At full flight: A file picture showing an unmanned US ‘Predator’ drone flying over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moonlit night. — AP
Afghanistan who fought Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, for example. In recent years the US military’s secretive commando units have operated more widely, even in countrieswhere the US is not at war, and that’s blurred the lines between the intelligence and military spheres.
In this shroud of secrecy, leaks to the news media of classified details about certain covert operations have led to charges that the White House orchestrated the revelations to bolster Obama’s national security credentials and thereby improve his re-election chances. The White House has denied the accusations.
The leaks exposed details of US computer virus attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, the foiling of an al-Qaeda bomb plot targeting US aircraft, and other secret operations.
Some in Congress, particularly lawmakers most sceptical of the need for US foreign interventions, are objecting to the administration’s drone wars. They are demanding a fuller explanation of how, for example, drone strikes are authorised and executed in cases in which the identity of the targeted terrorist is not confirmed.
“Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight,” Democratic Rep Dennis Kucinich and 25 other mostly anti-war members of Congress wrote Obama on Tuesday.
A few dozen lawmakers are briefed on the CIA’s covert action and clandestine military activity, and some may ask to review drone strike video and be granted access to after-action reports on strikes and other clandestine actions. But until two months ago, the administration had not formally confirmed in public its use of armed drones.
In an April speech in Washington, Obama’s counter-terrorism chief John Brennan acknowledged that despite presidential assurances of a judicious use of force against terrorists, some still question the legality of drone strikes.
“So let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law – and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives – the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” he said.
President GeorgeW. Bush authorised drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, but Obama has vastly increased the numbers.
According to Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks US counter-terrorism operations, the US under Obama has carried out an estimated 254 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That compares with 47 strikes during the Bush administration.
In at least one case, the target was an American. Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda leader, was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in September.
According to a White House list released late last year, US counterterrorism operations have removed more than 30 terrorist leaders around the globe. They include alQaeda in East Africa “planner” Saleh Ali Nabhan, who was killed in a helicopter strike in Somalia. — AP