US accused of double standards on civilians killed by drones

(By Deutsche Welle) President Barack Obama has publicly acknowledged that a US drone strike killed two Western aid workers. But hundreds of civilian deaths in similar strikes across the Muslim world remain shrouded in official secrecy.

The United States government has never revealed how many civilians have been killed by its drones, the weapon of choice in its campaign against Islamist militants. But on Thursday, President Barack Obama did publicly admit that two Western aid workers had become collateral damage.

Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were killed with their al Qaeda captors in a US drone strike in January. Though the strike occurred months ago, the White House claims that it confirmed the deaths of the two Western hostages only in the past few days, and has said it will compensate their families.

The strike hit a compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, according to the US government. But it’s unclear who, if anybody, was specifically targeted. Ahmed Farouq, an alleged American member of al Qaeda, was killed in the same strike. But the White House says it had no knowledge of his presence in the compound beforehand. A separate operation in the same region killed another alleged American member of al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn. He too was not specifically targeted, according to the administration.

Weinstein, a 73-year-old American doctor, was taken hostage in 2011 in the city of Lahore. Lo Porto, a 39-year-old Italian, went missing in 2012 after arriving in Pakistan to work for the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe. The White House said it also had no knowledge of their presence in the compound prior to the strike.

“As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today,” President Obama said in a press conference. “I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there’s nothing I can ever say or do to ease their heartache.”

“As president and commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” the president said. “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

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US drone war threatens to fan instability

(By Deutsche Welle) The Obama administration has stepped up its drone campaign in Pakistan and Yemen in a bid to cripple al Qaeda once and for all. Analysts are concerned that the loss of civilian life could fan political instability.

The United States has stepped up its controversial drone campaign in Yemen’s south and along the Afghan-Pakistan border over the past month, launching 14 confirmed strikes and killing at least 70 suspected militants, according to a tally by DW based on media reports.

The airstrikes make good on US President Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to wage an expanded war against al Qaeda while winding down America’s politically and economically costly land campaigns in the Middle East and South Asia. Although US troops withdrew from Iraq in December 2011 and are officially set to do so in Afghanistan by 2014, Washington’s remote-controlled drone war has jumped precipitously since Obama entered office in January 2009.

Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, described the administration’s expanded drone campaign at length for the first time in an April 30th speech before the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, calling such strikes “ethical,” “legal” and “just.” Brennan argued that the right to self defense under international law and the congressional authorization of force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban served as the legal foundations of the campaign.

“It’s hard to imagine a tool that can better minimize the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft,” Brennan said during his speech. “There is absolutely nothing casual about the extraordinary care we take in making the decision to pursue an al Qaeda terrorist, and the lengths to which we go to ensure precision and avoid the loss of innocent life.”

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Growing US war-weariness defies traditional partisan divide

(By Deutsche Welle) Conservatives and progressives in the US have become odd bedfellows as they begin to question America’s costly military interventions in the Muslim world. But Congress remains unlikely to force an end to the conflicts.

For 10 years, the United States has waged war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq without a conclusive victory. The military interventions in Central Asia and the Middle East have cost America nearly $4 trillion (2.8 trillion euros) and the lives of over 6,000 troops. Around 225,000 people have died directly from the wars, according to a recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The high cost and low return on these conflicts has worn down the political will among many members of Congress who represent an increasingly war-weary public. In May, a congressional resolution calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan narrowly failed in the House of Representatives in a 204 – 215 vote.

The House also recently refused to authorize President Obama’s intervention in Libya for one year, although representatives shied away from defunding the operation. The vote was the first such congressional rebuff of a president since the House refused to authorize the military action in Kosovo in 1999.

And for the first time since the Vietnam War, the US Conference of Mayors – which represents more than 1,000 cities with populations over 30,000 – passed a resolution calling on Washington to “end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring war dollars home to meet vital human needs.”

A war skepticism originally anchored in the respective poles of the American political spectrum is increasingly gaining ground in the moderate center.

“Support for the war is strongest in the middle and weakest on either extreme,” Stephen Biddle, an expert on US national security policy with the Council on Foreign Relatins, told Deutsche Welle.

“Left-wing Democrats are strongly against the war and so are right-wing Republicans. What’s taking shape is a left-right coalition against the center on the war.”

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