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Peace activists protest at Niagara Falls airbase over Afghanistan drone attacks

Peace activists hold signs at the Main Gate of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Mike Desmond
Peace activists hold signs at the Main Gate of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station Thursday afternoon.

Peace activists were again outside the Niagara Falls Air Reserve station Thursday, protesting what they say is an airbase command center for drones carrying out attacks around the world.

Whether there is or is not a drone base inside the facility is something the 107th Attack Wing won't comment. In a written statement, the unit said nothing about its current mission.

In 2017, the 107th changed its name from Airlift Wing to Attack Wing to reflect the change from flying C-130 Hercules cargo planes to MQ-9 Reaper drones. The website of the Air National Guard describes the base's current mission this way:

"In Niagara Falls, we perform the Remotely Piloted Aircraft mission. This involves a variety of operations, including close air support, air interdiction, intelligence collection and quick strike capabilities with minimal danger to military personnel. Our additional mission includes Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)."

It also describes the MQ-9 Reaper:

"The Reaper aircraft lives up to its grim name. This remotely piloted aircraft provides a unique capability to find and eliminate high-value, time-sensitive targets. Its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications and precision weapons, give it the unique capability to locate, track, target, strike, and assess time sensitive targets (TSTs). Reaper's expanded capabilities include: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), close air support (CAS), combat search and rescue (CSAR), precision strike, buddy-laser, convoy/raid overwatch, route clearance, target development and terminal air guidance."

Two peace activists hold a picture of the family killed in Afghanistan.
Mike Desmond
Two peace activists hold a picture of the family killed in Afghanistan.

A series of activists connected with the Western New York Peace Center have been at the base's main gate before and say they will be back. Thursday's protest focused on an Afghan family almost totally wiped out in a drone attack in Kabul, just after the terror attack at the airport entrance, with the military saying the attack targeted terrorists. The protesters said too many innocent civilians die in these attacks.

Vietnam veteran and protester Russell Brown said the troops may be gone from Afghanistan, but the war isn't over, with over-the-horizon drone attacks.

"After the war is over and it happens all the time," Brown said. "There are so many stories of the thousands and thousands of people. Even one person. Some leader of al Q'Aida — this was several years ago — they claimed they got him three different times. Well, you wonder who did they get the last two times that died because they thought it was this guy."

"We have no right to be doing this," said protester Dan Tritto. "Why are we killing these people in the first place? This so-called terrorist threat to us? The biggest terrorist threat — and that's a known fact now for quite a while — is White supremacy, here in this country, the right wing. What is their excuse for killing people? For droning people?"

Activist Victoria Ross said the drone killed a humanitarian worker for an American organization at his home.

"We came to honor them, to remember them, to think about the drones that bury innocent live and to read the names and talk about the program that is killing nine people for every person they are aiming at," Ross said.

The New York Times reported the next day that the drone missile killed the wrong people and there was no claimed secondary explosion after the missile exploded, as the military claimed.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.