Drone wars: Australia's dirty secret

4.12.15
John Stapleton

Australia is directly involved in one of the most inhumane forms of warfare ever devised: unmanned drones.

The drones are capable of hovering for days over targets before unleashing their payloads, and are blamed for driving radicalisation in Muslim territories.

In the dying days of the Abbott government the Australian Defence Force announced five RAAF personnel were embedded with the US Air Force, performing operational duties including piloting and operating MQ-9 Reaper Drones.

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Professor Richard Tanter at the University of Melbourne told The New Daily Australia’s accelerated involvement with drone warfare was a “very serious” development: “This is more than just training. This is participating in warfare.”

The USA’s drone use has escalated dramatically under the Obama administration. Photo: Getty

According to figures just released by the Defence Department, Australia has conducted 1,040 sorties over Iraq since the re-engagement began in September 2014, dropping a total of 631 bombs. Sixty three were dropped last month. In addition, two bombs were dropped on Syria in September of 2015.

Professor Richard Tanter said these were 500-2000 pound bombs whose impact could be felt 700 metres away. There was no way of knowing how many combatants, along with civilians, men, women and children, were being killed by ADF bombs.

Equally there was no way of knowing how many were being killed in drone attacks, with the assistance of the Australian taxpayer.

Former head of the Australian Strategic and Defence Studies Centre Professor Des Ball argues civilian casualties are high: “I would not be surprised if the total number of children exceeds the total number of terrorists.”

The use of drones has escalated dramatically under President Obama, with the many thousands killed and injured, seriously denting his image as a compassionate leader.

Equally, Malcolm Turnbull’s image as a progressive Prime Minister could be destroyed as a result of his government’s direct engagement with drone warfare.

Plans for the purchase of $300 million worth of the controversial MQ-9 Reaper Drones are expected to be outlined in the next Defence White Paper, originally expected before year’s end.

Not since the advent of nuclear war has a military strategy been the subject of such worldwide concern, yet there has been virtually zero discussion in Australia.

The increase in drone use is responsible for an upswing in radicalisation in Yemen. Photo: Getty

French Philosopher Gregoire Chamayou argues in his book A Theory of the Drone that as more and more drones are launched into battle, war is becoming a realm of secretive, targeted assassinations beyond the view and control of citizens of the perpetrating democracies.

In Australia, the lack of parliamentary debate breaches recommendations from a Senate Report into drones released in July, which suggests the Australian government make a policy statement affirming that “armed unmanned platforms will be used in accordance with international law” and “include appropriate transparency”.

Australians are not being informed of the number of drone strikes with which their military is involved. Nor is there any public information on the likely number of civilian or combat casualties.

Dr Jennifer Hunt from the Centre for International Security at Sydney University told The New Daily the sale of drones had become big business, but they had the potential to be abused and there needed to be scrutiny.

The announcement in November that Italy was acquiring armed MQ-9 Reaper drones makes the purchase by Australia of the same technology more likely.

“The State Dept justified its approval as capacity building for a NATO partner, with specific reference to joint operations in the Middle East,” Dr Hunt said. “Given that Australia has also been a close partner in this arena it is unlikely that Australia would be denied the opportunity to procure this technology.”

Professor of International Relations at UNSW Clinton Fernandes told The New Daily: “The big problem is the affect on everybody else in the territory.

“The society can be patrolled basically indefinitely. The sense that you might die at any moment is dreadful.

“An air campaign makes a society more religious because it is more helpless. The sharpening radicalisation in Yemen is due in part to the drone campaign.”

The secretive nature of Australia’s drone program is cause for concern. Photo: Getty

Emily Howie, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Law Centre, called on the Australian government to open up about its role in drone attacks.

She told The New Daily: “The very central concern is that Australia could be participating in extra-judicial killings or other violations of human rights law or the laws of war and the rest of us would know nothing about it.

“This is being done beneath a shroud of secrecy. There is really no way of knowing, no proper independent evaluation that occurs, that enables a proper assessment of whether laws have been violated.

“What is frightening about drone strikes is they essentially enable government’s role to go completely unsupervised.”

Military lawyers argue that drone use is justified under UN Charter 51, which allows for Iraq to defend itself.

But Tanter disagrees: “In the defence of Iraq? That’s ridiculous. We are adding to the misery.”

Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne did not respond to questions on the number of drone strikes in which Australians have been involved or whether or not she intends altering Australia’s policies on drone warfare in time for The New Daily’s deadline.

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