View Full Version : Rise Of CIA's Deadly Drones In War On Taliban

08-07-2009, 08:16 AM
Rise of CIA's deadly drones in war on Taliban
Unmanned planes have become key to taking fight behind militant lines but are blamed for civilian deaths


Peter Walker
guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 August 2009 09.07 BST

The missiles believed to have killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief, were fired from the skies above the country's South Waziristan region. But their target and trajectory were almost certainly chosen thousands of miles away at a US military base.

Mehsud is thought to have been targeted by an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, better known as a drone – an increasingly common and controversial feature of modern warfare.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular, missile-armed drones operated by the US air force and the CIA have hunted for suspected al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the vast tribal regions adjoining the two countries.

They began flying shortly before the 9/11 attacks on secretive missions to hunt down Osama bin Laden and have been used with ever greater frequency since 2001.

The Predator and Reaper drones built by General Atomics have 20-metre wingspans and distinctive V-shaped tails. They can stay in the air for more than 30 hours at a time. The planes are launched from local airfields but controlled via satellite by crews at US air bases, most commonly the Creech facility in Nevada.

Some are used purely for surveillance but many are fitted with Hellfire missiles or bombs. Controllers use video images from the drones, and often intelligence from the ground, to select targets and fire.

The US military and CIA regard the drones as invaluable because of their long range and the way they can attack specific buildings even deep within Taliban-dominated areas. But critics say they are too prone to mistakes, adding to the civilian death toll.

According to reports, the US has recently begun passing some of the data its drones acquire to Pakistani officials but is resisting requests from the country for its own unmanned planes.

The UK has a small number of drones, while Israel used its own to help select bombing targets during its attacks on Gaza last year.