"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Assassination Programs’

Assassin-In-Chief: Secret “Kill List”, Drone Strikes & Covert Wars Significantly Expanded Under Obama

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Oldspeak:”Assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the President. Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, The president alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out. can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.” –Tom Engelhardt. More failed, murderous and counterproductive atrocity worthy Bush-era terrorism policy expanded, unfettered and completely unaccountable to anyone but Barack Obama. While corporate sponsored sheeple ring their hands over psuedo-divisive and sensationalized “issues” like gay marriage, Our president has done away with 5th amendment right not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Everyone in a “strike zone” is civilian or not, designated as a “combatant” or “militant” and is thus subject to summary execution at the whim of the President. The U.S.homeland has been designated as a “battleground”, and the military is allowed to operated here. Unmanned drones are watching us from U.S. skies right now. Protestors are classified as “low-level terrorists”. What happens when the “terrorist threat” from within becomes greater than that from without? As we’ve seen from the brutality of responses to Occupy Wall Street Protests nation-wide by hyper-militarized and aggressively trained police forces, whatever happens ain’t pretty. Protestors homes have been raided, and they’ve been arrested, detained, and charged with terrorism BEFORE THEY EVEN ACTUALLY PROTEST. Pre-crime is now prosecutable.All the elements are in place to facilitate a rapid transition to a fully formed totalitarian state. I highly recommend you read the NY Times propaganda piece before you read the articles below. “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery”

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Hope Burning

Obama Expands Secret Wars Across The Globe

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch.com:

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they — and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self — are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded exponentially.  Moreover, that article was based largely on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.”  In other words, it was essentially an administration-inspired piece — columnist Robert Scheer calls it “planted” — on a “secret” program the president and those closest to him are quite proud of and want to brag about in an election year.

The language of the piece about our warrior president was generally sympathetic, even in places soaring.  It focused on the moral dilemmas of a man who — we now know — has personally approved and overseen the growth of a remarkably robust assassination program in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan based on a “kill list.” Moreover, he’s regularly done so target by target, name by name.  (The Times did not mention a recent U.S. drone strike in the Philippines that killed 15.)  According to Becker and Shane, President Obama has also been involved in the use of a fraudulent method of counting drone kills, one that unrealistically deemphasizes civilian deaths.

Historically speaking, this is all passing strange.  The Times calls Obama’s role in the drone killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.”  And that’s accurate.

It’s not, however, that American presidents have never had anything to do with or been in any way involved in assassination programs.  The state as assassin is hardly unknown in our history.  How could President John F. Kennedy, for example, not know about CIA-inspired or -backed assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and South Vietnamese autocrat (and ostensible ally) Ngo Dinh Diem? (Lumumba and Diem were successfully murdered.)  Similarly, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the CIA carried out a massive assassination campaign in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix.  It proved to be a staggeringly profligate program for killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, both actual enemies and those simply swept up in the process.

In previous eras, however, presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability about the acts.  We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisors, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief.

Religious Cult or Mafia Hit Squad?

Here’s a believe-it-or-not footnote to our American age.  Who now remembers that, in the early years of his presidency, George W. Bush kept what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward called “his own personal scorecard for the war” on terror?  It took the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world’s most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out by Bush once captured or killed. That scorecard was, Woodward added, always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

Such private presidential recordkeeping now seems penny-ante indeed.  The distance we’ve traveled in a decade can be measured by the Times’ description of the equivalent of that “personal scorecard” today (and no desk drawer could hold it):

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases, and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by [counterterrorism ‘tsar’ John O.] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name.”

In other words, thanks to such meetings — on what insiders have labeled “terror Tuesday” — assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president.  Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out.

He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. He can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.

In the process, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the president has shredded the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing Americans that they will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a secret memo claiming that, while the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantee does apply to the drone assassination of an American citizen in a land with which we are not at war, “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”  (That, writes Greenwald, is “the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime.”)  In other words, the former Constitutional law professor has been freed from the law of the land in cases in which he “nominates,” as he has, U.S. citizens for robotic death.

There is, however, another aspect to the institutionalizing of those “kill lists” and assassination as presidential prerogatives that has gone unmentioned.  If the Times article — which largely reflects how the Obama administration cares to see itself and its actions — is to be believed, the drone program is also in the process of being sanctified and sacralized.

You get a sense of this from the language of the piece itself.  (“A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan…”)  The president is presented as a particularly moral man, who devotes himself to the “just war” writings of religious figures like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and takes every death as his own moral burden.  His leading counterterrorism advisor Brennan, a man who, while still in the CIA, was knee-deep in torture controversy, is presented, quite literally, as a priest of death, not once but twice in the piece.  He is described by the Times reporters as “a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama.”  They then quote the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, saying, “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

In the Times telling, the organization of robotic killing had become the administration’s idée fixe, a kind of cult of death within the Oval Office, with those involved in it being so many religious devotees.  We may be, that is, at the edge of a new state-directed, national-security-based religion of killing grounded in the fact that we are in a “dangerous” world and the “safety” of Americans is our preeminent value.  In other words, the president, his apostles, and his campaign acolytes are all, it seems, praying at the Church of St. Drone.

Of course, thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

How far we’ve come in just two presidencies!  Assassination as a way of life has been institutionalized in the Oval Office, thoroughly normalized, and is now being offered to the rest of us as a reasonable solution to American global problems and an issue on which to run a presidential campaign.

Downhill All the Way on Blowback Planet

After 5,719 inside-the-Beltway (largely inside-the-Oval-Office) words, the Times piece finally gets to this single outside-the-Beltway sentence: “Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.”

Arguably, indeed!  For the few who made it that far, it was a brief reminder of just how narrow, how confining the experience of worshiping at St. Drone actually is.  All those endless meetings, all those presidential hours that might otherwise have been spent raising yet more money for campaign 2012, and the two countries that have taken the brunt of the drone raids are more hostile, more dangerous, and in worse shape than in 2009.  (And one of them, keep in mind, is a nuclear power.)  News articles since have only emphasized how powerfully those drones have radicalized local populations — however many “bad guys” (and children) they may also have wiped off the face of the Earth.

And though the Times doesn’t mention this, it’s not just bad news for Yemen or Pakistan.  American democracy, already on the ropes, is worse off, too.

What should astound Americans — but seldom seems to be noticed — is just how into the shadows, how thoroughly military-centric, and how unproductive has become Washington’s thinking at the altar of St. Drone and its equivalents (including special operations forces, increasingly the president’s secret military within the military). Yes, the world is always a dangerous place, even if far less so now than when, in the Cold War era, two superpowers were a heartbeat away from nuclear war.  But — though it’s increasingly heretical to say this — the perils facing Americans, including relatively modest dangers from terrorism, aren’t the worst things on our planet.

Electing an assassin-in-chief, no matter who you vote for, is worse.  Pretending that the Church of St. Drone offers any kind of reasonable or even practical solutions on this planet of ours, is worse yet.  And even worse, once such a process begins, it’s bound to be downhill all the way.  As we learned last week, again in the Times, we not only have an assassin-in-chief in the Oval Office, but a cyberwarrior, perfectly willing to release a new form of weaponry, the most sophisticated computer “worm” ever developed, against another country with which we are not at war.

This represents a breathtaking kind of rashness, especially from the leader of a country that, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on computer systems, opening the U.S. to potentially debilitating kinds of future blowback.  Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry and it’s hit the highway at 140 miles per hour without a cop in sight.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the rest of them knew war, and yet were not acolytes of the eighteenth century equivalents of St. Drone, nor of presidents who might be left free to choose to turn the world into a killing zone.  They knew at least as well as anyone in our national security state today that the world is always a dangerous place — and that that’s no excuse for investing war powers in a single individual.  They didn’t think that a state of permanent war, a state of permanent killing, or a president free to plunge Americans into such states was a reasonable way for their new republic to go.  To them, it was by far the more dangerous way to exist in our world.

The founding fathers would surely have chosen republican democracy over safety.  They would never have believed that a man surrounded by advisors and lawyers, left to his own devices, could protect them from what truly mattered.  They tried to guard against it.  Now, we have a government and a presidency dedicated to it, no matter who is elected in November.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.

America’s Secret Empire Of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed For The First Time

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Oldspeak:“Behold! The future of war in America! Remote-controlled, automated, outsourced and cheaply produced for your viewing pleasure! Hey! The Libyan intervention/regime change only cost 2 Billion Dollars! Sooo much cheaper than the Iraq War! Drones are awesome, they’re cheaper and save American lives! It’s come to this. Cheering the fact that Humanity is slowly and surely being phased out of the war making business. A terribly slippery slope to tread. When wars begin to be defined in terms of dollars and cents instead of the untold millions of lives negatively affected and outright lost because of them; it becomes crystal clear what war is all about. Money. Arms Sales. Business. Repeat Business. Industry. Cost-Effectiveness. The Bottom Line. “The U.S. Government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world todayDr Martin Luther King. Business is BOOMING. Soon robots will fight our wars for us.  When humans are phased out of war-making, the costs of war seem smaller, even if in reality they’re growing larger with each remote-controlled vehicle and robot built, each unnamed woman or child or bride or husband killed  largely out of public view. Perpetual War becomes routine. War becomes entertainment. War Is glamorized. War is commercialized. Was is a drug. “Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.” -Nick Turse. No significant discussion of  the conditions created to facilitate waging war, or policies which could be employed to minimize the outbreak and sustenance of war. “War Is Peace”.

By Nick Turse @ Alter Net:

 

They increasingly dot the planet.  There’s a facility outside Las Vegas where “pilots” work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth that almost no one talks about at an air base in the United Arab Emirates.

And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide.  Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous — until now.

Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases — some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment — are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war.  They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad — in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign “footprint” and little accountability.

Using military documents, press accounts and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by AlterNet has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations.  There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.

A Galaxy of Bases

Over the last decade, the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has expanded exponentially as has media coverage of their use.  On September 21st, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military has deployed missile-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones on the “island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia.” A day earlier, a Washington Post piece also mentioned the same base on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago, as well as one in the African nation of Djibouti, another under construction in Ethiopia, and a secret CIA airstrip being built for drones in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (suspected of being Saudi Arabia).

Post journalists Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock reported that the “Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”  Within days, the Post also reported that a drone from the new CIA base in that unidentified Middle Eastern country had carried out the assassination of radical al-Qaeda preacher and American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen.

With the killing of al-Aulaqi, the Obama Administration has expanded its armed drone campaign to no fewer than six countries, though the CIA, which killed al-Aulaqi, refuses to officially acknowledge its drone assassination program.  The Air Force is less coy about its drone operations, yet there are many aspects of those, too, that remain in the shadows.  Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes recently told AlterNet that, “for operational security reasons, we do not discuss worldwide operating locations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, to include numbers of locations around the world.”

Still, those 60 military and CIA bases around the world, directly connected to the drone program, tell us a lot about America’s war-making future.  From command and control and piloting to maintenance and arming, these facilities perform key functions that allow drone campaigns to continued expanding as they have for more than a decade.  Other bases are already under construction or in the planning stages.  When presented with our list of Air Force sites within America’s galaxy of drone bases, Lieutenant Colonel Haynes responded, “I have nothing further to add to what I’ve already said.”

Even in the face of government secrecy, however, much can be discovered .  Here, then, for the record is a AlterNet accounting of America’s drone bases in the United States and around the world.

The Near Abroad

News reports have frequently focused on Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas as ground zero in America’s military drone campaign. Sitting in darkened, air conditioned rooms, 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board.  Their faces lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone, by squeezing a trigger on a joystick one of these Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.

While Creech gets the lion’s share of attention — it even has its own drones on site — numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars.  The same video-game-style warfare is carried out by U.S and British pilots not far away at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS).  According to a factsheet provided to AlterNet by the Air Force, the 2nd SOS and its drone operators are scheduled to be relocated to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida in the coming months.

Reapers or Predators are also being flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.  Recently, it was announced that Reapers, flown by Hancock’s pilots, would begin taking off on training missions from the Army’s Fort Drum, also in New York State.  While at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by the New York Times earlier this year, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell phone intercepts, high altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan — what they call “Death TV” — while instant-messaging and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements.

CIA drone operators also reportedly pilot their aircraft from the Agency’s nearby Langley, Virginia headquarters.  It was from here that analysts apparently watched footage of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, for example, thanks to video sent back by the RQ-170 Sentinel, an advanced drone nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar.”  According to Air Force documents, the Sentinel is flown from both Creech Air Force Base and Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

Predators, Reapers, and Sentinels are just part of the story.  At Beale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia).  Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.

Other bases have been intimately involved in training drone operators, including Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, as is the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona which is home to, according to a report by National Defense magazine, “the world’s largest UAV training center.”  There, hundreds of employees of defense giant General Dynamics train military personnel to fly smaller tactical drones like the Hunter and Shadow.  The physical testing of drones goes on at adjoining Libby Army Airfield and “two UAV runways located approximately four miles west of Libby,” according to Global Security, an on-line clearinghouse for military information.

Additionally, small drone training for the Army is carried out at Fort Benning in Georgia while at Fort Rucker, Alabama — “the home of Army aviation” — the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts pertaining to UAVs.  Recently, Fort Benning also saw the early testing of true robotic drones – which fly without human guidance or a hand on any joystick.  This is considered, wrote the Washington Post, the next step toward a future in which drones will “hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.”

The Army has also carried out UAV training exercises at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and, earlier this year, the Navy launched its X-47B, a next-generation semi-autonomous stealth drone, on its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  That flying robot — designed to operate from the decks of aircraft carriers — has since been sent on to Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River for further testing.  At nearby Webster Field, the Navy worked out kinks in its Fire Scout pilotless helicopter, which has also been tested at Fort Rucker, Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, and Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station.  The latter base was also where the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial system was developed and is now, along with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State, based.

Foreign Jewels in the Crown

The Navy is actively looking for a suitable site in the Western Pacific for a BAMS base, and is currently in talks with several Persian Gulf states for one in that region, as well.  It already has Global Hawks perched at its base in Sigonella, Italy.

The Air Force is now negotiating with Turkey to relocate some of the Predator drones still operating in Iraq to the giant air base at Incirlik next year.  Many different UAVs have been based in Iraq since the American invasion of that country, including small tactical models likeRaven-B’s  that troops launched by hand from Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Shadow UAVs that flew from Forward Operating Base Normandy in Baqubah Province, Predators operating out of Balad Airbase, miniature Desert Hawk drones launched from Tallil Air Base, and Scan Eagles based at Al Asad Air Base.

Elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, according to Aviation Week, the military is launching Global Hawks from Al Dhafra Air Base in theUnited Arab Emirates, piloted by personnel stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, to track “shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Arabian Sea.”  There are unconfirmed reports that the CIA may be operating drones from that country as well.  In the past, at least, other UAVs have apparently been flown from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base and Al Jaber Air Base, as well as Seeb Air Base in Oman.

At Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the Air Force runs an air operations command and control facility, critical to the drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The new secret CIA base on the Arabian peninsula, used to assassinate Anwar al-Aulaqi, may or may not be an airstrip inSaudi Arabia whose existence a senior U.S. military official recently confirmed to FOX News.  In the past, the CIA has also operated UAVs out of Tuzel, Uzbekistan.

In neighboring Afghanistan, drones fly from many bases including Jalalabad Air Base, Kandahar Air Field, the air base at Bagram, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Edinburgh and FOB Delaram II, to name a few. Afghan bases are, however, more than just locations where drones take off and land.

It is a common misperception that U.S.-based operators are the only ones who “fly” America’s armed drones.  In fact, in and around America’s war zones, UAVs begin and end their flights under the control of local “pilots.”  Take Afghanistan’s massive Bagram Air Base. After performing preflight checks alongside a technician who focuses on the drone’s sensors, a local airman sits in front of a Dell computer tower and multiple monitors, two keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches and oversees the plane’s takeoff before handing it over to a stateside counterpart with a similar electronics set-up.  After the mission is complete, the controls are transferred back to the local operators for the landing.  Additionally, crews in Afghanistan perform general maintenance and repairs on the drones.

In the wake of a devastating suicide attack by an al-Qaeda double agent that killed CIA officers and contractors at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost in 2009, it came to light that the facility was heavily involved in target selection for drone strikes across the border in Pakistan.  The drones themselves, as the Washington Post noted at the time, were “flown from separate bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Both the Air Force and CIA have conducted operations in Pakistani air space, with some missions originating in Afghanistan and others from inside Pakistan.  In 2006, images of what appear to be Predator drones stationed at Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province were found on Google Earth and later published.  In 2009, the New York Times reported that operatives from Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, had taken over the task of arming Predator drones at the CIA’s “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Following the May Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, that country’s leaders reportedly ordered the United States to leave Shamsi.  The Obama administration evidently refused and word leaked out, according to the Washington Post, that the base was actually owned and sublet to the U.S. by the United Arab Emirates, which had built the airfield “as an arrival point for falconry and other hunting expeditions in Pakistan.”

The U.S. and Pakistani governments have since claimed that Shamsi is no longer being used for drone strikes.  True or not, the U.S. evidently also uses other drone bases in Pakistan, including possibly PAF Base Shahbaz, located near the city of Jacocobad, and another base located near Ghazi.

The New Scramble for Africa

Recently, the headline story, when it comes to the expansion of the empire of drone bases, has been Africa.  For the last decade, the U.S. military has been operating out of Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti.  Not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it became a base for Predator drones and has since been used to conduct missions over neighboring Somalia.

For some time, rumors have also been circulating about a secret American base in Ethiopia.  Recently, a U.S. official revealed to theWashington Post that discussions about a drone base there had been underway for up to four years, “but that plan was delayed because ‘the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.’” Now construction is evidently underway, if not complete.

Then, of course, there is that drone base on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  A small fleet of Navy and Air Force drones began operating openly there in 2009 to track pirates in the region’s waters.  Classified diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, however, reveal that those drones have also secretly been used to carry out missions in Somalia.  “Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport,” the Post reports, the base consists of three or four “Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.”

The U.S. has also recently sent four smaller tactical drones to the African nations of Uganda and Burundi for use by those countries’ own militaries.

New and Old Empires

Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.

During the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, as the U.S. was building up its drone fleets, the country launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in YemenPakistan, and Somalia, using drones in at least four of those countries.  In less than three years under President Obama, the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  It maintains that it has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation (or at least any nation in the global south).

According to a report by the Congressional Budget office published earlier this year, “the Department of Defense (DoD) plans to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” over the next decade.  In practical terms, this means more drones like the Reaper.

Military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Reaper “can fly 1,150 miles from base, conduct missions and return home… the time a drone can stay aloft depends on how heavily armed it is.”  According to a drone operator training document obtained by AlterNet, at maximum payload, meaning with 3,750 pounds worth of Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 or GBU-30 bombs on board, the Reaper can remain aloft for 16 to 20 hours.  Even a glance at a world map tells you that, if the U.S. is to carry out ever more drone strikes across the developing world, it will need more bases for its future UAVs.  As an unnamed senior military official pointed out to a Washington Postreporter, speaking of all those new drone bases clustered around the Somali and Yemeni war zones, “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

Earlier this year, an analysis by TomDispatch.com determined that there are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases scattered across the globe — a shadowy base-world that provides plenty of existing sites that can, and no doubt will, host drones.  But facilities selected for a pre-drone world may not always prove optimal locations for America’s current and future undeclared wars and assassination campaigns. So further expansion in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia is likely.

What are the Air Force’s plans in this regard?  Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes was typically circumspect.  “We are constantly evaluating potential operating locations based on evolving mission needs,” he said.  If the last decade is any indication, those “needs” will only continue to grow.

 

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook

This article marks another of Turse’s joint Alternet/TomDispatch investigative reports on U.S. national security policy and American empire.

 

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