U.S. increases use of UAVs in hunting down terrorists

Published 30 January 2006

UAVs prove more versatile and more effective: they will soon be used in border patrol, while abroad they are used more and more often in hunting down terrorists, with lethal effect

The United States is expanding a top-secret effort to kill suspected terrorists with drone-fired missiles as it pursues an increasingly decentralized Al Qaeda, U.S. officials told the Los Angeles Times. The CIA’s recent effort, on 13 January, to assassinate Al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman Zawahiri in Pakistan was but the latest strike in the targeted killing program, a highly classified initiative which officials say has broadened as the network splintered and fled Afghanistan. Several U.S. officials confirmed at least nineteen occasions since 9/11 in which Predators successfully fired Hellfire missiles on terrorist suspects overseas, including ten in Iraq in one month last year. The Predator strikes have killed at least four senior Al Qaeda leaders, but also many civilians, and it is not known how many times they missed their targets.

The Predator is built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. It is 27 feet long with a 49-foot wingspan. It makes an audible buzzing sound, and can hover above a target for many hours and fly as low as 15,000 feet to get good reconnaissance footage. The drones are often operated by CIA or Pentagon officials at computer consoles in the United States. The drones were designed for surveillance and have been used for that purpose since at least the mid-1990s, beginning with the conflict in the Balkans. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush ordered a rapid escalation of a project to arm the Predators with missiles, an effort that had been mired in bureaucratic squabbles and technical glitches.

-read more in this L.A. Times report