Today, our president said every soldier in Iraq is coming home, leading many to believe The War Is Over. Except it's not. Getting humans out of there is great, but the fact is war today doesn't need humans at all.
The recently-ended Libyan war is the perfect example of why soldiers aren't requisite for warfare, and why boots off the ground don't mean much anymore. The rebel ground campaign was the majority of the war, but the aerial minority made revolution possible. The US had neither the support nor the means to invade Libya. It would've been both a political and military blunder. So we had robots do the work for us—and it worked, perfectly. Qaddafi's air defenses and armor were obliterated from control rooms a world away. And this same drone aegis has no reason to leave Iraq—the war in the sky will continue indefinitely, and invisibly.
In Virginia and secret bases throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, the CIA controls a fleet of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, capable of nailing targets with hundred pound Hellfire missiles as they buzz along near-silently overhead. It's a power unprecedented in the history of blowing thing sup, and not one the CIA is going to relinquish. The fleet isn't accountable to the public. As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, "The CIA doesn't officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules." And given the agency's explosion of counter-terror operators, laboring to dig up "targeting" data and pulling triggers, the agency has every reason to stay aloft in Iraq. "Presumably, we're finding people to blow up in Yemen," agrees defense think tank GlobalSecurity's John Pike, "so [from the CIA's perspective] there will be some who need to be blown up in Iraq." Pike, who has testified before Congress in matters of national defense and collaborated with NASA, knows drones. And he doesn't think they're going anywhere.
"UAVs provide a persistent surveillance capability that satellites do not," Pike explains, giving the government more reason to keep them flying over Baghdad long after american soldiers have been shipped home. The war on terror is indefinite and sprawling, with every inch of the globe a potential target. The near future of Iraq—especially post-occupation—will be a shaky one. The CIA doesn't want shaky futures. "Any area where we feel the government doesn't have effective control of its territory, and [it] can't be solved via law enforcement—that's why we have drones." Iraq has no air force. Iraq's ability to prevent itself from harboring enemies of the CIA is dubious. This gives America's drone fleet a self-justification to fly ad infinitum, and for a smaller war of distant humming and craters to continue as long as the CIA wants.
So how will we ever know when we continue attacks inside Iraq? We won't—except "the people who get blown up. And even they won't know what happened," says Pike.
Photo by USAF