Shaakira B. Ahmed | Pic (File): BBC | 17 May 2017
Donald Trump has succeeded in securing for his administration a permanent place in Global News Headlines lately – from viral reports on what the World dubbed Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’, to the more recent ‘Trump-Russia Campaign Collusion’ scandal. Amidst all the commentary on the unpredictable pursuits of America’s 45th President, what the international community seems to be affording little publicity to, are Trump’s ever-escalating military engagements – particularly his official piloting of the United State’s deadly and infamous Drone programme.
Less than two months since Trump claimed office, critics were already counting in horror, more than thirty six lethal American drone strikes catastrophically bombarding civilian-populated areas of Yemen and Pakistan. While the Trump administration justifies its use of drones with its supposed utility in aiding the United State’s protracted war against Al-Qaeda (AQAP) and ISIL, activists for human rights the world over are demanding greater accountability for the increasing number of civilian casualties – mainly women and children.
The United State’s controversial Drone Programme was ushered into American foreign policy in 2004, under the administration of former US President, George W. Bush. Predator Drones – also called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) – are surveillance and reconnaissance warplanes, functioning as ‘less-risky’ and more convenient alternatives to the conventional manned flights. In regions of Pakistan where American drone strikes have been most frequent and damaging to the civilian population, a drone aircraft can be observed hovering above the land for 17 to 24 hours at a time, providing American troops with continuous, live visuals of foreign ground activity. While these crafts were the products of President Bush’s fierce military agenda, which he tagged the ‘War on the Terror’, the use of these drones more than quadrupled in the aggressive military campaigns of the Obama administration. His incessant drone-pillaging of Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Somalia among others, placed before the world, gruesome images of scattered limbs, crippled children and only a tiny, nearly insignificant statistic of eliminated ‘terrorist threats’. In fact, in 2015, it was reported in The Intercept’s article ‘The Drone Papers’, that 90% of victims to drone strikes were not the intended targets, bringing into question the assertion of the Obama administration that drones are “exceptionally surgical and precise”.
Now, despite the blatant devaluing of innocent lives under the radar of these war machines, Obama’s successor in office, Donald Trump, seems to be an unmatched competitor in American presidential history in his drone authorisation frequency. Alarming statistics reflected in a report by Analyst for the United State’s Council of Foreign Relations, Micah Zenko, show that under the Trump leadership, a drone strike or raid has been approved every 1.25 days, compared to a drone strike being approved every 5.4 days under the Obama administration. Between the 2 and 3 March 2107, a total of thirty drones blasted Yemen, with another drone strike in the region having been reported on the 6th of March.
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, The Wall Street Journal – citing US officials – reported a further development. The report revealed that Donald Trump had taken the unsettling step of maximising the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) powers over the Drone Programme, enabling the CIA to not only decide the targets and locations of drone strikes, but to conduct the strikes too. The result is a risk of complete lack of accountability, as unlike the Pentagon which reserved authority to launch drone bombardments under Obama’s administration, the CIA is under no duty to disclose drone strikes or any resulting civilian casualties.
The issue of civilian casualties has been of primary concern to critics of the United State’s drone campaigns. However, in a FOX News interview last year in which Trump was asked by hosts ‘Fox and Friends’ about civilian casualties and managing collateral damage in America’s war against ISIL, Trump contentiously responded, “One of the problems that we have, and one of the reasons that we’re so ineffective, is they (i.e. Terrorist targets) are using them (civilians) as shields”. He continued, “You have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families!” The chilling response has since begged the question of whether accountability for civilian casualties features anywhere on Trump’s list of priorities, or are the increasing statistics of innocent lives lost to what Trump has called America’s ‘War on Radical Islam’, a bitter manifestation of Trump’s disregard for civilians living in regions rigged with ‘Islamist’ activity.
While the Third World continues to mourn alone for entire families lost to the deadly force of the United States’ more than a decade-old Drone Program, the Global Community stands baffled. Political spectators the world over endure the vague memory of Trump’s favourable stance for a ‘non-interventionist approach’ to foreign policy in 2016, as he criticised Obama’s longstanding foreign interventions. The almost taunting recollection of the months Trump spent campaigning for Presidency, promising less wars and wise, military restraint as he criticised the over-zealous, potentially reckless militancy of his then opposition candidate for Presidency, Hillary Clinton, is just one of the many ironies of America’s wars.
With Trump occupying the White House and escalating drone bombardments and military intervention in the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa, can the historically exploited Third World expect any near respite from decades of being the designated ‘playing fields’? In these zones over which western policy makers freely fly their war planes, practice brutality and test the destructiveness of their military tools, can the system of International Law with its penalties for such gross human rights violations, truly succeed in securing justice and a consistent value for accountability where injustices are committed?
“I have interviewed many people over the years of doing documentaries. Currently in Pakistan filming with victims of drone, I have never had a more haunting and harrowing experience than looking into the eyes of person after person, children and adults, and hearing them talk about their homes, villages and families destroyed by drone attacks. The pain is palpable, their fear still radiates. And even a question about the CIA sets off terror alerts in peoples’ eyes.”
– Robert Greenwald (Director of ‘Unmanned: America’s drone wars’)