Kandahar, Afghanistan (TFC)— An army of MQ-9 Reaper drones has arrived in Afghanistan, reputedly the largest such deployment of the war. The majority of this massive fleet is stationed at a single base and trails a boost in ground troops.
Back in December, US generals promised another troop increase in America’s longest running war. Over 14,000 troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan including, RT notes, 3000 President Donald Trump sent in September. An additional 6000 were set to deploy towards the beginning of the year. However, the Trump Administration has misrepresented those figures before. These estimates also don’t account for the scores of contractors which reputedly flooded Afghanistan and Iraq after Trump took office.
This all follows major offensives by the Taliban, clashes between native militias and Islamic State, and the dropping of the largest non-nuclear US bomb. According to Washington Post, the Department of Defense hinted at yet another force of 1000 US troops in coming weeks.
Now, however, the government is opting to also augment its robotic aerial army. The announcement first appeared in a Stars And Stripes report which didn’t provide specific numbers. It did, however, allude to a massive surge in unmanned capabilities across the Air Force, and possibly the Navy.
Officially, the aircraft will conduct surveillance and hunter-killer operations against militias like the Taliban and Islamic State. According to Stars And Stripes, the fleet is increasing its numbers and capabilities by one-third, similar to the war’s peak in years past. Under the Trump Administration, drone operations simultaneously will enjoy new freedom to conduct strikes deeper into Taliban territory. In other words, further into dark zones journalists or even ground troops won’t venture. Currently, the Trump Administration’s kill rate is reportedly 80 times that of the Bush Administration.
Military officials including Air Force Colonel Stephan “Joker” Jones stated the augmented fleet will target enemy vehicles and buildings. A focus will be put on making strikes “as precise as possible” while avoiding collateral damage, Jones said. Reaper drones will also specifically aid a fresh deployment of the 1st Security Forces Assistance Brigade. The unit, based at Fort Bragg, is set to train and advise Afghan forces and is the first to specialize in that task. It’s unclear how close to combat alongside Afghan forces the unit will be, though it remains highly likely.
All this also comes on the heels of the distribution of massive DoD (Department of Defense) contracts for drone operation and maintenance. The Fifth Column was one of few if not the only outlet to report the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems contract, worth hundreds of millions. It raised the question then as it does now, how outsourced are US drone operations? Where does the military begin and the private industry end? Or, rather, is it the other way around entirely?
Drone operations have come under heavy scrutiny over high civilian casualty rates and lack of oversight. The Intercept published several pieces focusing on the flaws in the drone program, specifically regarding intelligence. So-called “Signals Intelligence”, gathered via phone data or radio transmissions, targets electronic devices and not necessarily people. What if the phone is passed off, or planted somewhere else? Shockingly debilitating psychological disorders have also been reported in former drone operators. Training standards and the specific personality-types sought for drone pilots is also a point of contention. It all seems like steep prices to pay for operations with questionable success rates.
Of the yet undisclosed scores of Reapers deployed to Afghanistan, how many are fully under the military’s hand? How much money could the massive drone deployment be raking in for defense contractors? Given the intensity of recent Taliban assaults, what’s the strategic sense in having all of these assets at a single US base? America’s longest running war is ramping up once again, filled with questions wherever the bombs hit.