Chad Blair: Do we really want deadly drones in Hawaii?



The Marine Corps and Air Force are scheduled to complete exercises with MQ-9 Reaper drones in Hawaii on Friday.

The Agile Combat Employment Reaper exercises began on September 8th and, according to my colleague Kevin Knodell, marks the first time this particular drone has flown from the mainland to the islands.

“As the US military shifts its attention from the Middle East to the Pacific, it is looking for drones to extend its range over the vast blue expanse,” wrote Knodell last week, explaining that up to six of the planes will be permanently stationed at the naval base in Kaneohe.

The news did not go unnoticed by some of the Hawaiian people who have long protested the militarization of the islands.

They included Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves, and was retiring as a colonel.

Wright – who resigned from the US government in 2003 in opposition to the US war in Iraq – and about half a dozen other residents demonstrated outside Marine Corps Base Hawaii on September 24, holding up signs reading “No Reapers!” . and “Drones Kill Children”.

An Air Force crew prepares an MQ-9 Reaper for use at Marine Air Station Kaneohe during the Agile Combat Employment Reaper exercises Sept. 27. Kevin Knodell / Civil Beat / 2021

At the same time, activist Jim Albertini – who runs the Malu Aina Center for Non-violent Education & Action – and several other like-minded Big Island residents were holding their own signs (such as “Ban Killer Drones”) in front of the downtown post office from Hilo. Leaflets were distributed at the vigil and at least one demonstrator disguised as a grim reaper held up a sign that read “I love killer drones”.

In emails to Civil Beat that published the protests, Wright and Albertini called the Reaper drones “assassins”.

In fact, the military says the 20-meter wingspan drones in question are unarmed and are intended to be used for surveillance and reconnaissance.

But the name Reaper, as a former Air Force chief of staff said when the name was announced in 2006, is apt “as it captures the deadly nature of this new weapon system.”

The chief of staff in the same article on the Air Force website said of the unmanned aerial vehicles: “We went from using (drones) mainly in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions to a real fighter-killer role prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom developed with the reaper. “

A protest against drones in Hilo, Sept. 24.
A protest against drones in Hilo, Sept. 24.

The Hawaiian drones may not be armed – “for now,” as Knodell wrote – but it seems very likely that they will be very soon. And that has people like me struggling with the moral consequences.

As Wright and Albertini recall, it was mistakenly believed that the August 29 US drone attack that killed up to 10 civilians – including seven children – targeted an IS-explosive car.

“It is time for people of conscience to stand up and join the peaceful protests against the increasing militarization of Hawaii and the threat of nuclear war,” said Albertini.

‘Over the horizon’

I am not naive. War has always been with us. And with the Biden government moving away from Europe and the Middle East towards China and Russia, the role of the US Indo-Pacific Command will only grow in importance.

But I’m afraid America’s 20 years in Afghanistan will be remembered more for its ugly dissolution than for the bloody, costly mistake that it was.

President Biden said that the end of our engagement in Afghanistan marks the first time in two decades that the US has stopped waging war, but that is simply not true. As the New York Times reported last month, “In a letter to Congress in June, Mr. Biden listed all of the countries where American forces were operating against various militant groups – from Iraq and Syria to Yemen to the Philippines and Niger.”

It seems clear that much of our future fighting will be via drone strikes – an offensive stance “over the horizon” rather than “boots on the ground”.

Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii said in a conversation with Tucker Carlson of Fox News about the drone attack in Kabul that the fight against “Islamic jihadists” leaves the US with two military options: “Number one: all over the world – like we do in Afghanistan have done with great effort. Second, we can take targeted action with air strikes and use our special forces to pursue these terrorist cells. “

Gabbard concluded that “the costs to civilians will be far lower if we take this very focused approach”.

A screenshot of Tulsi Gabbard that will appear on Fox News in September.
A screenshot of Tulsi Gabbard that will appear on Fox News in September.

I respect Gabbard’s view as a military veteran, but I am less certain that the civilian cost is negligible. In recent years, reports have circulated that remote use of drones can be traumatic for both survivors and the military personnel who fired the weapon from a distance. I recently read a report by a military drone operator who described how harrowing it was to see a child try to put the parts of a parent back together after a deadly drone attack.

In July, a former US Air Force intelligence analyst was sentenced to 45 months in prison after pleading guilty to leaked government documents exposing the insides and “heavy civilian costs” of the US military’s drone program, The Intercept reported . Daniel Hale told the judge that, in his opinion, “it is necessary to dispel the lie that the drone war protects us, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

Meanwhile, China, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and even ISIS and Mexican drug cartels are either using drones regularly or with plans to build or procure more. It’s the “future of warfare,” says The Washington Post.

In a world where flying drones are becoming ubiquitous – from the bustling Ala Moana Beach Park to Amazon’s scheduled 30-minute Prime Air delivery system – it’s only a matter of time before they’re used to kill in our own country.


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