Pakistan to Washington: Stop the Robot War

In a recent meeting with the Central Command Chief, Gen. David Petreaus, Pakistani Prime Minister, Asif Ali Zardari, urged the General to halt all drone-or in Army parlance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)– attacks in Pakistani territory. This comes on the heels of a sharp Pakistani outcry over a US military raid on Sept. 3rd, that resulted in the alleged deaths of 20 Pakistani villagers in the village of Musa Nika, near the Afghan border. US military officials claimed that they were in hot pursuit of Taliban elements who regularly use the restive frontier region to launch cross border attacks on NATO forces. In further escalation of the deteriorating US-Pakistani relationship, Pakistani Intelligence officials on Sept. 15, 2008, claimed to have repelled an attempted US cross-border raid by gunfire from Pakistani troops.

Drone use has increased throughout the Afghan theater, in part to counter Pakistani anger over US troop incursions, as well as limit NATO troop exposure to resurgent Taliban attacks, which increased by 30%, when compared to the same time last year. The Bush Administration has deployed a network of pilot-less drones along the Afghan-Pakistani border, tasked with tracking and assassinating high value targets. However, the Bush Administration is facing the unsavory potential of having its drones challenged by US-supplied Pakistani F-16s, as Pakistani Army Chief, Pervez Kiyani, vowed to defend the country against US incursions ”at all costs.”

From Afghanistan to Yemen, it is easy to see why the Bush administration has relied so much on drones. Each one costs only $4.2 million; when compared to the price of one F-22; you can build more than 40. No families, no sleep, no pension, and no funerals. To get a glimpse of its successes, a Predator drone tracked and killed an al-Qaeda leader, Abu Ali al-Harithi, when he was traveling in the Yemeni desert. And during his last hours, a Predator tracked Iraqi insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. An apt comparison is that a drone are akin to a satellite, but does not need a fixed orbit,  and is equipped with infrared sensors and deadly hell fire missiles at its side.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced previously that based on the relative gains made in Iraq-in a large part due to drones-, NATO commanders are hoping to “re-create” the Iraq effort and “replicate it in Afghanistan with additional assets.” President Zardari, in response to the stepped up use of drones, stated that the US focus should be on “enhanced coordination and intelligence sharing” rather than unilateral, and what he considers to be counter productive, military solutions to the “International War on Terror” effort.

Under the Army’s nearly $200 billion Future Combat Systems, Artificial Intelligence capable drones over the world’s battlefields will soon become a reality. Although many moral quandaries are raised by the use of robot pilots with a mandate to track, and perhaps eventually, strike at targets without any human oversight. The army foresees a future with autonomous drones crisscrossing the globe, enhanced with facial recognition software to be able to observe wanted terrorists. However, as the public outcry against subjecting American troops to wearisome wars grows stronger, and nations complain of US cross border special forces’ raids, we can expect the use of these robot warriors to only increase.


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