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Sherman Says: U.S. drone missions may be secretive, but the results are worthwhile

WESTERN NEW YORK — America’s manned military presence in Afghanistan is winding down, at the direction of President Barack Obama, and troops are coming home. They still remain in danger, though, from both our nation’s enemies and some of the very troops we are trying to train, as defenders of their homeland.

One way to protect our troops is by using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

At fewer than 30 feet in length, drones were primarily developed as reconnaissance vehicles. They can soar over unsafe territory for the best type of intelligence-gathering missions: those that would give our troops a better chance of success.

Published information said that drones can travel up to 400 miles, scout a site for 14 hours and return to their base. In recent years, armed drones have been employed, by virtue of their stealth and speed, to take out leading al-Qaeda figures. Unfortunately, civilian deaths have occurred, as well.

Unarmed drones have positive uses along the U.S. border with Mexico, as well. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Office of Customs and Border Protection is planning on having as many as 24 Predator drones, that can be deployed within three hours, anywhere in the country.

Detractors rose up, earlier this month, when an unarmed U.S. drone was fired upon, by Iranian fighters. American officials stated that the craft was flying over international waters at the time and was not damaged, in the engagement.

The objection to the use of drones by the U.S. military apparently stems from a fear that these weapons can be used away from the spotlight more commonly afforded to troops on the ground. A secret mission to spy on and possibly kill anyone we suspect of terrorist activity – or who would plot attacks on our troops – may stay secret forever. This is a reality that may accompany wartime strategy, for decades to come.

An opinion column recently written by Rosa Brooks, a former senior adviser at the U.S. State Department, blasted the secrecy surrounding the use of drone missions.

“This amounts, in practice, to a claim that the executive branch has the unreviewable power to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret information, discussed in a secret process, by largely anonymous individuals,” she wrote. “‘Trust us’ is a pretty shaky foundation for the rule of law.”

Perhaps Brooks would like her own chair in the Situation Room. Only a handful of individuals knew about the mission that would result in the death of Osama bin Laden. Secrecy was paramount to its success. Does the average American really need to know if, and when, drones flew over his compound to set the stage for the mission? I think not.

We would all like to think we can trust our military. As the commander in chief, the president is ultimately in control.

There is one other advantage to having drones handle high-risk missions in hostile territory. If they are lost in combat, they don’t leave grieving families behind.

Last week, I wrote about a desolate neighborhood in Detroit that I passed through during World Series week. I mentioned an abandoned school and its ruined sports fields, including a ball diamond.

The following information was received from Michelle Zdrodowski, chief communications officer for the Detroit Public Schools.

“The school you are referencing is Kettering High School. It was closed because a new school, East English Village College Preparatory School, was opening not far from there. It is a brand new building that has a much improved learning environment, for the students,” she said.

“Actually, EEV is one of 17 brand new or substantially renovated schools that were done as a result of a $500.5 million construction bond, approved by Detroit voters in 2009. There is still some activity at Kettering in the school’s west wing, which houses instruction for developmentally impaired students. They will also be moving into a new wing at EEV in June that was specifically designed for the learning needs of this student population.”

David Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at

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