Obama's Drone War a
'Recruitment Tool' For Isis, Say US Air Force Whistleblowers
Four former service members – including three sensor operators –
issue plea to rethink current airstrike strategy that has ‘fueled
feelings of hatred’ toward US
By Ed Pilkingtonand Ewen MacAskill
November 19, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - Four former US air
force service members, with more than 20 years of experience between
them operating military drones, have written an open letter to
Barack Obama warning that the program of targeted killings by
unmanned aircraft has become a major driving force for Isis and
other terrorist groups.
The group of servicemen have issued an
impassioned plea to the
Obama administration, calling for a rethink of a military tactic
that they say has “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited
terrorism and groups like Isis, while also serving as a fundamental
recruitment tool similar to Guantánamo Bay”.
In particular, they argue, the killing of innocent
civilians in drone airstrikes has acted as one of the most
“devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around
The letter, addressed to Obama, defense secretary Ashton Carter
and CIA chief John Brennan, links the signatories’ anxieties
directly to last Friday’s
terror attacks in Paris. They imply that the abuse of the drone
program is causally connected to the outrages.
“We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies
like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone
program has overseas and at home,” they wrote.
The joint statement – from the group who have
experience of operating drones over Afghanistan, Iraq and other
conflict zones – represents a public outcry from what is understood
to be the largest collection of drone whistleblowers in the history
of the program. Three of the letter writers were sensor operators
who controlled the powerful visual equipment on US Predator drones
that guide Hellfire missiles to their targets.
They are Brandon Bryant, 30, who served in the
15th Reconnaissance Squadron and 3rd Special Operations Squadron
from 2005 to 2011; Michael Haas, 29, who served in the same
squadrons during the same period; and Stephen Lewis, 29, who was
with the 3rd Special Operations Squadron between 2005 and 2010.
The fourth whistleblower, Cian Westmoreland, 28,
was a technician responsible for the communications infrastructure
of the drone program. He served with the 606 Air Control Squadron in
Germany and the 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron in Kandahar,
The four are represented legally by Jesselyn
Radack, director of national security and human rights at the
nonprofit ExposeFacts. “This is the first time we’ve had so many
people speaking out together about the drone program,” she said,
pointing out that the men were fully aware that they faced possible
prosecution for speaking out.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, Obama has
stuck firm to his determination to avoid sending large numbers
of US troops to Syria, beyond the limited engagement of
special forces. The natural, though unspoken, consequence of
such a strategy is a deepening reliance on aerial attacks in which
unmanned drones increasingly play a leading part.
The number of lethal airstrikes has
ballooned under Obama’s watch. The Pentagon has plans
further to increase the number of daily drone flights by 50% by
From its inception, the drone program has been
troubled by reports of mistaken targeting. Classified government
documents leaked to
the Intercept revealed that up to 90% of the people killed in
drone strikes may be unintended, with the disparity glossed over by
the recording of unknown victims as “enemies killed in action”.
In one of the most widely publicised errors, the
US government was accused by one of its own officials of making an
“outrageous mistake” in October 2011 when it
killed the US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son
of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader who was also a US citizen and
was killed by a CIA drone two weeks previously.
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