Ten years ago, I resigned from my position in the United States government in opposition to President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. I had worked in the U.S. government for most of my life, first in the Army and Army Reserves, retiring as a colonel, and then as a diplomat. I served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone and Micronesia. I helped reopen the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001.
Yet after serving in eight presidential administrations, beginning under Lyndon Johnson during the war on Vietnam, I ended my career in the U.S. government in opposition to another conflict—the war on Iraq.
A decade after I stepped down as the deputy ambassador in the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia, the war in Iraq is over for Americans, but continues for Iraqis. The whirlwind of sectarian violence brought on by the U.S. invasion and occupation continues to blow there.
The war on Afghanistan is now in its 13th year and as the anniversary of my resignation day approached, I found myself outside the gates of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, protesting war and, in particular, President Obama’s killer drone programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
The CIA drone attacks in the undeclared war on Pakistan and the assassination of three American citizens by drone in Yemen receive most of the media and congressional attention, while the incredibly large number of drone strikes in Afghanistan has received scant coverage—and that is why I was at Creech drone base.
Protesters outside Creech Air Force base. Photo (c) Ann Wright
In 2012 alone, the U.S. Air Force has acknowledged 492 drone strikes/weapons releases in Afghanistan. A United Nations report states that only 16 people were killed in those strikes.
In comparison, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that during the first four years of the Obama administration, the CIA launched 313 drone strikes (the Bush administration launched 52 drone strikes in Pakistan). Estimates of deaths of civilians in Pakistan range from 411 to 884. Estimates on all deaths including militants in Pakistan from drones range from 2,536 to 3,577. From these statistics, one can assume that the number of civilian casualties by drone attack in Afghanistan is severely under-reported.
U.S. Drone data. Image via the Bureau ofInvestigative Journalism.One in four U.S. weapons releases in Afghanistan comes from drones. A report from the Air Command of the U.S. Central Command reveals that from 2010 through the first month of 2013, the Obama administration ordered 1,109 weapons releases from drones. Data on drone strikes in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, is not included in the study. That report has now been removed from the U.S. Central Command website, but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism captured the data in this chart before its removal.
Creech drone base, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was the first of the Air Force’s drone training and operations bases in the U.S, and personnel there still control a large number of drone strikes in Afghanistan.
The drone programme has now expanded so that many more U.S. Air Force bases have operational control of drones over Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Mali. Whiteman in Missouri, Beale in California and Kirtland in New Mexico are just a few of the 64 military bases in the U.S. that control, train or house drones.
I and many other demonstrators were at the Creech main gate during the morning and evening shift changes to challenge the continuing war in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration’s use of drones, which have killed so many civilians in that country.
Protester outside Creech Air Force base. Photo (c) Ann Wright
Two of my fellow Creech protesters and I were arrested in February this year at CIA Director John Brennan’s confirmation hearing. We were detained for “disrupting Congress” when we spoke out against his nomination because of his key role in the CIA’s assassin drone program while he was President Obama’s chief adviser on counterterrorism, a position that had not required Senate confirmation in 2009.
As I mark my 10th year of challenging the war policies of the United States, elements of my March 19, 2003 resignation letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell still ring true to me, even though Bush is no longer president and the war on Iraq has nominally ended.
“I disagree with the Administration’s policies on Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea and curtailment of civil liberties in the U.S. itself,” I wrote. “I believe the Administration’s policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer, place. I feel obligated morally and professionally to set out my very deep and firm concerns on these policies and to resign from government service as I cannot defend or implement them.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States continues to spend more on military expenditures than the next 10 countries combined. While the U.S. military expenditure fell by 6 per cent in real terms in 2012, it was still 69 per cent higher than in 2001, when the ‘global war on terrorism’ began. While the U.S. remained by far the world’s largest military spender, its share of the total decreased to 39 percent, the first time it has fallen below 40 percent since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991.
Any demilitarism plan for the planet must begin with the United States. As the number one military spender and arms exporter in the world, the United States keeps the military-industrial complex functioning worldwide. U.S. arms manufacturers have set up their manufacturing in as many states as possible in order to buy the support of Congress. This means that even when the Pentagon wants to shut down a weapon system, like the F-22 fighter jet, it becomes nearly impossible to get Congress to go along. And then, if the U.S. government does somehow manage to start cutting back on procurement, the manufacturers can shift to focusing on arms sales abroad.
Each year in April, activists around the world participate in the annual Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS). This year, actions were held in more than 40 countries and 100 cities. There was street theater in Dhaka, demonstrations in Istanbul, a parliamentary debate in Yaoundé, protests against military bases in Okinawa, a peace village in Oslo, a high-level seminar at the UN in Geneva, a flash mob in Oakland, Tax Day leafleting in Bethlehem, PA, a “walk of shame” in Washington, DC, and more .
It is up to us, the global citizens, to force our governments to reduce and end the senseless spending on war and move to a world of dialogue and conflict resolution without violence.
That is a monumental task, but one that we must continue to pursue with vigour for the health and safety of all on our planet.
Colonel Ann Wright is speaking at the Nobel Women's Initiative conference Moving Beyond Militarism and War: Women-Driven Solutions for a Nonviolent World May 28-31, Belfast, Ireland. Read 50.50's full coverage of the conference
Read more articles on 50.50 from earlier Nobel Women's Initiative conferences