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With few options, Pakistanis sue US in court

Lawyers are collecting evidence of civilians killed — including children, teachers and tribal elders — in strikes made by US-operated drones in Pakistan's North Waziristan.

Look out! China's got drones.

U.S. military circles are buzzing with concern over China's focus on new military technology.
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China debuted its first drone this week, highlighting the increased global competition for drones and military technology. In this picture, an Israeli UAV Hermes 500 flies over the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert on June 30, 2011. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Forget about China's first aircraft carrier, the U.S. military has a whole new reason to be scared.

At the world's largest robotics show in Washington this week, China debuted the F50 — a small drone the size of a pizza pan that comes equipped with a high-def camera.

Now, lots of countries have drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The U.S. has drones, Israel, Brazil and Iran.

All they are, really, are anything that flies autonomously or by remote-control. By that definition, you can even buy a drone at Brookstone (it's called a Parrot).

So, China isn't breaking new ground.

Nor is the news shocking. There were hints of what was to come in November, when China showed 25 drone models at the Zhuhai air show.

But the takeaway is nonetheless significant. Competition among drone developers is growing fierce, and we're likely to see the technology advance at a heightened pace in years to come.

GlobalPost in Beijing: Protesters win in Dalian

While most drones are used for surveillance purposes, and the commercial applications there aren't lost on the business world, there are also drones that kill people.

And developers around the world are working on making drones in general lighter, smaller, more powerful and more able to stay aloft for longer periods of time.

The drones of today may not be fully autonomous yet, but it's the drones of tomorrow that have most people worried.

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Pakistan's mangoes sweeten relations with US

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani officials have begun an unofficial campaign to try and sweeten the bitter ties by, of all things, using the country’s famous mangoes as a peace offering.

As drone war ramps up, so does criticism of it

An ex-Marine says drone strategy is "shortsighted."
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Pakistanis shout slogans during a demonstration in Quetta, on July 19, 2011, to protest against U.S. drone attacks. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

What does Clark County, Nev. have in common with North Waziristan?

Both are key sites in the U.S. drone war in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Unmanned aerial vehicles are robotically controlled by operators in Nevada, who steer them toward their targets thousands of miles away in the tribal regions of Pakistan.

Battlefield drones are quickly changing the face of contemporary warfare and have support among U.S. policymakers for their cost effectiveness and potential to mitigate danger to pilots and infantry soldiers on the ground.

But as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama increasingly relies on drones in its war against terrorism, criticism of the strategy is also increasing. Civilian deaths remain a point of major contention, as is what some say are the structural shortcomings of the program itself.

A former Marine officer now working as a consultant for the military, business and technology community said the drone program was deeply flawed because of its reliance on a disparate group of people that includes everyone from policymakers in Washington, to the "eccentric engineer" at a research lab in Boston, to "the kid with the joystick outside of Las Vegas launching a missile toward the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier."

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US officials write final chapter on Al Qaeda and bin Laden

Everything we know about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is coming from anonymous US officials.
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President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. (Pete Souza, The White House/Getty Images)

Almost everything we learn about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden these days is coming from anonymous U.S. officials.

Today, for instance, U.S. officials told us via The Washington Post that Al Qaeda was on the verge of being totally wiped out. The comments echoed earlier ones from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the former C.I.A. director, who earlier said that only a couple dozen more Al Qaeda militants needed to be killed before the war was over.

More from GlobalPost: How many drones it take to kill a terrorist?

Last week the officials were talking to the Wall Street Journal. They told the paper that Al Qaeda would likely be shifting the focus of its attacks to Western targets outside of the United States. They said this was because it had become too difficult for them to strike inside the United States.

The Wall Street Journal said the U.S. officials had come to this conclusion based on evidence gleaned from flash drives found in the compound where bin Laden was killed. Much of the information we are learning about bin Laden and Al Qaeda, in fact, is said (by U.S. officials) to be coming from those flash disks, as well as a computer.

It was from the computer, for instance, that U.S. officials learned that bin Laden liked porn. Everyone ran with that story. It was great story. Not only was it sure to drive traffic, combining two of the most searched items on the internet these days (porn and bin Laden), but it also tweaks the legacy of a man who claimed that a strict adherence to Islam is what guided him in his global campaign of terror.

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US tries to make friends in Pakistan

Aid groups say they are being put at risk by US campaign to promote its presence in Pakistan.
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A Pakistani earthquake survivor walks past a temporary home built by USAID on Oct. 4, 2006 near Shogran, Pakistan. (John Moore/AFP/Getty Images)

In opinion polls conducted in Pakistan, the United States fairs only slightly better than Al Qaeda, something it is hoping to change by advertising the amount of civilian aid it provides to the country's most-troubled regions.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan found that just 12 percent of Pakistanis have a postive view of the United States. Al Qaeda and the Taliban, by comparison, received similar approval ratings.

Many Pakistanis say that the United States does not have their best interests in mind and point to the increasing number of unmanned drone attacks on their country as evidence. Those strikes, which the United States says target suspected militants, have killed hundreds, by some estimates thousands, of civilians since 2004 when they began.

(GlobalPost in North Waziristan: Obama's Hidden War)

Although the United States suspended upwards of $800 million in military aid to Pakistan last month, they still have earmarked $7.5 billion in civilian aid over the next five years. That money goes primarily to local aid groups working to provide basic necessities to communities living in Pakistan's volatile tribal regions along the border of Afghanistan — the same regions regularly bombed by U.S. Predator and Reaper drones.

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Pakistanis sue US over drone attacks

With no other option, Pakistanis turn to the courts
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Activists of the Pakistani fundamentalist Islamic party Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) shout slogans beside a burning effigy of CIA contractor Raymond Davis during a protest in Peshawar on March 18, 2011. Thousands of people took to the streets across Pakistan on March 18 to protest a US drone strike that killed 35 people. (A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

With little other recourse available, Pakistanis who have lost family members to the drone attacks in North and South Waziristan are attempting to sue the U.S. government.

They have held mass protests, but to no avail. They have appealed to their own government to stop the attacks, which as in ally of the United States it could presumably do, but that hasn't worked either. The Pakistani government, which has repeatedly denounced the drone strikes publicly, has continued to give them the green light privately. It's enough, they say, to make them throw up their hands and join the militants. But that, of course, wouldn't help either.

So with no one to turn to who might have their best interests in mind, it's to the courts they go.

(GlobalPost in North Waziristan: Obama's Hidden War)

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How many drones does it take to kill a terrorist?

New US defense secretary says there's only a couple dozen terrorists left to kill.
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Pakistani tribesmen gather for funeral prayers before the coffins of people killed in a U.S. drone attack on June 15 in North Waziristan (Thir Khan/AFP/Getty Images)
In case you missed it, over the weekend the new U.S. defense minister, and former C.I.A chief, Leon Panetta, told the New York Times that the defeat of Al Qaeda was within reach. In fact, he said that if the United States could capture or kill about 10 or 20 terrorist leaders believed to be based in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, then the war would be won.
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Photo: the drone war

Photo of the day from the front lines of the Afghanistan War.
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Soldiers ready a Shadow drone for takeoff at Forward Operating Base Pasab. The unarmed drones are equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

 

Soldiers ready a Shadow drone for takeoff at Forward Operating Base Pasab. The unarmed drones are equipped with high-tech surveillance equipment.

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Are US-Pakistan relations at an all-time high?

Pakistan says it will issue the CIA a bunch of visas. Really?
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U.S. Senator John Kerry shakes hands with Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during a meeting in Islamabad on May 16, 2011. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

It's been less than five months since CIA operative Raymond Davis opened fire on the streets of Lahore, killing two men. A third Pakistani man was killed that day when he was struck by a car carrying several other CIA operatives who were speeding to the scene down the wrong side of the street.

This, to no one's surprise, resulted in a great deal of public anger in Pakistan. Large protests were held across the country demanding that the CIA halt its activities in the country. Davis was arrested and charged with murder. The case was eventually settled after Davis paid off the victim's families, a common practice in Pakistan.

Anger among Pakistanis was so high in the aftermath of the attack that the CIA temporarily halted drone attacks in North Waziristan, which, also to no one's surprsise, are deeply unpopular among average Pakistanis, more than a thousand of whom (at least) have been killed by the missile strikes since they began in 2004.

The CIA resumed drone attacks on March 18, two days after Davis was released. Then, two months later, the United States raided a house outside of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, killing Osama bin Laden.

All of this is believed to have frayed relations between the two countries to the point of no return.

Yet, on Wednesday, Pakistan said it would issue three dozen visas to CIA operatives so they can continue their anti-terror operations in the country.

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