One of the more salutatory developments in the War on Terror has been the coming of age of the drone-fired missile.
The Los Angeles Times reports today that despite protests from other countries, the U.S. is expanding a top-secret program to kill suspected terrorists targeted by the pilotless drones as it pursues an increasingly decentralized Al Qaeda.
Although little is known about the targeted-killing program, U.S. officials confirm that there have been at least 19 occasions since 9/11 on which CIA- and Pentagon-operated Predator drones successfully fired Hellfire missiles on terrorist suspects, including 10 in Iraq in one month last year.
Most recently, a CIA-controlled Predator fired missiless at compound in a remote Pakistani village on Jan. 13 in a failed attempt to assassinate Osama bin Laden's No. 1 man, Ayman Zawahiri. Upwards of 18 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed, but U.S. intelligence offcials say the attack also took out four or five Al Qaeda operatives.
Critics of the program dispute its legality under U.S. and international law, and while they have a point, this is an instance where bending if not breaking the law for a greater good -- to eliminate exceedingly evil and dangerous men who want to kill you and I -- can be justified.
The Predator is 27 feet long, has a 49-foot wingspan and color surveillance cameras. It can hover over a target for many hours and usually is operated from command consoles at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and the Pentagon.
And reminiscent of the German V-1 rocket of World War II, it makes a distinctive buzzling sound.