The US drone aircraft can see Pakistan – their pilots in air-conditioned Nevada trailers see the terrain, even though they are physically thousands of miles away.
Writing about US Air Force efforts to “meet the voracious need for unmanned aircraft surveillance in combat zones,” Grace Jean notes, in the June 2009 issue of National Defense Magazine, that the Air Force’s 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, is expanding base operations. “We have 34 video feeds over the battlefield right now,” says Col. John Montgomery, the wing’s vice commander. When operating a drone, Montgomery says, “You are part of the battlefield.” Commenting on the hundreds of combat sorties he flew over Sadr City, in Baghdad, Montgomery said he even knew where people hung out the laundry and when they took out the trash. “I knew the traffic flow for the hours that I could see, and when that changed, I knew it. Once you know the patterns of life, when things are different or odd, that means something’s up, and that gives the battlefield commander, the joint commander on the ground, a heads up.”
On Tuesday, June 23, US drones launched an attack on a compound in South Waziristan. Locals rushed to the scene to rescue survivors. A US drone then launched more missiles at them, leaving a total of 13 dead. The next day, local people were involved in a funeral procession when the US struck again. Reuters reported that 70 of the mourners were killed.
Drone operators and their commanders at Creech Air Force Base will become increasingly well-informed about the movements of Pakistani people, but meanwhile the US people will have lost sight of war’s human costs in Pakistan.
Now, we’re hearing of imminent army operations in South Waziristan that have already forced about 45,000 people to flee the region, joining about two million men, women and children displaced by fighting in the Swat Valley and other areas. People from Waziristan who flee from their villages, trying to save their lives, trying not to be seen by the omnipresent drones, will likely join the unseen, the displaced people whose lives and hopes escape international notice as they die slowly.
President Obama has taken us into an expansion of Bush’s war on terror, presumably guided by the rationale that his administration is responsible to root out al-Qaeda terrorists. But the methods used by US and Pakistani military forces, expelling millions of people from their homes, failing to provide food and shelter for those who are displaced, and using overwhelmingly superior weapon technology to attack innocent civilians – these methods will continue to create, not defeat, terrorist resisters.
If we want to counter al-Qaeda, if we want to be safe from further terrorist attacks, we’d do well to remember that even when we don’t recognize the humanity of people bearing the brunt of our wars, these very people have eyes to see and ears to hear. They must be asking themselves, who are the terrorists?