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 U.S. military is hitting the Taliban with airstrikes in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, “where aid groups have reported a significant increase in fighting in just the past few days.” [VOA / Jeff Seldin]
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Afghan air force was handling about 90 percent of the effort, although it was unclear exactly how he was measuring the statistic. On the ground in Afghanistan, commanders say that they depend heavily on American bombers, fighters, drones and other warplanes, particularly for attacking Taliban forces that close to Afghan troops.
Rules of engagement of American air power are extremely restrictive, according to a U.S. official, meaning that in some cases approval to strike could take longer than some jets can stay airborne. Many targets need to be preplanned and watched for hours, if not days, by drones and other surveillance aircraft, meaning immediate support for Afghan forces under siege is increasingly difficult. [NYT / Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper, and Eric Schmitt]
On May 4, a US drone strike killed a former rebel commander in the southeastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, which is held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). On Twitter, Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the US-led coalition said that the strike in Deir Ezzor killed a “terrorist” of ISIS. Marotto didn’t provide any additional details. [Southfront]
A new deep dive into how the US killed Soleimani
This article, based on interviews with 15 current and former U.S. officials, reveals new details about the Soleimani strike and the Trump administration’s long-running deliberations about killing the Iranian general and other top Iranian officials and proxies. It depicts an operation that was more sophisticated, and with a broader list of people potentially targeted for killing, than was previously known. And it describes previously unreported threats to U.S. officials in the aftermath of the strike.
Mike Pompeo called a meeting to discuss killing Soleimani almost immediately after becoming CIA director in 2017, they report. The Pentagon was more cautious, likening the risks of killing Soleimani to “nuclear war,” one former high-ranking official said. A small group of senior officials started meeting regularly in 2019 to discuss options for taking out the general.
Michael Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, says he wasn’t opposed to killing Soleimani, who “did enough to deserve this when Obama was president and quite frankly any time,” but he questioned the manner in which it was carried out. “We’re obsessed with using drones and such, but there are lots of things we could have done to obstruct U.S. fingerprints,” Mulroy said. If the U.S. had declined to take credit for the operation, the Iranians “wouldn’t have felt the need for overt retaliation, and to shoot missiles at our embassy and military. [Yahoo / Jack Murphy and Zach Dorfman]
US arms sales
To the surprise of some Democratic allies, Biden has so far kept the lion’s share of Trump’s more controversial agreements. Executives at five large defense contractors who requested anonymity to speak freely were also surprised by the speed of the Biden administration’s deliberations. Longer-term, however, those executives and five more people in and around the administration told Reuters that Biden’s policy will shift to emphasize human rights over Trump’s more commercial approach to exporting military equipment. [Reuters / Mike Stone]
After slamming Trump, lawmakers are silent about Biden’s drone export policy [The Intercept / Sara Sirota]
Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale jailed ahead of sentencing. It’s unclear precisely why Hale was arrested, and court documents show that his lawyers objected. [The Intercept / Alex Emmons]
Daniel Hale, a former intelligence analyst, leaked documents that showed the destructiveness of drone warfare; now, he won’t even be able to defend himself in court. [The Progressive / Sarah Cords]
Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq which hosts U.S. and other international forces was the target of an attack by an “unmanned aerial surveillance system” early Saturday, though no injuries or deaths were reported. [Reuters]
Military virtual reality training expands to include Air Force drone pilots [Stars and Stripes / Seth Robson]
US MQ-9 drone gets deadlier with new ‘Ghost Reaper Pods’ [Defense World]
COMMENTARY: MQ-9 Reaper: The only option for SOCOM’s ‘armed overwatch’ role [Military Times / Dr. Michael Vickers]
COMMENTARY: “Taken together, I see U.S. practices in the war on terror as indicative of a politics of neo-colonialism, and a capitalist politics of militarized accumulation. The “precision” drone strikes of the targeted killing program, for example, highlight the neo-colonial nature of U.S. actions in the Middle East and Africa: these “precision” strikes are justified in the name of U.S. security and self-defense, and arguably go far beyond what is sanctioned by international law; but these choices are available to the U.S. because of its privileged position in the international legal system, and because of the localities in which these actions are carried out.” [Teen Vogue / Catherine Connolly]
In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes are indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians with American weapons
COMMENTARY: “There are no high-tech warning systems here to alert us to incoming missiles or tell us to take shelter. We have to learn to read the patterns of Israel’s wanton strikes. Being a good parent in Gaza means developing a knack for what Israel’s drones and F-16s will do next” [NYT / Refaat Alareer]
They were still unloading the taxi driver’s white Skoda sedan outside their temporary home shortly before noon Wednesday when the first drone attacked. Less than a minute after the first strike, a second drone strike ruptured the street, killing two more men: a worker at a laundry on the block and a passer-by. Another man, a barber whose shop was next to the laundry, was so badly wounded that his leg had to be amputated. “There was life here, but now it’s horror,” said Maher Alyan, 55, who lives on the street where Mr. al-Hatu’s parents were killed, and who called an ambulance after the airstrikes. “It’s not a normal feeling, to see a guy dying in front of you.” [NYT / Iyad Abuheweila and Vivian Yee]
Hamas attacks Israel with kamikaze drones, claims hit on chemical plant [Forbes / David Hambling]
COMMENTARY: Drones add little to rocket-filled Israel-Palestine skies, but represent growing global threat [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists / Thomas Gaulkin]
Netanyahu claims drone downed by Israeli security forces this week was launched by Iran [ANI]
With Iranian help, Hamas builds ‘made in Gaza’ rockets and drones to target Israel [WSJ / Dion Nissenbaum, Sune Engel Rasmussen and Benoit Faucon]
COMMENTARY: “Roof knocking” in Gaza and the myth of the benevolent drone [Counterpunch / Brian Terrell]
PAX released a new report on the expanding use and proliferation of military drones in Africa
Since 2011, the use of drones in North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa has increased significantly. Drones operations have been carried out in at least 20 states, of which armed drones have been used in at least 9 states. In some cases, their deployment by non- African states seems to be associated with a lowered threshold to use lethal force in counter-terrorism operation or in support of armed groups. In states were targeted strikes take place, drone attacks are causing growing concerns over potential civilian deaths.
African states and states deploying armed drones in Africa do not systematically (1) state the grounds on which drone strikes are carried out, (2) publish information about the numbers and identities of the casualties or (3) publicly disclose the existence of any investigations following such casualties, including any reparations provided to victims of unlawful drone strikes.
Civil society organisations and legal experts have criticised and expressed concerns about cooperation between non-African and African states in the use of military drones. The absence of a clear legal position by African states and the African Union on the use of armed drones, in particular in counter-terrorism operations, is a worrisome development, nor have they ensured that critical voices of civil society are included in the debate on the growing use of military drones in Africa. [PAX]
Why demand is surging beyond the U.S. in the multibillion-dollar armed drone market [CNBC / Brad Howard]
COMMENTARY: The Overseas Operations Act, drone strikes and the presumption of lawfulness [Drone Wars / Max Brookman-Byrne]
previously confidential Ministry of Defence document shows the rules regarding UK personnel embedded within US drone units were softened from an earlier (2014) version of the CDS, which limited drone operations to Afghanistan unless they had ministerial approval. The 2016 version permits UK personnel embedded within US drone units to carry out armed missions – no geographical limits are defined – with “specific approval, which may require ministerial engagement”. [The Guardian / Harron Siddique]
UK air war in Middle East continues with no end in sight [Drone Wars UK]
US Navy developing autonomous drone to prevent bird eggs from hatching near airfields [The Independent / Gustaf Kilander]
COMMENTARY: Was a flying killer robot used in Libya? Quite possibly [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists / Zachary Kallenborn]