President Joe Biden set Sept. 11, 2021, as the pullout date for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which would mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks carried out by members of the Al Qaeda terrorist group, which enjoyed safe haven in Afghanistan. When U.S. forces left the sprawling Bagram air base early on July 1, Biden promised that he wouldn’t abandon the Afghans — by employing attack drones to defend the country.
Meanwhile, peace activists and policy analysts have signed an online petition drafted by BanKillerDrones.org, calling on President Biden “to pledge that there will be no further U.S. air attacks on the Afghan people and that the U.S. will discontinue drone surveillance there as well.” The petition is being circulated in response to press reports and officials’ statements that the U.S. is planning “over the horizon” air missions against Al Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan. The reports also maintain that the U.S. has not foreclosed the possibility of air attacks against the Taliban, should the rebel force be on the verge of taking over Afghanistan’s central government.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Matthew Hoh, a former Marine captain who resigned from the State Department because of his opposition to U.S. war policies in Afghanistan. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a member of the Eisenhower Media Network, which provides a platform to former military leaders who speak out against U.S. wars, interventionism and excessive military spending. Here, he explains why “over the horizon” drone attacks are both a human rights violation and counter-productive.
MATTHEW HOH: A lot of what we’re hearing now is those who want the war to continue, those who don’t want the U.S. to lose its bases over there, who are going to be using whatever type of “the sky is falling” argument to keep the war going.
Where this starts to change is the evolution of warfare — but also the impact it has on people on the ground — is with the ability of drones to stay in the air and orbit constantly, and one of the things that just occurred in the last month is that the Navy successfully operated its drone aerial refueling tanker for the first time.
So what you need to imagine is the idea is that there will be drones flying over Afghanistan that have no requirement for the pilot to go to sleep, use the bathroom, eat food, whatever, as long as the air frame is able to operate continuously it can stay up there and can be resupplied by drones. The drone air tankers will resupply the drone bombers that are over the airspace so you never have airspace that is not covered by drones. This has an incredibly horrific effect on the people, on the population. There has been plenty of documentation of the effect that the drones have because of their constant presence; the way they sound; and if you’re on the ground, they indiscriminately kill.
We know from leaked documents by Daniel Hale, who’s now in prison for leaking these documents – Daniel Hale, who was part of the drone program and because of a crisis of conscience, he leaked a lot of information on the drone program, we know that 90 percent of the people that the drones kill are civilians. So if you’re a young person growing up in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and parts of Africa, and you hear that every day, you grow up with a post-traumatic stress disorder that’s baked in, and what chance do you have of ever having a life without suffering?
And then there’s the practical aspects of this which I want to make sure people understand — is that we’ve been using drones for two decades now, along with invading and occupying places, and we’ve only seen the “enemy,” if you will, get stronger. So, in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, according to the FBI, al Qaeda was about 400 members total, worldwide. And we’ve seen the results of the last two decades: al Qaeda has grown to tens and tens of thousands of people. They have spun branches and affiliates and outfits like the Islamic State all across the world; they’ve taken over entire cities and regions.
You can look at in 2001 the U.S. State Department reported there were four terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan – four. And now if you look at the terror report from the U.S. State Department, there are 20 terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it’s not limited to Afghanistan. Maybe look at Africa: in the year that Africom, the U.S. military command for all of Africa was stood up in 2008, there were less than 300 terror attacks throughout all of Africa. Ten years after Africom was stood up, there were 5,000 terror attacks in Africa. So it’s not only the morality, not only the suffering these things bring, but they are also incredibly counter-productive. And so a good part of the argument is look, if you had evidence that this worked, okay, but there is no evidence that it works and actually it makes the problem much worse.
To do nothing would be much better than what we are doing now with the drones and other type of counter-terror military missions the U.S. is running throughout the Muslim world.