Iran unveils new drone, names it 'Epic'

Faithful readers of Iran's state-run news outlets might have noticed a lot of hype this week about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's plans to unveil a new Iranian-made surveillance and combat drone -- the country's "most advanced" yet -- called Epic (Hemaseh in Farsi).

Well, it's here. PressTV reports:

The drone was unveiled on Thursday during a ceremony attended by Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi.

"This drone has been built by defense industry experts and is simultaneously capable of surveillance, reconnaissance and missile and rocket attacks," Vahidi said on the sidelines of the ceremony.

"This aircraft with its stealth quality can avoid detection by the enemy," he added.

High altitude and long flight range are two other distinguishing features of the new Iranian UAV.

The news comes amid reports that an Israeli drone made its first fully automated takeoff this week -- and just weeks after Israel shot down a drone of unknown provenance and Iran showcased a new long-range drone on the country's Army Day (see photo above). A report by Iran's Fars News Agency earlier this week claimed that Iran, in fact, is designing and producing 40 different types of drones. As P.W. Singer wrote in a Foreign Policy article on the spread of smaller and smarter drones to other countries:

[W]hen we often talk about a supposed future of drone proliferation, we usually ignore the reality of the present. We already have a market that is global in both its customers, from Australia to Turkey, and in its manufacturers, from American firms like General Atomics and Lockheed to ASN Technology, one of the major makers in China, and ADE of India. 

The Obama administration should "be more willing to discuss international legal standards for use of drones," former State Department legal advisor Harold Koh declared in a speech at Oxford on Tuesday, "so that our actions do not inadvertently empower other nations and actors who would use drones inconsistent with the law."

Seems like the world is way ahead of the White House on this one.



A guide to the Pakistani Taliban's 'reign of terror' ahead of elections

With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."

Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.

Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.

"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."

Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."

The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.

It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.