Activists protest drone plan in Des Moines
DES MOINES (AP) — Peace activists called Wednesday for the Air Force to drop plans to establish a drone operation center in Des Moines.
Waving signs that said “No War Drones, Des Moines,” about 20 activists protested outside the Des Moines Air National Guard Base. The military plans to pilot drone aircraft at the base, now that the 21 F-16 jets based there will be removed.
“The Air Force is now training more unmanned vehicle pilots than manned vehicle pilots. We have killed and continue to kill thousands of people with these drones,” said Leah Bolger, national president of Veterans For Peace, who came in from Oregon for the protest. Bolger said there was limited information available to the public about drone operations.
“The drones are especially reprehensible because there’s no accountability for them,” Bolger said.
Local military and elected officials support the move to operate what are known as “remotely piloted aircraft,” noting this will preserve most of the roughly 1,000 full- and part-time jobs on the base. Col. Greg Hapgood, spokesman for the Iowa National Guard, said the team piloting the aircraft would be in Des Moines, while the drones would fly in other locations.
“We have pilots. It’s not like you have to bring people in to fly the aircrafts. You have infrastructure, you have people. We need a mission here in Des Moines,” Hapgood said.
Hapgood said Major General Timothy Orr will release more details on the plans in an address to the Iowa Legislature next week. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said details on the exact number of jobs available in Iowa are still being worked out. She said an intelligence unit will also be located at the base.
Iowa’s congressional delegation opposed removing the jets from Des Moines and worked for months to keep the planes and preserve jobs. But they couldn’t stop the effort backed by the Defense Department in the latest defense spending bill.
Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin last month said he was supportive of bringing a drone operation to Iowa.
Rep. Tom Latham, a Republican whose district includes Des Moines, said he was hopeful this would mean secure a future for the unit.