Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

US Drone Strikes Kill More Bystanders than Terrorists

November 27, 2014

A human-rights group examined US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, calculated the number of unintended civilian deaths for these strikes, and published a report. Many of the drone strikes did not even succeed at killing the person who was the intended target. The results are sobering and should fuel efforts to stop the drone strikes.

The following are excerpts from a recent article in The Guardian summarizing the report.

“41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground”

By Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian, 24 Nov 2014

The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur. Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.

…[F]ewer [Americans] are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.

Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.

A new analysis of the data … about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.

24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.

In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.

[Read Full Story, including charts]

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US Drone Strikes Have Prominent Critics

October 22, 2013

The US program of using unmanned drone aircraft to launch missile attacks against ground targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen is drawing some prominent critics.

The Obama administration, which increased the use of drone-launched attacks significantly compared to the Bush adminstration, has consistently defended the use of drones as an imperfect but necessary tool in combatting terrorist organisations. For example:

Predator drone

Predator drone

People in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen have protested since the drone-attacks began. Peace activists have similarly argued against the use of offensive weaponized drones on the grounds that they cause many civilian casualties and are counterproductive. How much weight do their protests carry with the administration? We all know the answer: very little.

Now, at last, other, more well-known and well-respected people and organizations are speaking out against the use of combat drones:

  • Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter savages US foreign policy over drone strikes. According to the former President, drone strikes and targeted assassinations abroad have seen the US violating human rights in a way that “abets our enemies and alienates our friends”.
  • Arianna Huffington: ‘Signature Strikes’ and the President’s Empty Rhetoric on Drones. Huffington writes: “The missiles from the drones might be exploding in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Yemen, but the fallout will impact us here at home for years to come.”
  • Malala Yousafzai: Malala to Obama: “Drones Fueling Terrorism”. The 16-year-old Pakistani student whom the Taliban shot for promoting educating girls, who won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize and the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and who was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, recently met with President Obama. Afterwards, she told reporters: “I … expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
  • Amnesty International: Amnesty criticizes US drone program in Pakistan. A report issued by the organization documents several civilian casualties of drone attacks in Pakistan and calls on the US to investigate those attacks and possibly to change its policies concerning the strikes. Amnesty expressed concern that the attacks discussed in the report and others may have resulted in extrajudicial executions or war crimes. Estimating civilian casualties is highly error prone, but Amnesty’s report estimates the number of people killed by drone-attacks in Pakistan to be 2,065-3,613, of which 153-926 were thought to be civilians.
  • Human Rights Watch: Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda. A report from Human Rights Watch says that US drone airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen have killed civilians in violation of international law. The report examines six US targeted killings in Yemen. Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths. The report concludes that the strikes are creating a public backlash that undermines US efforts against Al-Qaeda. [Read HRW report] [View HRW video summarizing report]
Predator drone firing missile

Predator drone firing missile

Perhaps momentum is building for an international campaign to ban the use of combat drones, similar to the campaigns to ban land-mines and chemical weapons, which both won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Bad Week for Civilians, Afghan and US

April 8, 2013

The last seven days have been bad for US and Afghan civilians in Afghanistan. On Saturday, a young US diplomat was killed when a bomb exploded near the convoy she was riding in. On Sunday, ten Afghan children were killed and other civilians were wounded in a US airstrike that also killed a Taliban leader.

Excerpts of the stories and links to the full stories follow.

6 Americans, doctor killed in Afghan attacks

Associated Press, Saturday, April 6, 2013

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Militants killed six Americans, including a young female diplomat and an Afghan doctor Saturday in a pair of attacks in Afghanistan on Saturday. It was the deadliest day for the United States in the war in eight months.

The violence … illustrates the instability plaguing the nation as foreign forces work to pull nearly all their combat troops out of the country by the end of 2014.

The attacks came just days after insurgents stormed a courthouse, killing more than 46 people in one of the deadliest attacks of the war, now in its 12th year.

The three US service members, two US civilians and the doctor were killed when the group was struck by an explosion while traveling to donate books to students in a school in the south, officials and the State Department said.

Officials said the explosion occurred just as a coalition convoy drove past a caravan of vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul province to the same event.

Another American civilian was killed in a separate insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, the US military said in a statement.

It was the deadliest day for Americans since Aug. 16, when seven American service members were killed in two attacks in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency. Six were killed when their helicopter was shot down by insurgents and one soldier died in a roadside bomb explosion.

A US official who spoke on condition of anonymity said several other Americans and Afghans, possibly as many as nine, were wounded. The State Department said four of their staff were wounded, one critically.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack in Zabul and said the bomber was seeking to target either a coalition convoy or the governor. “We were waiting for one of them,” Ahmadi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It was our good luck that both appeared at the same time.”

The deaths bring the number of foreign military troops killed this year to 30, including 22 Americans. A total of six foreign civilians have died in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AP count.

[Read entire story]

US airstrike kills Taliban leader, Afghan children

By Azam Ahmed, New York Times, April 8, 2013

KABUL — A US military airstrike in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan killed as many as 18 people, including at least one senior Taliban commander, but also women and children, raising the thorny issue of civilian casualties for the third time in roughly a week.

The attack occurred during a joint mission of Afghan and US special operations forces targeting a high-profile Taliban commander in Kunar Province, Afghan officials said Sunday. … US forces called in an airstrike to level the home of the commander, Ali Khan, officials said.

In addition to killing Khan and at least four other Taliban fighters, as many as 10 children were killed in the strike, and at least five women were wounded, said Abdul Zahir Safi, the governor of Shigal district, where the attack occurred. Afghan officials believed they were the relatives and children of the Taliban commander.

The deaths of Afghan civilians in NATO strikes have long been a sticking point between President Hamid Karzai and his Western allies. Harsh criticism by Karzai led to stronger rules on airstrike use by US forces last year, effectively halting air attacks on population centers and homes.

Civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces have dropped dramatically since then, though such strikes bring intense anger among the Afghan population when they happen.

Karzai has basically prohibited his own armed forces from requesting supporting NATO airstrikes after an incident in the same district of Kunar, Shigal, in February 2012 killed 10 civilians.

On Sunday, Karzai’s office issued a statement criticizing the deaths in the Kunar airstrikes, and called for an investigation into civilians deaths there.

The civilian death toll on Saturday added to two incidents in Ghazni Province in the past eight days, when four police officers were killed during a NATO airstrike and two children died in a helicopter attack.

A spokesman for the coalition forces said all of the allegations of civilian casualties remain under investigation. …

US military commanders have insisted that airstrikes can be crucial to protecting soldiers’ lives…

[Read entire story]

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The Inevitable Blowback from Combat Drones

February 26, 2013

The Associated Press reported last week that civilian casualties in Afghanistan from US drone strikes increased in 2012 over 2011.

I wonder if US Military Officials, and the President who is their Commander in Chief, ever consider the possible blowback from US drone strikes in Afganistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

First there is the ground-level blowback that occurs when young people in targetted areas are very quickly turned into anti-US combattants by having their relatives and friends blown to pieces by remote control.

But there also will be airborne blowback: drones deployed and launched by hostile countries or organizations. Does it not occur to US military leaders that drone technology is not the exclusive domain of the US — that it can and will be developed and deployed by other countries? For example, recently Iran brought down a US “stealth” drone — not stealthy enough apparently — and now is busy reverse-engineering it.

In the not-too-distant future, I foresee the following:

  • Drones deployed by Germany, France, England, Russia, Israel, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, South and North Korea, as well as some non-state organizations.
  • US military bases, convoys, and ships targetted by drone attacks.
  • Security teams for US officials traveling abroad having to keep an eye on the skies overhead in addition to their current duties.
  • US tourists abroad being hit by drone attacks.
  • Attacks inside the US by drones from other countries, including even supposed allies like Israel, when they locate someone in the US who they consider an enemy.

My wife and I travel a lot outside the US, including many developing countries, so I really don’t look forward to the future I’ve outlined above. But I fully expect it to come about. What is to prevent it? US military might? Not likely. It hasn’t stopped car bombings, rocket attacks, or kidnapping; why would drone attacks be different?

Recent Noteworthy Articles about Drones:

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2000 US Military Deaths in Afghanistan: Follow Up

November 1, 2012

A month ago I noted that an unfortunate milestone had been reached: 2000 US military deaths in Afghanistan. I excerpted a news story about the milestone. Informative, but abstract.

Today’s we make the Afghanistan war more concrete by reporting two items: an upcoming commemoration of US war dead in San Francisco, and a story about specific US soldiers killed in Afghanistan and how their families and military comrades have responded to their deaths (including links to organizations you can support).

2000 Lights: An Installation to commemorate American service men and women who have died in the Afghanistan War

Date: Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11, 2012
Time: 6-9 pm
Place: Bethany United Methodist Church, 1270 Sanchez Street at Clipper, San Francisco, CA.

Excerpts from “Mother mourns ‘grim milestone’ in longest US war”

by Allen G. Breed, Associated Press, October 06, 2012

Lisa Freeman was cradling her 6-day-old grandson in her left arm and watching the news on her iPad while her daughter and son-in-law caught some much-needed sleep. The retired teacher was taking notes with her free hand when she heard the news: The nation had suffered its 2,000th casualty in the Afghan war.

On Sept. 29, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Metcalfe was on patrol in the country’s rugged Wardak Province when his unit came under small-arms fire.

As the announcer droned on, all Freeman could do was shake her head and stare at little Matthew —- named for an uncle he would never know. Marine Capt. Matthew C. Freeman fell to a sniper’s bullet on Aug. 7, 2009, northeast of Kabul, not far from where Metcalfe perished.

Looking at the number 2,000 on the small, glass screen, Lisa Freeman felt as if she’d lost her son all over again.

“I just sat here, reliving the pain and wondering: Where is America’s outrage? Where is America’s concern that we’re still at war?”

“I walk around this country and look in faces that don’t even know we’re at war anymore. People that are going about their everyday lives, not realizing that they’ve been kept safe by this amazing group of young men and women who have been willing to sacrifice so much.”

Matthew Freeman excelled at everything he set his mind to. Eagle Scout, honor roll, student council president. So no one was surprised when he won an appointment to the US Naval Academy, following in his father’s footsteps. After graduation in 2002, the son and grandson of naval aviators took his commission in the Marine Corps and went for jets.

Freeman was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in the summer of 2009 when a resurgent Taliban began retaking areas once thought pacified. When officers asked for volunteers to shore up the thin lines, the young pilot with the striking blue eyes stepped forward.

In July 2009, Freeman made a secret trip home to marry his high school sweetheart, Theresa Hess. He wanted to make sure she would be notified —- and taken care of -— should anything happen to him.

They were married on July 10, 2009. Thirteen days later, he shipped out.

Barely two weeks into his deployment, Freeman and a fire support team set out for reconnaissance in the Shpee Valley when they came under almost immediate enemy attack and became pinned down. According to an official account, Freeman fought his way into a nearby building and up to the roof to get a better angle on the enemy position.

Once atop, he spotted an insurgent with a rocket-propelled grenade and was firing at the man when he was shot in the back of the head.

Retired Marine Cpl. Michael Reagan knows something about long, unpopular wars.

When asked about his tour in Vietnam, he says simply, “I survived Con Thien.” Translated as “Hill of Angels,” the remote Marine fire base just south of the North Vietnamese border was the site of fierce fighting for a year beginning February 1967.

While there, Reagan sketched many of his buddies —- some of whom didn’t make it home alive.

In 2004, a national news show aired a piece on Reagan’s work. The next day, an Iraq War widow from Boise, Idaho, called him and asked how much he would charge to do a portrait of her late husband.

He told her there would be no charge; just send him a photo. When the woman called back to thank him for the sketch, he was overcome with emotion.

Reagan turned to his wife and said, “We need to do them all.”

Thus was born the Fallen Heroes Project. At the beginning, a general asked whether Reagan understood what he had gotten himself in for. Reagan replied that he figured the wars would last five years, and that he would have to no more than 1,500 portraits.

He has done 3,100 so far. And every day, he gets at least one e-mail, requesting another.

Joshua Welle was president of the Annapolis Class of 2002. But there were 980 midshipmen, and though he had heard of Freeman, he did not know him —- until after his death.

Welle, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, is back in the States for three weeks’ leave. He is using part of that time to travel the country and tell audiences about Freeman and other classmates who have sacrificed in the ongoing War on Terror.

The surface warfare officer is lead editor of a new book, “In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War.” Of the Class of 2002, four have died in combat, one lost both legs, and another won the Silver Star.

When [Daniel] Riley joined the Marines in 2007 at age 21, he was “fully aware it wasn’t a question of ‘if’; it would be a question of when I would find myself in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

On Dec. 16, 2010, Cpl. Riley and his infantry squad were on a dismounted patrol to clear a compound in the Marjah district of then-hot Helmand Province. The men had found and disarmed a couple of IEDs.

They were leaving the area when Riley took a step and felt the earth give ever so slightly beneath his right boot.

Buried beneath a “pressure plate” was a fuel can filled with ammonium nitrate — the same explosive mix used in the Oklahoma City bombing. Riley blacked out “for a split second, but woke up flying in the air and landing.”

The blast took off both of Riley’s legs, just above the knee, and three fingers on his left hand. He had about a week left on his deployment.

“I was, excuse the pun, I was one foot out the door,” he says with a laugh. “It was probably on one of the last patrols I would have done in my deployment.”

He’s 27 now, living in San Diego, and though he supports the war, he understands the frustration of many who want it to end.

The 2,000th casualty occurred at a lonely Afghan Army checkpoint along the main road between southern Kandahar and the national capital of Kabul —- an area of scrubby, rolling foothills dotted with Pashtun villages and trees bearing fist-sized, yellow apples.

According to Afghan officials, Metcalfe and his squad were on foot patrol when the checkpoint came under insurgent attack. Believing they were being fired on by their Afghan allies, Metcalfe and the others engaged the checkpoint, the officials said.

Metcalfe, a civilian contractor and at least two Afghan soldiers died in the firefight. The Pentagon is investigating.

Metcalfe … was an 11-year veteran … on his third deployment. He leaves a wife and four children, aged 11 months to 12 years.

Two days before his death, Freeman called his mother back in Georgia. He told her all about the friendly locals, and how cute the children were.

“The kids would rather have pens and paper more than anything,” he said. “Even food or water.” He asked if she would start collecting school supplies that he and the other troops could distribute in the villages. “Send as much as you can,” he told her. “I want to give them this.”

She was discussing the first fundraiser with her eighth-grade class at Richmond Hill Middle School when the Marines arrived to inform her of her son’s death.

His last request has since grown into the Matthew Freeman Project: “Pens & Paper for Peace.” In the past two years, the nonprofit charity has shipped more than six tons of school supplies to military personnel for distribution in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[Read Entire Story]

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Combat Drones: Counterproductive and Immoral

October 7, 2012

PeacePundit has previously described the problems of the US military’s strategy of using armed drone aircraft, piloted remotely by operators half a world away and viewing the ground through a video feed, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Previous posts about drones cited press reports and other sources to substantiate the many civilian casualties caused by drone attacks.

More recent reports and articles support the argument that using combat drones to launch air-strikes is error-prone and counterproductive, not to mention immoral. The articles come from diverse sources: an active-duty US Army Major writing in the conservative Armed Forces Journal, the politically centrist Los Angeles Times and Slate, and the left-leaning Rolling Stone and AlterNet.

The Problems of Combat Drones

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2000 US Military Deaths in Afghanistan!

October 2, 2012

On September 30 2012, another sad milestone was reached: 2000 US military deaths in Afghanistan.

US military commanders say that the situation in Afghanistan is improving and our efforts are succeeding. However, the falseness of that claim is exposed by this simple fact: It took nine and a half years — from the US/NATO invasion of Afghanistan in Nov 2001 to May 2010 — for the number of US military deaths to reach 1000, but it took only a little over a year more — from June 2010 to September 30 2012 — to bring the US military death count to 2000.

Even more disturbing is that the event that pushed the death-count to 2000 was yet another in a series of “insider killings”: a firefight between US soldiers and their supposed Afghan allies. Here are excerpts from an Associated Press news story:

US military deaths in Afghanistan hit 2,000

September 30, 2012 12:21 PM EDT KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The killing of an American serviceman in an exchange of fire with allied Afghan soldiers pushed US military deaths in the war to 2,000, a cold reminder of the perils that remain after an 11-year conflict that now garners little public interest at home.

The toll has climbed steadily in recent months with a spate of attacks by Afghan army and police —- supposed allies —- against American and NATO troops. That has raised troubling questions about whether countries in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan will achieve their aim of helping the government in Kabul and its forces stand on their own after most foreign troops depart in little more than two years.

Attacks by Afghan soldiers or police — or insurgents disguised in their uniforms — have killed 52 American and other NATO troops so far this year.

The insider attacks are considered one of the most serious threats to the US exit strategy from the country. …

As part of that drawdown, the first 33,000 US troops withdrew by the end of September, leaving 68,000 still in Afghanistan. A decision on how many US troops will remain next year will be taken after the American presidential elections. NATO currently has 108,000 troops in Afghanistan —- including U.S. forces —- down from nearly 150,000 at its peak last year.

The program to train and equip 350,000 Afghan policemen and soldiers has cost the American taxpayer more than $22 billion in the past three years.

The most recent attack came just days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said most US and coalition combat units in Afghanistan returned to their practice of partnering with Afghan forces, nearly two weeks after the top U.S. commander put restrictions on such cooperation.

In Washington, Pentagon press secretary George Little said 2,000 deaths is one of the “arbitrary milestones defined by others” that the US administration does not mark.

In addition to the 2,000 Americans killed since the Afghan war began on Oct. 7, 2001, at least 1,190 more coalition troops from other countries have also died, according to, an independent organization that tracks the deaths.

Tracking deaths of Afghan civilians is much more difficult. According to the United Nations, 13,431 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict between 2007, when the U.N. began keeping statistics, and the end of August. Going back to the US-led invasion in 2001, most estimates put the number of Afghan civilian deaths in the war at more than 20,000.

Although Obama has pledged that most U.S. combat troops will leave by the end of 2014, American, NATO and allied troops are still dying in Afghanistan at a rate of one a day.

Even with 33,000 American troops back home, the US-led coalition will still have 108,000 troops — including 68,000 from the US — fighting in Afghanistan at the end of this year. Many of those will be training the Afghan National Security Forces that are to replace them.

[Read Entire Story]

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Support for the US-Led Afghanistan War at New Low

August 30, 2012

Five recent polls indicate that the US citizenry’s support for the now eleven-year-old Afghanistan War is at an all-time low.

  • An Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 27% of Americans support the Afghanistan war, 66% say they oppose it, and 40% “strongly oppose” it. Only eight percent “strongly support” the war. Support has dropped since summer 2011, when AP-GfK conducted a similar poll and found that 37% supported the war, which in turn was down from spring 2010, when support was at 46%.
  • A Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that only about 30% of Americans support the war; 66% oppose it (4% are undecided). Even among Republicans, those who support the war are in the minority. [See summary of poll questions and chart of results]
  • Graph of Washington Post Poll results over time showing falling support for Afghanstan War

  • A New York Times-CBS News poll found that 69% of Americans oppose the Afghanistan war. That percentage is up from November 2011, when it was 53%.
  • A USA Today-Gallup poll found that half of the respondents said the United States should speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • A Pew Research Center poll found that 57% of respondents believe that the United States should bring home American troops as soon as possible.

With such a clear indication that popular sentiment is against the war, perhaps the way to win the upcoming Presidential election is to promise to be a Peace President. President Obama, are you listening?

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Offensive Combat Drones are Bad News

August 17, 2012

A recent AP news story about the US Airforce’s test-flight of a hypersonic jet (expected max speed: 3600 mph, 5800 kph) appealed to the technology-geek in me. I initially thought: “cool!”.

But then I got to the last line of the story: “… the aircraft is intended to allow the Pentagon to deliver strikes around the globe within minutes”.
[Read Story]

OK, that’s not cool.

What would be cool is a hypersonic drone aircraft designed to deliver medicine, food, or emergency supplies anywhere in the world within minutes. But, sadly, that’s not the purpose for which the hypersonic drone is being developed.

So I was not totally upset to read a followup AP press report that the test had failed.
[Read Follow-up Story]

Sure it is bad that several million of our tax-payer dollars (perhaps billions — I don’t know) crashed uselessly into the ocean, but it is not bad that the US military’s plans to rain death remotely upon people worldwide were set back.

Perhaps Jeremy Scahill was right when he said the “US has become a nation of assassins”.

More About Military Drones

US Military Drone

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Vietnam War Vet: Support Our Troops? Bring ‘Em Home!

June 24, 2012

Nice essay published in the Washington Post by George Masters, a U.S. veteran of the Vietnam War, on supporting our troops in Afghanistan by bringing them home. Excerpt:

Returning from a war is more than getting off an airplane and putting on civvies. Combat changes a person. It changed me. …

You want to support the troops? Get them the hell out of the line of fire. Or, if you think this war is so necessary, get over there yourself. If you’re too old, pull your kids or grandkids out of college and send them.

[Read entire essay]

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