May 23, 2009


For all the talk of a moratorium on drones, the future is trending in the opposite direction. The MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper have flown into the nexus of reality. Their success and failure is real, but they enter the ideal realm when you try to stop them.

The unpopularity of drones in the tribal region of Pakistan has become irrelevant. The time to worry about consequences was a year ago, not after the damage is done, and the disproportionate ratio between militant and civilian casualties is a truism, not insight. Furthermore, no people, whether Pakistanis, Pashtuns, or anyone else, will ever feel more than lukewarm with drones bombing their land.

But outrage is not enough to ground drones in Pakistan, and there is evidence that they could expand their range. The debate over drones in warfare is infinite, though for practical reasons can be reduced to two fundamentals: the effects of robotic warfare in a specific location, in this case Pakistan, and the trajectory of the human species.

Humans have historically demonstrated a technological progression and through this view drones are evolutionary, possibly inevitable. Humans naturally manifest their image, actions, and ideals in other forms. Warfare has awaited robotics since the dawn of humanity because machines are meant for war. The Terminator resonates because it is logical.

And already half real.

It’s no secret that the Pentagon has researched robotic warfare for decades. Drones are primitive: a motor, glider, wires and missiles. Far more than drones lie in the R&D departments of various military manufacturers. Unmanned tanks will roam battlefields in the not so distant future as swarms of flying bots flush out enemies for their human controllers. This is just the start.

Humans are definitively progressing towards robotic warfare, not away. The Pentagon’s fleet of drones is growing, not shrinking. America is making them to use them. Predators and Reapers operate in more countries than Pakistan, but as a center of conflict, Pakistan is useful in understanding their future use.

The majority of drone attacks have occurred in North and South Waziristan. This isn’t the only battlefield but rather the first. Waziristan is the ideal region to claim that no Pakistani state exists to violate, being under the total control of Taleban leader Baitullah Mehsud and hostile to the Pakistan government. Drones are the only option for limited collateral damage and no military casualties.

But a shifting future is creating new opportunities. Increased collaboration between America and Pakistan is more than a positive sign for their relationship; it’s a clue that America wants to enlarge the battlefield. Though Pakistani cooperation is evident, America can act unilaterally in Waziristan. America doesn’t need Pakistan for Waziristan, but for Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai, Mohmand, Bajur, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, and Swat.

A broadening war looms in Pakistan’s tribal region. 40 drone attacks in two agencies are only the beginning as are Pakistan’s operations in Swat. In Britain’s Sunday Times, Pakistani president Asif Zardari claimed, “We're going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It's a larger war to fight.”

With Pakistan’s assistance, drones could follow wherever the Pakistani army leads.

America has neither an evolutionary or self-interested reason to call off the drones. The war is getting hotter and there will always be militant leaders to target. Drones aren’t isolated but part of an overarching strategy. The deaths of Taliban and al Qaeda commanders are softening the ground for America’s new deployments in Afghanistan.

Leaving aside the negative propaganda and psychological effects of drones, an obvious danger in guerilla war, America’s strategy makes sense. Picking off officers leaves the bodies of militants without their heads. American and Pakistani brigades can then smash what’s left of the Taliban and al Qaeda - theoretically an incoherent, rudderless ship. The problem is that Taliban commanders never end.

Healthy bodies of militants, still with their heads, operate in 20 agencies in the FATA and NWFP of Pakistan. Expect drone attacks to continue and don’t be surprised of an invasion.

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