America’s manned military presence in Afghanistan is winding down at the direction of President Barack Obama, and troops are coming home. Yet they remain in danger from both our nation’s enemies as well as some of the very troops we are trying to train as defenders of their homeland.
One way to guard our flank and protect our troops is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles better known as drones.
Less than 30 feet in length, drones were developed primarily as reconnaissance vehicles. They can soar over unsafe territory for the best type of intelligence-gathering missions: those that would give our troops the best chance of success.
Published information states drones can travel up to 400 miles, scout a site for 14 hours, and return to their base. In recent years, armed drones have been employed by virtue of their stealth and speed to take out leading al Qaida figures. Unfortunately, civilian deaths have occurred as well.
Unarmed drones have positive uses along the U.S. border with Mexico as well.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Office of Customs and Border Protection is planning on having as many as 24 Predator drones that can be deployed within three hours anywhere in the country.
Detractors rose up earlier this month when an unarmed U.S. drone was fired upon by Iranian fighters. American officials stated the craft was over international waters and was not damaged in the engagement.
The objection to the use of drones by the U.S. military apparently stems from a fear that they can be used away from the spotlight more commonly afforded to troops on the ground.
A secret mission to spy on and possibly kill anyone we suspect of terrorist activity - or who would plot attacks on our troops – may stay secret forever. This is a reality that may accompany wartime strategy for decades to come.
An opinion column recently written by Rosa Brooks, a former senior adviser at the U.S. State Department, blasted the secrecy surrounding the use of drone missions.
“This amounts, in practice, to a claim that the executive branch has the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information discussed in a secret process by largely anonymous individuals,” she wrote. “’Trust us’ is a pretty shaky foundation for the rule of law.”
Perhaps Brooks would like her own chair in the Situation Room. Only a handful of individuals knew about the mission that would result in the death of Osama bin Laden. Secrecy was paramount. Does the average American really need to know if and when any drones flew over his compound to set the stage for the mission? I think not.
We would all like to think we can trust our military. As the commander in chief, the president is ultimately in control.
There is one other advantage to having drones handle high-risk missions in
hostile territory. If they are lost in combat, they don’t leave grieving families behind.
DETROIT POSTSCRIPT: Last week I wrote about a desolate neighborhood in Detroit that I passed through during the same week the World Series was being played there. I mentioned an abandoned school and its ruined sports fields, including a ball diamond. The following information was received too late to print from Michelle A. Zdrodowski, chief communications officer for the Detroit Public Schools.
“The school you are referencing is Kettering High School. It was closed because a new school, East English Village College Preparatory School, was opening not far from there. It is a brand new building that has a much improved learning environment for the students. Actually, EEV is one of 17 brand new or substantially renovated schools that were done as a result of a $500.5 million construction bond approved by Detroit voters in 2009. There is still some activity at Kettering in the school’s west wing, which houses instruction for developmentally impaired students. They will also be moving into a new wing at EEV in June that was specifically designed for the learning needs of this student population.”