The Afghan government says around 140 villagers were killed in this US airstrike in Afghanistan last month. The US Military are spinning that the casualty rate was smaller. Report by Jonathan Rugman. Powerful footage.
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Thursday, 25 June 2009
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, more and more missions are being carried out by unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.
The drones, controlled 6,000 miles away in the Nevada desert, can carry up to 14 missiles.The United States has the Reaper drone, the Chinese have the Invisible Sword. Robotics expert professor Noel Sharkey, from Sheffield university, explains where drones came from, and what they can do:
How long have these drones been around?
Unmanned drones have actually been used for about 30 years. They were first used for surveillance.
When did drones start to be used in attacks?
The first test of an armed drone was in 2001 by the CIA. They put hellfire missiles on what is known as a predator drone, which was previously used for spying. These are the missiles they still use today.
When was the armed drone first used on a 'real' target?
The first deployment was in the Yemen in 2002, again by the CIA. They used it to blow up a sports utility vehicle in the middle of the desert. They claimed it killed an al-Qaida member, and five of his associates.
How many armed drones are there?
There are about 200 of the armed Predator drones now; while it also has a bigger brother now called the Reaper – which can carry 14 missiles, there are about 30 of those now too.
Who 'flies' them?
At the moment the drones in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are controlled from Creech air force base in the Nevada desert. In the US you can just take a course to learn how to control these aircraft, while at the moment the British stipulate that you must have been a combat pilot to control them.
How are they controlled?
It's a bit like a console games controller. These people are sat in front of a big screen. It is actually called a "man in the loop" system. It does an awful lot of things automatically. It has high resolution cameras and sensors – it sees things on the ground. It does have heat sensors to work out whether people are in a building or not.
Who makes the decision to fire the missiles, the drone or the human?
The pilot does, although on a lot of instances they won't have that much time – the drone will identify a target and ask them whether to shoot: yes or no? A lot of the time the pilot is vetoing targets rather than finding them.
How long can the drones stay in the air for?
The predator can stay up for about 26 hours, whereas some of the unarmed drones can stay in the air for up to 72 hours.
Are other countries developing these armed drones?
Yes, at the moment there are 43 countries developing these programmes. Russia alone has 18 programmes, while the Chinese have a drone known as the Invisible Sword.
Why have they proved so popular with military forces?
Firstly you don’t have to worry about your pilot getting fatigued or shot down. If they want to go to the toilet during a shift they can and someone else can take over. After work than can go home and have a meal with the wife and kids. There's also the cost: a drone can cost $40m, whereas a fighter plane can cost $350m.
If anyone is in any doubt about the futility of Operation Enduring Freedom(Bleeeurrgh!), just read this from the MOD on the recent 'offensive' by the Brits.
'The night before the Black Watch set off, the troops watched a gut-wrenchingly moving photographic tribute to a young private killed on 12 June, killed by an IED that was placed in a position the insurgents guessed a soldier would rush into when under fire.
The slideshow, projected on to a huge screen on the wall in the battalion's Camp Gordon headquarters, featured pictures of Robert McLaren in the field, and of the repatriation of his union flag-draped coffin back to Scotland.
With those images seared on their brains, the men, weighed down with weapons, ammunition and the rations that would sustain them for the coming 24 hours, wolfed down a meal of greasy hamburger and chips before clambering aboard the Chinooks that would take them for the seven-minute hop to Babaji. Served up amid the dust of the Afghan desert, it was the last cooked meal most of the soldiers would have for 11 days.
With the normal seats stowed away, the Jocks – as the men are known – arranged themselves on the floors of the helicopters, legs tucked around the man in front of them and the bulky rifles, rocket launchers, radios and other kit.
As the powerful engines gathered speed, the eerie green cabin lights were cut – leaving them in darkness, save for the occasional flash of anti-missile flares detonated from the side of the helicopters – and the Chinooks headed away from Bastion, the vast British base in Helmand, for the heart of green zone, the irrigated farmland that is home to swaths of poppy fields and large numbers of Taliban insurgents.
From Kandahar airfield to the east came another six of the massive twin-rotor helicopters, all equally crammed.
"We are dropping 340 people in one wave, with 30 seconds' notice. The Chinooks will then take off and they are not coming back," said Lt Col Stephen Cartwright, commanding the men preparing to go into battle.
After their short journey the soldiers spread out into the areas surrounding the helicopter landing zones. The first sign of resistance – 15 men carrying a belt-fed anti-aircraft machine gun – was quickly spotted and dealt with by the constellation of planes, helicopters and unmanned drones circling the night skies. The men were annihilated by an attack from the sky of which they could have had no warning.
"Serves them right. They weren't out doing the shopping, were they?" said a voice in the darkness, watching through night vision goggles.
With British Chinooks in short supply (six were on loan from the Americans), the simultaneous landing of 10 helicopters was a rare event, testament to the huge importance placed on the operation and the enormous risks involved.
A shortage of troops and equipment has long hampered the three-year British deployment in Helmand, all but barring a major attempt such as Operation Panchai Palang to install a permanent troop presence in such a hostile area. But the arrival of 21,000 Americans into the south, including Helmand, has made it possible for the British to free up troops elsewhere and concentrate their efforts in smaller areas.
The first victim of the operation was an Afghan national army soldier accompanying the British, who was killed after he wandered into an area that had not been cleared for IEDs.
"It's bad that it happens – but it's a weird feeling of relief that it's not one of us. A lot of people feel guilty about that," said Captain Mike Goodall.
Because getting the local people onside was the most important aspect of the mission, enormous pains were taken to avoid using the more destructive weapons systems in the British arsenal.
"I never use mortars – they are good for raising the morale of the troops, but you risk injuring civilians," said Major Steele. "When, later, we meet the village elder of the family of a child that we have killed, it just sours everything and undermines everything we are trying to do."
However, the inhabitants of Babaji showed little interest in meeting the British, with compound after mud-walled compound abandoned.
The box of pencil cases, school bags and other goodies known in military jargon as "consent-winning goods" was left undistributed and the bazaar that had been one of the main targets of the operation, because its role in the local opium industry made it a "key insurgent logistics and financing node", was deserted.
In a place like Babaji, where the flags of officialdom are the white banners of the Taliban fluttering above key buildings, the usual mixture of grocers and tailors is mixed in with shops peddling drug processing equipment, needles for local addicts, and pharmacies with field dressings and morphine suggesting they do good business with local fighters.
By the end of the second day the lack of local engagement was beginning to worry the officers.
"Running around, getting into fights and killing a few enemy is all very well and good, but my main concern at the moment is that we haven't talked to any local nationals or really got out our main message to the community that this time we are here to stay," said Major Steele.
His company finally found two local people to engage with on the fourth day – an exercise that required the troops to start walking into a nearby village at 2am, under the cover of darkness, across fields of poppy stubble and irrigation ditches, and then retreat in armoured vehicles.
The first was a teenage boy caught foraging for stale bread in an empty compound whose constantly shifting story suggested to the British that he might have been an insurgent sympathiser or even a "dicker" – a watchman providing a steady stream of intelligence on the movements of foreign forces.
The second was a grey-bearded old man the British found sitting under a tree, outside a tiny mud-brick home the size of two telephone boxes – the only inhabitant of an otherwise entirely deserted village to have stayed behind. Only his bad legs, and the trouble he has walking, had prevented him joining the exodus.
No fewer than three British officers set about trying to extract information and to deliver their key messages.
Major Steele tried to reassure him by pointing to the British effort in Musa Qala, a town in northern Helmand which UK forces helped to dislodge from Taliban control in late 2007 and have been painstakingly trying to stabilise ever since.
The old man wasn't having any of it: "Last year a big British bomb in Nowzad killed 600 people," he said. "Another 170 were killed at a wedding party."
Major Steele tried using a story about a recent battle group operation in an area that saw the fiercest fighting of their tour. "I was in the Upper Sangin Valley recently where there was heavy fighting and there were several occasions when I had the opportunity to kill enemies of the peace, and some I did kill because they are not friends of Islam, but others we could not because there was a danger that we would hurt innocent civilians.
"In order for you to help properly we need your help. I know it is very difficult and the elders here will potentially risk their lives to come and talk to us." But the old man dismissed the idea that the British could bring security where so many others have failed.
"I'm 80 years old and I have seen many governments and none of them have been any help. Why should I believe that this one will help?"
Conscious of the need to get back to their recently established forward operating base, set up in an abandoned compound before they were attacked, the British officer gave up on the old man with a resigned smile.
"I understand your scepticism, but all you need to know is that this is the next area we are trying to improve. I hope we can prove you wrong, but it will take a long time."
Despite the limited success of the effort to engage the residents, the mood back at the base was buoyant after the expected stiff resistance to their presence in the village failed to materialise. Small arms fire on the compound the British had taken over allowed the men to strip off and swim in the canal behind the building.
Part of the reason was the dropping from a B1 bomber of a 500lb bomb on to a compound from which there had been day-long fire.
"We had no choice," said Major Rupert Whitelegge . "Every time he would fire a shot to initiate an attack, he would drop down behind his enormous 3ft-thick wall. We just couldn't get through and so we dropped the bomb. It's been very quiet today, strangely."
Friday, 19 June 2009
Jimmy Carter - "It is very distressing to me. I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been raked against your people.
"I come to the American school which was educating your children, supported by my own country. I see it's been deliberately destroyed by bombs from F16s made in my country and delivered to the Israelis. I feel partially responsible for this -- as must all Americans and all Israelis," Full story here.
Friday, 12 June 2009
On the same day the US Commander says the priority is 'avoiding civilian casualties' here are military spin doctors denying local, eye-witness accounts of the latest massacre. From the New York Times. Thanks anyway, General McChrystal - another bullshit merchant.