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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Drones Are Flying, Despite U.S. Shutdown

As the United States government ground to a halt on Tuesday, there were plenty of sardonic comments from bloggers and journalists in parts of the world where the American military footprint is large.

Writing on Twitter, the Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida suggested that the top question for militants in the country’s North Waziristan Agency would be, “Are drones still operating?”

While the Central Intelligence Agency’s campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt is covert â€" and there have been hints that some attacks there attributed to the Americans might have been carried out by Pakistan’s own military â€" there is no doubt that drones operated by the Air Force, at least, will continue to fly.

As my colleagues Michael Schmidt, Thom Shanker and Andrew Siddons reported, while about 400,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department face unpaid leave, Pentagon contingency plans will keep more than 1.3 million active military personnel on duty, although they will probably not receive their paychecks until the shutdown ends.

“Those of you in uniform will remain on your normal duty status,” President Obama confirmed in a prerecorded video message to members of the armed forces, released as the shutdown took effect. “The threats to our national security have not changed, and we need you to be ready for any contingency,” Mr. Obama explained. “Ongoing military operations â€" like our efforts in Afghanistan â€" will continue.”

Reports on furloughs at Air National Guard bases in Syracuse and Springfield, Ohio, where technicians operate Reaper and Predator drones, confirmed to reporters that those active-duty personnel are considered essential and will remain at work.

One casualty of the furloughs however, will be the Twitter feed NASA runs to alert earthlings to potentially catastrophic asteroid strikes.