Photos provided by the U.S. Air Force
Inside a secret high-tech control center the U.S. Air Force targets enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But can they bomb them legally, and without killing innocents? A Salon exclusive.
By Mark Benjamin | Salon.com, Feb. 15, 2008
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, THE MIDDLE EAST -- The cavernous control room used by the U.S. Air Force to manage the air wars in Iraq and Afghanistan looks exactly how you'd expect it to look in a Hollywood movie. The lights are low. Around 50 camouflage-clad men and women lean forward in their chairs, staring intently at rows of computer screens glowing with multicolored graphs and fluctuating displays. They sometimes glance up from the banks of computer monitors to gaze at a sweeping panel of large television screens mounted on the front wall. Two massive, side-by-side screens in the center display digital maps of Iraq and Afghanistan. Swarms of U.S. aircraft above the war zones are represented by green labels that move about each map, gravitating toward wherever U.S. troops are fighting on the ground, in case they need backup.
To the left and right of those large maps are four smaller screens. Each is about 5 feet wide, displaying remarkably clear live footage from cameras mounted on the Air Force's un-manned Predator drones that buzz incessantly above Iraq and Afghanistan. The Predator drones, however, are not filming a raging firefight, or a bridge about to be strafed from the air.
They are stalking prey.