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David Weigel | Slate

A year ago, as the presidential race was taking shape, The Washington Post’s pollster asked voters whether they favored the use of drones to kill terrorists or terror suspects if they were “American citizens living in other countries.” The net rating at the time was positive: 65 percent for, 26 percent against.

Today, after a month of Rand Paul-driven discussion of drone warfare, Gallup asks basically the same question: Should the U.S. “use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists?” The new numbers: 41 percent for, 52 percent against.

The lede of the poll is even kinder to Paul, finding as high as 79 percent opposition to targeted killing in the United States. But that’s a new question. On the old question, we’ve seen a real queasy swing of public opinion.

Associated Press

(French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD/ Associated Press )

(French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD/ Associated Press )

WASHINGTON — Plans to base unarmed American surveillance drones in the African nation of Niger highlight the Obama administration’s growing concern about extremist influences in the volatile region. They also raise tough questions about how to contain al-Qaida and other militant groups without committing U.S. ground forces in yet another war.

In the short run, a drone base would enable the U.S. to give France more intelligence on the militants that French troops are fighting in neighboring Mali. Over time it could extend the reach not only of American intelligence gathering but also U.S. special operations missions to strengthen Niger’s own security forces.

The U.S. and Niger in recent days signed a “status of forces agreement” spelling out legal protections and obligations of American forces that might operate in Niger in the future. Read More
Anne Gearan, Karen DeYoung, and Craig Whitlock | The Washington Post

Islamic extremists grab more territory in Mali: French military forces step up their campaign, launching airstrikes for the first time in the central part of the country.

Islamic extremists grab more territory in Mali: French military forces step up their campaign, launching airstrikes for the first time in the central part of the country.

The Obama administration is considering significant military backing for France’s drive against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, but its support for a major ally could test U.S. legal boundaries and stretch counterterrorism resources in a murky new conflict.

The United States is already providing surveillance and other intelligence help to France and may soon offer military support such as transport or refueling planes, according to U.S. officials, who stressed that any assistance would stop short of sending American combat forces to the volatile West African nation.

At the same time, the administration is navigating a thicket of questions about military support and how far it could go in aiding the French without violating U.S. law or undermining policy objectives.Direct military aid to Mali is forbidden under U.S. law because the weak rump government there seized power in a coup. U.S. moves are further complicated by uncertainty about which militants would be targeted in an assault.

The loosely affiliated web of Malian militants in the country’s north includes members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). But other fighters are longtime foes of the Malian government and pose no direct threat to U.S. interests. Read More

Greg Miller | The Washington Post

People hold a banner as they shout slogans during a protest against a U.S drone attack.

People hold a banner as they shout slogans during a protest against a U.S drone attack.

The CIA has opened the year with a flurry of drone strikes in Pakistan, pounding Taliban targets along the country’s tribal belt at a time when the Obama administration is preparing to disclose its plans for pulling most U.S. forces out of neighboring Afghanistan.

A strike Thursday in North Waziristan was the seventh in 10 days, marking a major escalation in the pace of attacks. Drone attacks had slipped in frequency to fewer than one per week last year.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials attributed the increased tempo to a sense of urgency surrounding expectations that President Obama will soon order a drawdown that could leave Afghanistan with fewer than 6,000 U.S. troops after 2014. The strikes are seen as a way to weaken adversaries of the Afghan government before the withdrawal and serve notice that the United States will still be able to launch attacks. Read More

Craig Whitlock | The Washington Post

Click picture to watch footage of recent US drone wrecks.

Click picture to watch video footage of recent US drone wrecks.

The U.S. Air Force drone, on a classified spy mission over the Indian Ocean, was destined for disaster from the start.An inexperienced military contractor in shorts and a T-shirt, flying by remote control from a trailer at Seychelles International Airport, committed blunder after blunder in six minutes on April 4.

 He sent the unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drone off without permission from the control tower. A minute later, he yanked the wrong lever at his console, killing the engine without realizing why.
As he tried to make an emergency landing, he forgot to put down the wheels. The $8.9 million aircraft belly-flopped on the runway, bounced and plunged into the tropical waters at the airport’s edge, according to a previously undisclosed Air Force accident investigation report.The drone crashed at a civilian airport that serves a half-million passengers a year, most of them sun-seeking tourists. No one was hurt, but it was the second Reaper accident in five months — under eerily similar circumstances.

“I will be blunt here. I said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening again,’ ” an Air Force official at the scene told investigators afterward. He added: “You go, ‘How stupid are you?’ ” Read More

Max Fisher | The Washington Post

Tracking China’s military development isn’t always easy. Public information can be spotty and official sources tend to be tight-lipped. But every once in a while, the Chinese military makes it easier for Beijing-watchers by showing off its newest technology in the open. This week, as the Party Congress officially begins the country’s once-in-a-decade power transition, an annual airshow is underway in the city of Zuhai, near Hong Kong.

Here [Left], via Chinese media-tracker Danwei, is the front page of the Huaxi Metropolis Daily, which features the Pterosaur (Wing Loong in Mandarin) unmanned aerial vehicle. Below that, some information on the Wing Loong UAV.

The first thing you might notice that the Wing Loong looks pretty familiar, especially if you’ve ever seen a U.S. Predator drone. The Wing Loong is sometimes described as a Predator “clone” and appears to serve roughly similar functions, although it’s not clear what China wants to use it for. Read More

Medea Benjamin | The Washington Post

It was good to see The Post calling in an editorial [“Drone war,” Nov. 2] for the U.S. government to bring its drone wars out of the shadows. But having just returned from Pakistan, where I saw the effects of drone warfare, I disagree with The Post’s characterization of drone aircraft as a more “humane way” to combat an irregular army.

People we met from Waziristan talked about how drones, constantly hovering overhead, terrorize the local population. Parents fear sending their children to school; people are afraid to attend weddings, funerals or other community gatherings. They talked about widespread psychological trauma, especially among the children.

The editorial also played down the extent of civilian casualties from drone attacks, mentioning “scores — maybe hundreds — of civilians being killed.” According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, whose count of drone-strike victims is widely acknowleged to be the most accurate, the total ranges from 546 to 1,105. The bureau recently examined The Post’s reporting and concluded that “the paper frequently omits credible reports of civilian deaths in US covert drone strikes.”

Giving a more accurate picture of these deaths would give the public a better understanding of not only the tragic human costs of drone warfare but also why it is creating so much anti-American sentiment around the world.

Medea Benjamin, Washington
The writer is co-director of Codepink.

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