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US retires Predator drones after 15 years that changed the 'war on terror'

Published: March 14, 2017
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Source: The Guardian

The Predator is dead; long live the Reaper. The retirement of the antiquated Predator drone MQ-1, which is to be withdrawn from service in July and replaced by the more capable MQ-9 Reaper, is giving military analysts an opportunity to review the mixed history of a weapon that has long been associated with low-cost war, a sense of disembodiment from conflict, and for inflicting a high number of civilian casualties.

“There’s a perception in large parts of the American political system that drone campaigns are more or less free, but that’s not true,” says Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Like anything that’s perceived as free, it tends to get overused.”

The General Atomics remote-piloted plane entered service in 1995 as the reconnaissance drone RQ-1. But in 1999 it was fitted with Hellfire missiles and re-designated MQ-1, an ad-hoc adaptation that would give it a reputation as a silent assassin.

The first Predator strike is believed to have taken place in Afghanistan in 2002, but it was not until 2004 that the US launched its first drone strike in Pakistan, an attack that killed Taliban leader Nek Muhammad.

That set the pattern for hundreds of missions to follow, and a post-9/11 era of targeted killings, most shrouded in secrecy, in theaters of conflict including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia.

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