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The stuff of sci-fi has arrived

May 14, 2009 _ 13:02 / Caitlin McNally / comments (0)

Predator.jpg
According to a story in the LA Times from Tuesday, the U.S. military is now carrying out joint drone missions with the Pakistani military inside Pakistan. In an apparent compromise with Pakistan, which has repeatedly requested their own Predator fleet, the U.S. is now allowing the Pakistani military to control drone flight paths and pick targets as long as the U.S. is in agreement with the operations. Reportedly, the missions are being controlled from a jointly operated command center in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, but some U.S. officials have expressed frustration that the Pakistanis have not ordered the firing of any missiles. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The initiative carries serious risks for Pakistan, which is struggling to balance a desire for more control over the drones with a deep reluctance to become complicit in U.S.-operated Predator strikes on its own people.

Previously, the U.S. military only operated drone missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Missions in Pakistan were carried out secretly by the CIA because of the sensitivity of operating in sovereign territory. According to the LA Times, Pakistani officials did not deny the existence of the new program. But in a story in the New York Times yesterday, U.S. military officials disputed the report and suggested no such program exists. The U.S. officials acknowledged that efforts have been made to share drone intelligence with the Pakistani military, but the New York Times says the cooperation has recently dried up. The NY Times report cites possible divisions within the Pakistani military and lingering distrust among some U.S. military officials of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as reasons for the apparent stall in intelligence sharing. Today, the LA Times ran a brief story saying an unnamed official from Central Command confirmed the existence of a new joint program between the two militaries, but the effort does not include armed strikes, only intelligence gathering. The LA Times says Pakistan has not requested a Predator mission since mid-April.

Meanwhile, Jane's Defence Weekly has revealed that Pakistan has acquired their own fleet of non-weaponized "Falco" drones used as reconnaissance vehicles and for combat surveillance. Apparently the Pakistani military currently has at least 8 of these drones in use and have ordered another 5 from defense contractor Selex-Galileo. While these drones still involve sophisticated and expensive technology, a reader of this blog points out that drones in general are becoming more and more readily available:

Have you looked into how National Enquirer, etc., use drones to photo celeb weddings? Private eyes use them? etc. One can use very cheap tech quite easily.

In researching this story, we have seen examples of civilians and private companies using drones for various reasons. The reader continues:

What you don't mention is the notion of the remote sensing and recognition capabilities inherent in such a vehicle and the extensions of those abilities in circumscribing civil liberties -- whether terrain scan programming, identification of living beings, heat resonance imaging of different plant types or facial recognition. Taken at a different level Google Earth is a crude facsimile of military/intelligence capability in terms of earth recon/face recon which is now used by casinos, the NFL and police.

What used to be the stuff of sci-fi movies appears to have arrived. The fact remains, even with these technological advances and increased cooperation between the U.S. military, CIA, and Pakistani intelligence on the ground, not every missile hits its target. Issues of Pakistani sovereignty continue to swirl, resentment on the ground grows, and confusion over U.S. policy in Pakistan mounts, as more and more drones fill the skies.

-- Sam

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posted February 2, 2010

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