinet level, people briefed on internal administration talks said it was leaning towards keeping Trump’s more expansive export policy. “They are not going to walk it back,” one of the people said of the policy that Trump had hoped would take market share from Chinese-made drones. [Reuters / Mike Stone]
TWEET: “Yet again rather than building up the “international rules based order” the blob shows it will try to avoid and undermine those same rules at every opportunity.” [Win Without War / Kate Kizer]
COMMENTARY: “Yes, it would have been good to see a full-scale new drone policy in place prior to any future strikes. It will, however, take some time for the new administration to sort out the issues involved, to unearth what promises, deals, and threats were imposed by predecessors and to assess the meaningfulness of plans for a new agenda. My own suggestion: Why not set an agenda of expectations and goals—a list of imperatives if you will—and then check back in a relatively short time, perhaps six months from the January 20th inauguration of President Biden, to assess what’s truly developed?” [TomDispatch / Karen Greenberg]
A US drone crashed in northern Iraq [AA] [Middle East Monitor]
THREAD: “The current impasse in Somalia has international legal implications for the intervention in general, and particularly the US drone strikes. The US has used consent to show to the lawfulness of its drone programme, which made its drone strikes legal under international law.” [Somali MP Abdirizak Mohamed]
Drones harassed US warships off California, report finds [Fox News / Jorge Fitz-Gibbon]
Air Force says it rarely loses fighter target drones, days after one washes ashore in Florida. [Military.com / Oriana Pawlyk]
COMMENTARY: “Why I support a treaty to ban weaponized and surveillance drones” [National Catholic Reporter / Jack Gilroy]
COMMENTARY: “We cannot let America’s eyes go dark by ending drone intelligence” [The Hill / David Deptula]
The Air Force plans to develop a family of highly-survivable drones for multiple missions to replace the MQ-9 — but rather than the Reaper’s traditional ground-attack role, the service’s top priority seems to be counter-air capabilities. [Breaking Defense / Theresa Hitchens]
COMMENTARY: On the 10th anniversary of the NATO invasion of Libya, it’s time they admit to killing civilians. The alliance bombing campaign had a devastating toll—but, a decade after the war, leaders have still not taken responsibility. [Foreign Policy / Joe Dyke]