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Lethal Drones

Data from the US-based Council on Foreign Relations says the US forces had carried out more than 500 lethal drone strikes from 2001 to 2015, killing an estimated 3,674 militants, including 473 civilians. The Washington-based New America Foundation said drone strikes in Pakistan had killed between 1,700 and 2,700 people in the eight years 2004-2012.

Since 2001, the United States has been killing people with weaponized drones, most times not knowing the identity of the victims. By early 2016, at least 6,000 people had been killed by these drone strikes. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 4 percent of drone victims in Pakistan were identified as a-Qaida members. But vastly more than 2,000 people had been killed there by drones during these years. Another country which suffered heavily under drone strikes is Afghanistan, the most drone bombed country in the world. Between 2001 and 2013, 1,670 drone strikes took place in the country. It was in the city of Kandahar, the Taliban's former stronghold, where the first strike by a weaponized drone took place in October 2001. The target, Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, was not killed on this day, but many other unknown people had been in the years since.

Since 2009 the US has refused to engage in a physical fight with terrorists on the battlefield, and mostly use killer drones. Drones are low-cost, lethal machines. From a purely counter-terrorism operations standpoint, drones have proven to be extremely effective in Pakistan and in Yemen. But their use comes at a price: they fan local anti-U.S. sentiment. To the extent that our use of force in somebody elses country creates political resentment, or feeds into concerns about colonialism or American imperialism, or to the extent that it reinforces this notion that the United States is at war with Islam, it can be problematic.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, have also played a growing military role, especially in US campaigns. They provide surveillance, identify targets, and can deliver lethal force - but only if an operator gives the go ahead. But within decades technological advances could write the human operator out of the equation.

In December 2011, in a letter to President Obama, Human Rights watch urged greater public accountability for CIA drone strikes. The group also urged Washington to clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings. in January 2012 Amnesty International urged the Obama administration to disclose details of the legal and factual basis for the lethal use of drones in Pakistan and clarify the rules of engagement.

In a major address at the National Defense University in Washington on May 23, 2013, President Barack Obama has given a framework for ongoing counterterrorism efforts, including the use of drones in direct lethal action against terrorists. He said that when governments cannot stop terrorism on their territory, lethal targeted action, including with drones, is required, but must be held to rigorous standards.

"America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists - our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose - our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty," he sid.

Obama called the use of drones effective, saying they have disrupted many plots, and that they are legal, noting America was attacked on September 11, 2001. But he acknowledged that the new technology raises "profound questions" and the risk of "creating new enemies."

"As our fight enters a new phase, Americas legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power - or risk abusing it," he said.

The Rise of the Machines

In modern warfare, drones and other unmanned vehicles are playing an increasing role, with militaries embracing a technology that they say makes war safer and more effective. But human rights campaigners fear what might be to come - fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention - and they want a new global treaty to stop that from happening.

Human Rights Watch jointly published a report with the Harvard Law School's International Rights Clinic arguing that within 30 years militaries could be armed with autonomous "killer robots." They said such weapons would be inconsistent with international humanitarian law and would increase the risk to civilians during armed conflict.

The government of the United States has been hiding the real data on casualties from deadly drone strikes in the Middle East, Somalia and Afghanistan, the co-founder of CODEPINK anti-war organization told Sputnik on 27 February 2015. "We feel that our government has been hiding the civilian casualties in the illegal nature of the use of drones and we want to expose that in our efforts to stop that," Medea Benjamin said.

Countering Small Lethal Drones

A failed assassination attempt on Venezuela's President Nicols Maduro on August 4, 2018 illustrated how easy it seems to be to turn off-the-shelf drones into potentially lethal weapons. In this case, the perpetrators had loaded two drones with 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of explosives each. Then they apparently tried to fly them as close as possible to the president while he was speaking to soldiers. Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said that the military had "electronically" diverted one drone from its course. The second one crashed against the wall of a building blocks away from the actual target.

Armed groups such as the terrorist militia "Islamic State" (IS) pioneered the use of small drones to drop hand or mortar grenades with great precision on their victims. IS fighters used improvised weapons of this kind during the Battle of Mosul in April 2017. Such types of model aircraft usually cost less than 1,000 euros (or dollars). Official Iraqi armed forces also later used the same method. The internet is full of other examples of the use of inexpensive, commercially available drones on a killing mission. In addition, there are lots of videos of gun fanatics presenting their homemade armed drones.

They can drop light grenades from a relatively great height and, being relatively quiet, are hard to detect. In addition, only experienced snipers are likely to be able to hit them. So drones are potentially a great danger.

Specialized companies such as the Kassel-based start-up company Dedrone , which cooperates with Deutsche Telekom, rely on electronic drone defense. This first of all includes a sensor system that receives electronic radio data and monitors the airspace with video cameras. The system can detect drones entering a pre-defined airspace. It identifies the flying objects via typical control commands that are transmitted to the drones by radio communication or mobile phone. It also immediately registers the drone type and construction. For example, the system can distinguish them from birds, flying kites or helicopters. The software automatically tracks the drone on a video image.

As a second step, authorities, such as police or judicial officers, can use a jamming transmitter with the aim of disabling the drone and forcing it to land. The German company H.P. Marketing und Consulting Wst GmbH builds such systems. Wst specializes in mobile-phone suppression systems that can prevent prisoners from using smuggled mobile phones within prison walls. Following the same principle, the system can also prevent drones near the prison walls from being controlled by a smartphone and delivering packages to prisoners, for example.

Another form of drone defense is offered by Skywall. One form of it is a shoulder-held shooting device that catapults a net toward the aircraft. Once the net is wrapped around the drone, it sails to the ground on a parachute. For particularly endangered institutions, there is even a permanently installed rotating gun turret that can be mounted on the roof of a building. It can then target automatically detected enemy drones and capture them with the flying net.

And last but not least, various armies around the world rely on birds of prey to defend themselves against drones. The French air force, for example, is training eagles to fetch and retrieve drones in flight. In the private sector, the Dutch company Guard from Above has developed animal-based drone control into a comprehensive business. The company is targeting military and police authorities around the world and works not only with eagles but with other birds of prey as well.




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