Forty-five former US military personnel, including a retired army colonel, have issued a joint appeal to the pilots of aerial drones operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere, calling on them to refuse to carry out the deadly missions.
In a joint letter, the retired and former military members call on air force pilots based at Creech air force base in Nevada and Beale air force base in California to refuse to carry out their duties. They say the missions, which have become an increasingly dominant feature of US military strategy in recent years, “profoundly violate domestic and international laws”.
“At least 6,000 lives have been unjustly taken by US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria. These attacks are also undermining principles of international law and human rights,” the authors write.
Among those who signed the letter are retired US army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in 2003 over the invasion of Iraq. She is joined by several anti-war veterans and former members of diverse ranks from the air force, army, navy and marines.
The new protest comes as the US military is facing a crisis in its armed drone program as a result of a steady decline in the numbers of trained pilots available to fly the missions. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the air force was planning to cut the number of its daily drone flights from 65 to 60 as a result of the drain of pilots.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) first sounded the alarm in April 2014 when it said that more drone pilots were quitting the armed forces than were being recruited and trained. Though the air force has set a target of 1,700 drone pilots to fly the desired 65 missions a day, overall numbers are now down to 1,200.
The pressures being faced by drone pilots are a little-understood facet of modern remote-control warfare. Though they experience none of the personal danger that is routine for pilots in the cockpits of manned fighter jets, they nonetheless appear to suffer high levels of stress.
As the GAO report noted, drone pilots spend hours in the day or at night sitting in front of banks of computers controlling Predator and Reaper drones. Though they are thousands of miles away from the war zone, they do have to press the trigger that launches devastating and deadly bombing strikes.
At the end of their shifts they leave the secure mission control centers and minutes later find themselves a short drive across base back in their homes and with their families.
“The Air Force has not fully analyzed the effects on morale related to being deployed-on-station, and thus it does not know whether it needs to take actions in response,” the GAO said.
The letter of the 45 former military members is part of a campaign dubbed “refuse to fly” coordinated by the website KnowDrones.com. The campaign has also aired 15-second TV commercials urging air force pilots to quit their desks at drone mission control, which have been shown in the regions of Beale and Creech air force bases and are currently airing near Hancock air national guard base and the air guard base near Niagara Falls in upstate New York.
The graphic ads show footage of the aftermath of drone attacks and say “no one has to obey an immoral law”.
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