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.
- VIDEO: Why can’t the US end the war in Afghanistan? [Al Jazeera]
- COMMENTARY: The War on Terror was always destined to fail; President Biden should let it. [NY Daily News / Erik Edstrom, Mark Wise, and Dan Bershinski]
- President Biden is removing some of the troops sent to the Gulf to support Saudi Arabia. President Biden has directed the Pentagon to begin removing some military capabilities and forces from the Gulf region in the first steps of an effort to realign the U.S. global military footprint away from the Mideast, changes that come as Saudi Arabia endures rocket and drone attacks from inside Yemen and Iraq. In moves that haven’t been previously reported, the U.S. has removed at least three Patriot antimissile batteries from the Gulf region, including one from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, that had been put in place in recent years to help protect American forces. Other capabilities, including an aircraft carrier and surveillance systems, are being diverted from the Middle East to answer military needs elsewhere around the globe, according to U.S. officials. Additional reductions are under consideration, officials said. [WSJ / Gordon Lubold and Warren Strobel]
- The White House and the Pentagon are working on the outlines of a modest Pentagon budget for fiscal 2022 that will aim to keep spending at last year’s level while shifting money from older weapons systems to new technologies. [Washington Examiner / Jamie McIntyre]
- Former intel analyst pleads guilty to leaking about drone program. Daniel Hale, a former intelligence analyst and Afghanistan war veteran pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of violating the Espionage Act by leaking about classified information on the U.S. drone strike program to the media. [Washington Examiner / Jerry Dunleavy]. While court papers never specified the recipient of the leak, details about the case make it clear that the documents were given to Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Intercept, who used the documents as part of a series of critical reports on how the military conducted drone strikes on foreign targets. Defense lawyers said that while Hale was being punished for leaking information about negative aspects of the drone program, the government seemed unconcerned about anonymous leaks by government officials about successful strikes. [AP / Matthew Barakat]. In a 2016 documentary, “National Bird,” Hale says he joined the Air Force at age 21 “out of desperation” but became increasingly disturbed by the process of identifying foreign targets through drones. Any “military age male” in the vicinity of a target was considered “legitimate,” he said. “There’s no way of knowing . . . if anyone I was involved in, kill or capture, was a civilian or not,” he said. [WaPo / Rachel Weiner]
- “When Azerbaijan took over the skies in its fight with Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last fall, winning the air war with commercial Turkish and kamikaze drones, one thing started to become clear to U.S. Army strategists: It’s becoming easier to hunt and kill troops than ever before—and to do so on the cheap.” [FP / Jack Detsch
- The White House sent in their report on the legal and policy frameworks for the United States’ use of military force and related national security operations. Too bad most of it was classified.
- U.S. diplomats are trying to build on parts of the peace deal made with the Taliban last year, specifically the classified portions that outlined what military actions — on both sides — were supposed to be prohibited under the signed agreement, according to American, Afghan and Taliban officials. Digital spreadsheets maintained by the Taliban and viewed by The Times detail hundreds of purported U.S. violations. They record in detail the group’s wounded and killed, along with civilian casualties and property damage. (Editor’s Note: The US military refuses to provide the American public with their estimates of these numbers)
- At least 17 civilians from three families were killed in Saberi District during a military operation by Khost Protection Forces — C.I.A.-backed special forces — targeting the Taliban, local officials said. Five Taliban fighters were also killed. Several shops, houses and one mosque were targeted in the operation. Video and photo of dead civilians circulated on social media after the attack, but Khost’s governor denied that any civilians were killed. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation. [NYT / Fahim Abed]
- COMMENTARY: “But most of the time, human rights do not drive American foreign policy. They justify American foreign policy. The US spotlights human rights abuses to rally opinion against adversaries that the US would be opposing anyway… That’s what Blinken means when he says human rights are “back at the center of American foreign policy.” They’re back at the center of the way America talks about foreign policy, which is a very different thing.” [Peter Beinart]
- COMMENTARY: “The United States, alongside the African Union and regional blocs like the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States, should be looking for ways to boost support for human rights in counterterrorism assistance. It should ensure enforcement of cooperation agreements on counterterrorism operations that include specific clauses setting out human rights standards — such as the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to rights-abusing military units.” [Just Security / Andrea Prasow and Carine Kaneza Nantulya]
- Drones that swarmed U.S. warships are still unidentified, Navy chief says [NBC News / Dan De Luce]
- UN report confirms a French airstrike killed 19 civilians, not militants, like they had alleged. “They had gathered for a wedding in a village in central Mali. The ceremony took place the day before, but about 100 men and teenagers were still celebrating the next afternoon. They prayed together, then dispersed into different groups under some trees. An hour later, 22 members of the wedding party were dead, killed by French warplanes. Nineteen of them were civilians, according to a report released Tuesday by the United Nations. The airstrike, on Jan. 3, set off outrage in the West African country and has intensified calls for France, which has more than 5,000 troops stationed in the region, to leave.”
- “MINUSMA is able to confirm that a wedding celebration was held that brought together about 100 civilians at the site of the strike, among whom five armed individuals, presumed members of Katiba Serma, were present,” the report said. Katiba Serma is an armed group affiliated with al Qaeda.
- France’s defense chief visited Mali on Thursday and defended the strike. While visiting the Malian capital of Bamako, Parly reiterated that the French military followed a “rigorous targeting process” in accordance with international law.”There were no women or children among the victims, and these strikes were intended to neutralize terrorist elements,” she said. “There is a difference between the realities of the facts and what is in this U.N. report.”
- The French reaction did little to ease the outrage. Ousmane Diallo, an Amnesty International researcher in Francophone West Africa, described France’s reaction as shocking. “Talking about disinformation, as people mourn their dead,” he wrote on Twitter. At the very least, critics said, the French Army should try harder to establish what happened.
- Asked for his reaction to the French criticism of the report, Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, told reporters that “we stand by the report and the work of our colleagues in Mali.” The findings, Mr. Dujarric said, raise “very significant concerns” about what steps countries take to verify that targets are legitimate military objectives.
- Human rights groups have called on the governments of France and Mali to carry out an independent investigation into the civilian casualties. [NYT / Ruth Maclean] [WaPo / Danielle Paquette] [Reuters / Paul Lorgerie] [AP] [ANI] [The Guardian / Jason Burke] [Middle East Eye / Azad Essa]
- Families of people killed in the French airstrike have called for the prosecution of the military personnel involved in an operation the United Nations has concluded could amount to a war crime. [Al Jazeera / Amandla Thomas-Johnson]
- COMMENTARY: “Meet the future weapon of mass destruction, the drone swarm” [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists / Zachary Kallenborn]
- Erdogan’s armed drone maker leads military push, unsettling allies. [Bloomberg / Selcan Hacaoglu]
- COMMENTARY: “Drone warfare is in its nascent stages but a surge is going to happen with rapidly developing technologies. War-fighting doctrines need to be shaped to absorb this new capability.” [The Indian Express / Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain]