US Air Force pilots are carrying out targeted drone strikes in Pakistan at the behest of the CIA, says a new documentary. The revelation has once again brought into question the legality of the largest targeted killing program in history.
A documentary film, entitled “Drone” due for release on Tuesday, takes a critical look at the five-year drone program that has taken the lives of over 2,400 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Through interviews with drone operators, it is revealed that Air Force pilots at Creech air force base, around 75 kilometers from Las Vegas in the Mojave desert, are carrying out drone attacks for the CIA.
“The CIA might be the customer but the air force has always flown it,” Brandon Bryant, one of the pilots who appears in Drone, told British newspaper The Guardian who obtained a clip of the film.
He identified the pilots of the drones as the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron. Another former drone operator from the documentary film said the squadron is “obsessively secretive” and its members are treated like “crown jewels” at the base.
“They don’t hang out with anyone else. Once they got into the 17th and got upgraded operationally, they pretty much stopped talking to us. They would only hang out among themselves like a high school clique, a gang or something.”
The squadron itself is believed to have 300 pilots flying 35 Predator drones and is set apart from rest of the base.
“They wouldn’t even let us walk by it, they were just so protective of it,” said Michael Haas, a former drone operator.
The participation of the military in a targeted killing program raises significant legality issues. Bryant told the documentary’s makers the “CIA label” is merely an excuse “not to have to give up any information.”
“There is a lie hidden within that truth. And the lie is that it’s always been the air force that has flown those missions,” he said.
President Barack Obama’s drone program hit its five-year anniversary this January amid criticism of civilian casualties in Pakistan. Back in October the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published a report claiming that between 416 and 951 civilians have died in the targeted killings so far.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project told The Guardian the CIA should be focusing its resources on analyzing intelligence rather than drone attacks.
“It will come as a surprise to most Americans if the CIA is directing the military to carry out warlike activities. The agency should be collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence, not presiding over a massive killing apparatus,” she said.
Aside from the military’s involvement in the CIA’s drone program, the documentary focuses on the bigger picture and the impact the use of drones has had on modern warfare. The documentary’s director, Tonje Hessen Schei, said that her objective in making the film was to get the public to discuss and analyze the issue.
“The US is setting a very dangerous precedent with their use of drones, and right now Europe is moving forward acquiring armed drones – so we are at an important turning point and I believe it is crucial that we establish strong international rules for the use of drones,” she told Netwars. She also called for a full, independent investigation into civilian deaths in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
The civilian deaths from US drone attacks in Pakistan have become a significant stumbling block in bilateral relations. Pakistan recently asked Washington to limit the amount of drone attacks in Pakistan as the government enters into negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban.