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Drone warfare target of Witt talk

Panelists oppose Springfield base’s mission, commercialization efforts.

A recent think-tank report authored by an Air Force colonel to address the military’s projected shortage of drone pilots suggests that recruiting efforts should emphasize that “this weapon system is achieving more strategic level effects in the fight against terrorism than any manned aircraft.”

That, panelists at Wittenberg University argued Wednesday, is a myth.

“Drones have not been able to reduce the capacity of these terrorist groups at all,” said Rafia Zakaria, the first Pakistani-American woman to serve as a director for Amnesty International USA.

As part of a panel discussion at Wittenberg about the effectiveness of drone warfare — or, in this case, the alleged lack thereof — Zakaria painted a bleak picture of how her native Pakistan has been torn asunder by America’s undeclared war against militants there using drones, or what the Pentagon calls remotely piloted aircraft.

The CIA is believed to be the sole operator of U.S. drones in Pakistan, with the Pentagon now tasked with carrying out missions elsewhere, in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen and North Africa.

The Springfield-based 178th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard is right in the thick of it, flying Predator drones abroad from inside a building at the local Air Guard base.

Despite the federal government shutdown that has furloughed hundreds of Springfield Guardsmen this week, the Predator mission continues 24 hours a day.

Zakaria, who’s also a lawyer and a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, focused her argument Wednesday mostly on her homeland and what she deemed “the myth of precision.”

It’s been well-argued that drone strikes also claim civilian lives.

“The U.S. says there are no civilian casualties because they define combatants as everyone within a target zone,” she said.

Panelist Steve Fryburg, a member of the group Veterans for Peace and a former police officer, brought the issue back home.

“We’ve created a combat zone right here in Springfield,” he said, referencing the Predator mission at the Springfield base. “If we’re pulling the trigger on Pakistan and Afghanistan right here from Springfield, what’s the difference if they pull the trigger on us? They’ve made us enemy combatants.

“You can’t kill life like that without ramifications.”

Zakaria presented statistics showing that since the start of President Obama’s drone war in 2009, terrorist attacks have spread from an isolated region in northwest Pakistan to the entire country.

For the 53 U.S. drone strikes in 2009, there were 500 terrorist attacks in Pakistan, she said. Two years later, in 2011, there were 673 terrorist attacks, followed by 632 attacks in 2012.

“It has severely traumatized the country,” Zakaria said.

Furthermore, drone strikes have sent people scurrying out of remote locations of the country, she said, heightening ethnic conflict.

“For what is a remote war in the U.S. is a very real and palpable war for millions of people in Pakistan,” she said.

Fryburg — who also took aim at efforts by the Dayton-Springfield region to become a hub of commercial drone technology, saying it won’t create near the number of jobs touted by politicians — batted down claims by the military that drones make U.S. troops safer.

“How is this supposed to keep our soldiers safer if all we’re doing is creating more enemies for our troops to fight against?” he asked. “It’s making us one of the most hated countries in the world.”

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