2012 saw the continued expansion of drone warfare across the planet. Spearheaded by the CIA, supported by Special Forces, and denied by politicians, targeted killings etched themselves into the earth’s surface like never before, destroying families, communities and entire regions, and planting the seeds for blowback that will be sewn for decades to come.
The Obama administration institutionalized the “drone program” into a set of legal and bureaucratic technologies engineered to create a permanent, borderless war that is managed from the Situation Room every “Terror Tuesday”. The Orwellian-sounding “Disposition Matrix” is now enmeshed in the psyche of the Washington Elite, and will no doubt guide future Commander-in-Chiefs in the decades to come.
While strikes in Pakistan continued to wane, attacks against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula soared in Yemen. In other words, the terrorist “cancer” that John Brennan frequently diagnoses, continued to metastasise as a direct result of Predator and Reaper operations in South Asia. The “shadowy” geography of drone strikes spread across the horizon under the radar of international law.
Looking forward, it is unlikely 2013 will spawn any geopolitical u-turns for the U.S. (aside from the odd drone that may crash
in Iran). The 30-35 “orbits” the CIA flies in Pakistan may loop further towards the Arabian Peninsula, but for the most part it will be same drone, different day.
Perhaps one new “front” will be the continued push into Africa by paramilitary forces, including CIA and JSOC drones. As the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan, Islamist fighters in Africa – particularly West Africa – may see themselves targets on Nevada’s Death TV. This, after all, seems to be the trend, with Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti setting the precedent for counter-terrorist operations in a 21st century “scramble for Africa”.
The impact of CIA strikes in Pakistan (and Yemen) is difficult to measure, and the blowback in 2013 and beyond even trickier to assess. The CIA is in many ways already chasing the ghosts of its own making – stalking the spectres of the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. A number of Human Rights reports in 2012 went a long way to assessing the psychological damage inflicted upon whole communities. But it is perhaps only in the future that the horror of the present will be translated into its sharpest relief.
The only certainty is that no drone strike ends with the impact of a Hellfire. That is but the beginning of a new reality; the baptismal moment a future is spawned from the human wreckage of a precision-guided missile.
Too many ugly futures have been created this way. And while they may take place in the recesses of our geographical imagination, the drone is coming home. Yes, perhaps that is one geopolitical u-turn that will come to pass: the Predator returns to nest in the militarized skies of a city near you.
Illustration courtesy of John Butler, 2013.