Drone Roundup October 13 – 27
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 carried out a drone strike on October 8, killing two senior Al Qaeda operatives in northwest Syria. According to Airwars, the strike also killed a child and wounded multiple other civilians. Neither Fox News nor The Washington Free Beacon (the only two outlets to cover this strike) mentioned the suspected civilian casualties at all.
The US Army said on October 22 it carried out a drone strike against al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Syria near the border, killing 14 extremists, according to a war monitor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) said the victims included five foreigners and six commanders. [Al Arabiya] Xinhua put the death number at 15, saying one civilian was reported to be killed as well. [Xinhua]
REPORT: Center for Civilians in Conflict and Stimson released a new brief, “Great Responsibility: A Legislative Reform Agenda for U.S. Arms Transfers and Civilian Harm,” laying out a comprehensive set of recommendations for arms transfers reform that can be implemented through creative legislation and targeted oversight in three key areas. [CIVIC]
How ‘War on Terror’ UAV maker General Atomics is pivoting to great power conflict [Flight Global / Garrett Reim]
The White House is moving forward with more sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan, telling Congress on Tuesday that it will seek to sell Taipei MQ-9 drones and a coastal defensive missile system, sources familiar with the situation said. [Reuters / Mike Stone, Patricia Zengerle, David Brunnstrom]
COMMENTARY: “Yes, that means that many clients will continue to buy armed drones from other countries and that drone proliferation will likely continue to increase the risks of military aggression between less wealthy countries. But we don’t need to worsen the problem by making America’s more capable unmanned killing machines more widely available, allowing pursuit of arms sales to contradict our broader national interest of a more stable and peaceful world..” [NBC News / Sebastien Roblin]
A review by the Project On Government Oversight of lobbying records found a concerted campaign by arms manufacturers, foreign governments, and think tanks to pressure the U.S. government to lift export controls restricting drone sales abroad. For example, POGO found that governments retained lobbyists who also represented the interests of domestic arms manufacturers, and that think tanks often wrote reports with talking points that directly benefited arms manufacturers and at least one foreign government.
The Center for Responsive Politics also notes that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the drone division of General Atomics, spent at least $270,000 between April and June 2020 lobbying on drone guidelines in the multilateral agreement. This accounted for roughly 20% of all General Atomics’ lobbying efforts. [POGO / Ryan Summers]
COMMENTARY: “We set up our bright pink light brigade letters that spelled “NO DRONES” in the dark of the early morning, and vigiled for an hour, as traffic began to increase into the base… With about 5 support folks standing by, Maggie and I stretched our long banner (“Stop Droning Afghanistan, 19 YEARS ENOUGH”) into the entrance road, and used coffins to fully block the 2 lane road into the base. Using a megaphone, I solemnly began reading the names and ages of drone victims, many of them children, their names embedded on small pink paper drones.” [CODEPINK / Toby Bloom]
PODCAST: “On part four of “American Mythology,” we take an in-depth look at Trump’s war and national security policies. He escalated drone strikes in Somalia and Afghanistan, authorized troop surges and massive bombings in Iraq, launched cruise missile strikes in Syria… On the other hand, he signed a deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces, attempted to end the Korean War, and claims to have fired John Bolton to avoid being in “World War 6.” [Intercepted with Jeremy Scahill]
Inside the clandestine U.S. campaign to help the Taliban defeat ISIS
Even as its warplanes have struck the Taliban in other parts of Afghanistan, the U.S. military has been quietly helping the Taliban to weaken the Islamic State in its Konar stronghold and keep more of the country from falling into the hands of the group, which — unlike the Taliban — the United States views as an international terrorist organization with aspirations to strike America and Europe. Remarkably, it can do so without needing to communicate with the Taliban, by observing battle conditions and listening in on the group.
Inside JSOC, the team working on this mission is jokingly known as the “Taliban Air Force,” one task force member told reporter Wesley Morgan. As negotiators closed in on their deal in Doha, officers repurposed tools honed against the Taliban: Reaper drones and an intelligence complex with nearly two decades of practice spying on Afghan guerrillas. Unwilling to communicate directly with Taliban commanders, the task force worked to divine where and how its old foes needed help by listening to their communications.
The Konar operations may offer a glimpse of what lies ahead for the United States in Afghanistan: the outsourcing of what has long been a core U.S. military mission — fighting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda — to the uneasily coordinated forces of the Afghan government and the Taliban, with U.S. counterterrorism forces in some cases helping both.
Crowe, the former company commander wounded in Konar, told Wesley that with U.S. drones helping the Taliban fight a group that didn’t even exist in Afghanistan during his deployments, he worried that the military was acting like a hammer seeking nails to pound, inflating the threat posed by local and regional militants whose decision to take refuge in inhospitable terrain reflects their weakness and inherently constrains their actions.. [WaPo / Wesley Morgan]
Turkish-made drones are playing a role in Azerbaijan’s offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh. Drones have become an integral part of Turkey’s foreign policy, but Turkey’s drone industry is facing scrutiny from the international community. [VOA / Dorian Jones]
The Canadian government’s decision to suspend export of key drone parts to Turkey has once again thrown a spotlight on Turkey’s ongoing efforts to develop a self-sufficient defense industry. [Defense News / Burak Ege Bekdil]
China unveiled a weaponized ‘drone troop’ that can be launched from the back of a truck and strikes ground targets ‘precisely.’ [The Daily Mail]
Read the full drone roundup here, here, here and here.