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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/25/21

Will Drones Really Protect Us?

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Message Maya Evans

I'm seated in the police Zoom briefing with other council representatives for my small seaside town in England. Our Chief Inspector is telling us about the crisis we have with soaring heroin addiction in the town. The recent surge is contributing to a general increase in crime. The next section of the briefing is about the future use of police surveillance drones, and how they could become useful in combating crime.

A few months ago, Nigel Farage, a far-right politician, arrived in my town to film himself on our tourist beaches; aiming to drum up hate and hostility toward migrants and refugees arriving in the UK on precarious inflatables, having just traversed the channel of water between England and France. Farage complains that the new arrivals are taking up hotel spaces, he triggers the public by saying it's all coming out of the public purse, we can't afford to look after our own citizens let alone refugees, and that these people will one day take their homes and jobs. The Home Office considers proposals to use water cannons on the migrant sea crossers, while Home Secretary, Priti Patel suggests the transportation of migrants and refugees to Ascension Island in the South Pacific, harking back to the 18th century, when Britain deported convicts to the penal colony of Australia.

The British Army Watchkeeper drone has been commissioned to help with surveillance of people crossing the Channel. The Watchkeeper was initially developed when the British military requested £1 billion to develop a military drone. An Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, was awarded the contract to design and develop the drone. When completed in 2014, it was transported to Afghanistan for "field testing."

Was a "field testing" in Afghanistan part of the tragic mistake made when a U.S. weaponized drone killed my friend Raz Mohammed's brother-in-law and five of his friends? The young men were enjoying an early evening gathering in their orchard in Wardak province Afghanistan. All the men were unarmed, none of them were involved with the Taliban. Their instant deaths were the result of a "signature strike" -- a targeted killing based on racial profiling, the men "fitted" the demographic of the Taliban -- they were wearing Pashtoon clothing, in a Pashtoon village, men of fighting age -- that was enough to get them killed.

The proliferation of weaponized drones will unleash more misery. Heroin addiction in impoverished British towns has soared in the last 10 years. At the crime briefings I attend as a Councillor, no one ever talks about where this cheap high-quality opium has flooded in from, the root cause probably considered "too political." But in reality, heroin supply to Britain has careened in the last decade, namely due to the "solar revolution" in Afghanistan. This has enabled farmers to use electricity generated from solar panels to pump untapped water from 100 meters under the desert. Now, where there was once an arid dust belt, there are now fields of thriving poppy, punches of colour lighting up the desert, too much of a lucrative cash crop for Afghan farmers to pass up.

Many of the newly blooming fields are in Helmand, the Afghan province where Britain was assigned to fight the Taliban. Britain was also delegated, at the 2001 International Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, the responsibility of counter narcotics in Afghanistan. Considering Afghanistan was the first country in the world where weaponized drones were used -- the 2001 unsuccessful assassination of Osama Bin Laden -- and there after used as a "playground for foreign nations to kill Afghans like a video game...as one of my young Afghan friends once described to me; it's highly unlikely British Intelligence Agencies were unaware of the newly blossoming industry, much of which is growing in Helmand, a "hotspot" for drone strikes and aerial surveillance. Today Afghanistan produces 90% of the worlds' heroin, 3% of the Afghan population are addicts, and production of the crop has more than doubled, from 3,700 tons in 2012, to 9,000 tons in 2017.

And so, in my home town, deprivation, crime, conflict and all the ills associated deepen. Drones are sent in to "solve" the problem. To date, at least 40 UK police forces have either purchased a drone or have access to using one. In the area of Sussex and Surrey, there are 23 drones and, according to a recent Freedom of Information, they were used 108 times between January-June 2020.

Afghans are amongst the refugees washed up on our beaches in flimsy dinghies, their channel crossing overseen by the very same Watchkeeper drone used to exacerbate war, which drove them from their homeland. The most vulnerable in our society, from Britain to Afghanistan, are seized by the scourge of heroin and the conflagration of violence caused by war. The vaunted "eyes in the skies," the surveillance drones, won't help us understand these realities. The proliferation of weaponized drones will unleash more misery.

Momentum for campaigns to ban land mines, cluster bombs and nuclear weapons began with grassroots efforts to tell the truth about militarism and war. I hope a surveillance drone will get the message painted on large banners we've held, standing along our seacoast, proclaiming a welcome for refugees and a longing for peace.

 

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Maya Evans has been campaigning against war and militarism for nearly two decades. For 10 of those years her focus has been around the ongoing war in Afghanistan, visiting peace and civil society groups in Kabul, running campaigns against (more...)
 

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