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Group protests U.S. drone program at Beale Air Force Base

Beale Air Force Base (U.S. Air Force/Released)

A handful of protesters gathered early Tuesday morning at Beale Air Force Base to bring attention to the deadly consequences of the U.S. military drone program by blocking the entrance to the Wheatland Gate at the base.

Standing just outside the line that divides the public road and base property, activists from Ban Killer Drones, CODEPINK and Veterans For Peace held a large sign with big letters that read “U.S. DRONE KILLS KABUL FAMILY” as they blocked the right lane of S. Beale Road with dozens of cars parked, waiting to enter the base.

Toby Blomé, organizer of the event and member of Ban Killer Drones and CODEPINK, led the other activists toward the locked gate as she spoke to soldiers on the other side over a loudspeaker.

“We are citizens of the United States that are really appalled at what our military is doing in the world with endless wars where tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands in Iraq, they say possibly 1.5 million have been killed … these wars that are non-ending, they go on and on,” Blomé said to the Beale soldiers who stood patiently behind the gate, one holding back a dog on a leash. “We’ve never had a situation like this in U.S. history, usually our wars end … the Afghan war is supposedly over but it really isn’t because the U.S. is still dropping drone missiles in Afghanistan. Terrorizing the communities there. The state of endless war is unacceptable.”

As Blomé continued to speak and walk closer to the gate, a captain behind the gate asked if she was the leader of the group and began to read a statement from a card in his hand.

“I am Captain Ricky Sizemore from the United States Air Force Security Forces. Entering Beale Air Force Base without permission from the commander is unauthorized and is in violation of federal law,” he said as Blomé interrupted him by continuing to speak about what she and others see as an unjust use of force overseas by the U.S. military.

What Blomé and these groups were particularly pointing attention to was a recent Reaper drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including children.

The attack, which happened on Aug. 29, was in response to ISIS activity in Kabul following the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan and the recent bombing by the terrorist organization that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 Afghans at Kabul’s airport.

In retaliation for this attack and in its efforts to protect troops at the airport, the U.S. carried out what it called a “righteous strike” against a vehicle that American officials believed contained a bomb.

That car, however, was being driven by Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for Nutrition and Education International, a nonprofit aid group based out of Pasadena. The strike not only killed the aid worker, but also family members that included his three children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; his brother’s children, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

U.S. military officials initially justified their actions by claiming a larger blast took place afterward, suggesting that a bomb was in the vehicle. However, according to an investigation by the New York Times, no evidence of a second and more powerful explosion was found.

“It seriously questions the credibility of the intelligence or technology utilized to determine this was a legitimate target,” Chris Cobb-Smith, a British Army veteran and security consultant, told the Times.

After the Times investigation was made public, the military conceded that a “tragic mistake” had been made.

“The Ahmadi family drone massacre that occurred in Kabul last month is not an example of accidental mis-judgement. It is an example of an ongoing criminal pattern of abuse whereby the U.S. assumes the right to kill a person on suspicion alone, just in case that person may be a threat, while also sacrificing everyone else who happens to be in the area.” Blomé said in a news release to the press before the planned protest at Beale. “Clearly the U.S. drone program is an illegal and failing program that only creates more enemies.”

As part of the protest, the activists made demands, including reparations for the family members left behind after the drone strike against Ahmadi.

After making several statements, Blomé gave an open letter meant for Col. Heather Fox, commander of the base, to one of the military police behind the locked gate describing the actions taken against Ahmadi and calling for the “immediate halt to all U.S. drone attacks.”

Blomé said these protests happened regularly before the COVID-19 pandemic and she was hopeful that they would continue moving forward.

“The pandemic interrupted us,” she said. “But we are going to try to increase it (the protests).”

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 117 civilians were killed by U.S. drones in “areas of active hostilities” between 2009 and 2016 and about 3,000 enemy combatants were killed during the same period.

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