A Reaper drone on a training flight in Nevada. Air Force photo

The Drone Zone

Tom Hart’s autonomous killing machine news for the weeks of June 27-July 10

What goes around comes around. A month on from an audacious attack in Afghanistan, militants from the Haqqani Network based in Pakistan’s tribal areas were hit with a U.S. drone attack. Reports indicate 16 to 17 militants were killed in the strike.

Two senior figures in the Haqqani Network, Abu Saif al Jaziri and Maulana Akhtar Zadran, are alleged to have died in the strike. The Long War Journal has a full breakdown.

The strike is the deadliest single attack since January, after a quiet period through spring and early summer. No civilian casualties were reported.

Back in Qatar it might be jaw-jaw between the U.S. and the Taliban, but the Obama administration has sent a clear message that persistent militant attacks on Kabul will have lethal consequences.

And the boys in the Haqqani Network and Taliban know that when the last soldier from the U.S. goes, the drones can linger on and on. Indeed, if Afghan Pres. Hamid Karzai is the equivalent to Mohammad Najibullah, the last communist prez in Afghanistan, air power will prove decisive once ground troops are gone. Najibullah’s luck started to run out when his aircraft ran low on aviation fuel.

Karzai should have better luck. Unlike Najibullah, whose Soviet backers were broke and mired in an ideological crisis, the U.S. can provide distant support. So long as the political will holds.

The consequences for Karzai, should his American backers fail, could be grisly indeed. Najibullah’s death was cruel indeed.

Compared to this time last year drone strikes have decreased to a marked degree. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism pins this to a change in targeting methods where suspected militants are selected based on suspicious behavior patterns.

If it makes Pakistan’s beleaguered government feel any better, Abu Saif al Jaziri was Algerian.

It probably doesn’t. The pols in Islamabad are still complaining away about U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s sovereign territory.

Or are they? The Pakistan Government’s Abbottabad report into Osama bin Laden’s slaying has thrown up evidence that a tacit agreement over drone strikes existed between America and Pakistan.

Bungled air strikes, which killed Pakistani soldiers, led to a breakdown in the agreement, and to Pakistan kicking the drones from a local air base back in 2011.

Despite all the recent complaints it’s hard not to believe that there isn’t a tacit agreement between the two governments that drone strikes are permissible, even if they buck international law.

Prizes should be awarded for most elaborate drone denunciations from Pakistani politicians. Prizes should be doubled if it emerges said politicians offered confidential support for drone strikes.

Over in Africa drone operations continue to expand. The New York Times takes a look at AFRICOM’s new drone base in Niger. As France rolls down involvement, U.S. drones are stepping in to provide intelligence. France’s rushed Reaper purchase aimed to plug the gap in French drone capability for Mali. The new Niger base might be the first stop for French drones once the sale is completed.

Kenya may invest in drones to counter Al Shabab and gun-running activities in border regions.

As yet there are no indications as to the type Kenya will purchase, but China has become hot vendor in the drone market this week. Kenya already has a good current relationship with Chinese military aviation manufacturers.

After titillation at this year’s Paris Air Show, where China showed off its widening drone selection, it looks like the Chinese drones are set to capture a substantial stake in the commercial market.

As Breaking Defense notes, China’s relaxed export regime gives it an edge over the U.S. and Israel, whose militaries have demonstrated the practical benefits drones offer.

Breaking Defense has laid hands on a report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Read it here. Once again the U.S. pioneers a technology and China cleans up on the mass market.

There’ll be no customer shortage, especially in the Middle East, where certain governments will be only too relieved to pick up hardware that doesn’t have a solid link back to Tel Aviv.

Also in Africa, Obama faced anti-drone protesters as he toured South Africa. Didn’t even put a scratch on his limo.

The X-47B’s first carrier landing. Navy photo

Technological jumps for drones this week as the U.S. Navy’s X-47B swooped into land on the USS George H.W. Bush. Yes, times have sure changed since Bush senior was a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater.

Dubbed “Salty Dog” by the Navy, the X-47B is the first drone with a name that could be confused with a craft beer. It’s enough to make Brooklyn hipsters weep into their pints.

EUROCONTROL, which probably isn’t as sinister as it sounds, has taken the first steps towards larger drone test ranges. Baby steps, but there are serious efforts in the works to sort out how drones will share airspace with manned aircraft over Europe.

For those set for a summer vacation, check out The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth for a detailed look at the drone wars. There’s nothing like it for a light beach read. Honest.

On a final mysterious note, the RAF has cancelled leave for the drone squadron at Waddington. Something’s up, perhaps we’ll find out what in a fortnight’s time.

Tom previously wrote about Pakistan’s drone finger-wagging. Subscribe to War is Boring: medium.com/feed/war-is-boring.

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