News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

August 1, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross, Jack Serle and Victoria Parsons
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Troops advance during an anti-al Shabaab operation in Somalia (UN Photo/Stuart Price)

Pakistan has the bloodiest month of drone strikes in two years.

July is the first month of the year with no drone attacks in Yemen.

Six months without a reported US attack in Somalia.

Naming the Dead database records 700 names.

Pakistan

July 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in July: 3

Total killed in strikes in July: 32-46

All actions 2004 – July 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 338

Total US strikes since 2004: 389

Total reported killed: 2,342-3,789

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

Total reported injured: 1,097-1,657For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

At least 32 people died in three CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, making this the bloodiest month since July 2012. The strikes all reportedly occurred in and around Datta Khel in North Waziristan.

The high death toll from just three attacks dramatically increased the casualty rate – the average number of people killed in each strike on average. This month the casualty rate was 10.7 people per strike. That is more than double the rate for June (4.6) and the highest since April 2011, when 24 people died in two attacks.

Just three of those killed have been named. All were members of al Qaeda according to Sanafi al Nasr, a Syrian-based al Qaeda leader, who eulogised the men. Fayez Awda al Khalidi, Taj al Makki and Abu Abdurahman al Kuwaiti died with three unnamed men in an attack on July 10 that reportedly destroyed a house and vehicle in Mada Khel village, near to Datta Khel.

July 16 saw the largest strike in Pakistan in over a year, killing at least 15 people. The CIA were targeting an important meeting, according to an unnamed security official. However one source said two mosques were targeted, killing 12 “people” in one and eight “people” in the other, without specifying whether they were civilians or members of an armed group. The Bureau has been unable to confirm these possible civilian casualties, or the report of strikes on mosques.

Three days later on July 19, Mada Khel village was reportedly hit again. At least 11 people died when a drone reportedly fired multiple missiles at a building or group of buildings.

The Pakistani army offensive against the Taliban in the region continued. The Pakistan military claims to have killed 500 militants with no civilian casualties since the offensive began in June.

On July 16 the military bombed the remote Shawal valley near the border of North and South Waziristan. The military claimed to have killed 35 militants. However AFP later reported that 37 civilians were killed, “including 20 women and 10 children”.

The military offensive has cleared entire towns of people, reportedly displacing a million people. Over 75,000 are said to have gone to Afghanistan and more than 990,000 have been registered in Pakistani camps just outside the tribal regions. The German government announced on July 30 that it would provide €1m (£796,000) to support the World Food Programme’s relief effort.

Yemen

July 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0

Further reported/possible US strike events: 0

Total reported killed in US operations: 0

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – July 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 65-77

Total reported killed: 339-494

Civilians reported killed: 64-83

Children reported killed: 7

Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 95-114

Total reported killed: 318-509

Civilians reported killed: 24-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 85-118

All other US covert operations: 14-79Total reported killed: 150-386Civilians reported killed: 60-89Children reported killed: 25-27Reported injured: 22-115Click here for the full Yemen data.

* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.

There were no reported drone strikes in July, making this the first month without a drone strike in Yemen this year.

This is in contrast to a year ago when a seven-week pause in attacks ended with a 15-day bombardment that lasted into August. Nine drone strikes killed 31-49 people, including three children. It was caused by a global terror alert that made the US close 20 embassies around the world – a move one analyst described as “crazy pants“.

This month a Freedom of Information request revealed that the Australian Christopher Havard, killed in a drone strike in Yemen last November, was subject to an Australian police arrest warrant. Havard was wanted for alleged involvement in a 2012 plot, linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to kidnap an Austrian and two Finnish citizens in Yemen.

The attack that killed Havard also killed a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen named Daryl Jones. A retired politician has urged New Zealanders to demand more information from the government over Jones’ death. Jones and Havard have been reported as the first Australians to die in a drone strike. However, the Bureau has previously reported the case of Saifullah, known locally as “the Australian”, who was killed in a July 2011 strike in Pakistan. The Australian government has denied he was a citizen.

AQAP continued to launch attacks, targeting military sites and personnel in three southern provinces. Local officials said at least eight people died in an attack on two army outposts on July 27.

Security was tightened on US-bound flights from 20 foreign airports, with efforts focusing on scrutinising phones and laptops. US officials said no specific threat caused the increased security measures, although CBS reported that shortly before the alert, AQAP released a video showing the “underpants bomber” shortly before his attempt to blow up an airplane in 2009.

The Guardian and others reported intelligence community fears that notorious AQAP bomb maker Ibrahim al Asiri was working with armed groups in Syria, raising concerns that he would seek to implant “invisible” bombs in fighters with Western passports in order to conduct attacks on European or US targets.

The US designated Anders Dale, a Norwegian, as a terrorist. The State Department alleges Dale joined AQAP and has travelled to Yemen multiple times since 2008. It claims he received terrorist training, including learning to make “bomb-belts, improvised explosive devices, and larger explosives used in car bombs”.

Somalia

July 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – July 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

Reported injured: 11-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

For the sixth successive month there were no reported US operations in Somalia, though government troops and soldiers from the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) continue to battle al Shabaab.

On July 8 al Shabaab fighters attacked the presidential compound. The interior ministry said the president was elsewhere at the time though at least three militants and as many as 15 guards died. This is the second attack on the presidential palace of the year, following one in February that killed 12.

On July 15 Somali soldiers and Amisom peacekeepers repelled an al Shabaab attack on Mogadishu’s airport, stopping a car packed with explosives from entering the airport. Less than a week later on July 21, Amisom troops met officials from the new south-western regional state of Somalia, which brings together six provinces. The new administration declared war on al Shabaab, with the regional police chief vowing to kill the relatives of militants who continued to kill innocent civilians.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamed, president of Somalia, leaked information about a new, 150-strong, CIA trained counter-terrorism force called Gashaan, or “the shield”. Meanwhile the government of Djibouti said it would send an additional 950 troops to support Amisom.

On July 23 Somali MP and musician Saado Ali Warsame was killed by militants in a drive-by shooting. She was the fourth MP killed this year. An al Shabaab spokesman said she was killed for her politics and not her music. On the same day the group also reportedly executed a 13-year-old girl following a show trial in southern Somalia, after accusing her of spying for Somali armed forces and Amisom. The al Shabaab “judge” said of the girl: “She was trained to assassinate senior members of the group and pass sensitive information to our enemies.”

Other news from the drone war

A Bureau study on the use of drones in Afghanistan found that despite there being at least 1,000 drone strikes on the country in the past 13 years, almost nothing is known about where they took place or who they hit. Afghanistan is the most heavily drone-bombed country in the world, yet more is understood about the US’s secret campaigns in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

A new Pew Research Center survey found that 39 of the 44 countries surveyed were opposed to US drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, with opposition to drone attacks increasing in many nations since last year. Israel, Kenya and the US are the only surveyed nations where at least half of the public supports drone strikes.

Naming the Dead

The Naming the Dead project has now recorded over 700 names of those killed by CIA drones in Pakistan. Almost half of those identified were civilians, and 99 were children. Though the database of names has grown since the project launched last year, fewer than one in three of the 2,342 reportedly killed in drone attacks have been identified so far.

New case studies have been added, including profiles of TTP deputy leader Wali ur Rehman, senior al Qaeda operative Abu Sulaiman al Jazairi, and Mohammed Haqqani, who was the brother and son of senior fighters, but may not have been an active member of an armed group himself.

Follow Alice Ross, Jack Serle and Victoria Parsons on Twitter.

Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project, subscribe to our podcast Drone News, and follow Drone Reads on Twitter to see what the team is reading.

Published

July 1, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross and Jack Serle
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

An MQ-9 Reaper waits to take flight (Photo: US Air Force/Staff Sgt John Bainter)

Drone strikes restart in Pakistan after a pause of almost six months.

US drone strike casualty rate in Yemen jumps to 8.3 people killed in each attack on average.

Kenyan jets strike al Shabaab in Somalia.

The Naming the Dead project approaches 700 names.

Pakistan

June 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in June: 3

Total killed in strikes in June: 14-24

All actions 2004 – June 30 2014

Total Obama strikes: 335

Total US strikes since 2004: 386

Total reported killed: 2,310-3,743

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

Total reported injured: 1,091-1,647For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

CIA drone strikes in Pakistan‘s tribal area resumed on June 11 with an attack that killed at least four people. The first attack since December 25 2013, this brought to an end the longest pause in drone strikes of Obama’s presidency.

Within hours drones attacked again, killing 6-10 people shortly after midnight on June 12. Some reports said this was a follow-up strike on the same site that targeted rescuers. A third attack killed at least four more people on June 18.

After the first strike, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the violation of its sovereignty. However, a senior Pakistani official told Reuters: ‘The attacks were launched with the express approval of the Pakistan government and army.’

During the almost six-month hiatus in strikes, the Pakistani government held peace talks with the Pakistan Taliban (TTP), an armed group based in the tribal agency of North Waziristan. These were interrupted by terrorist attacks and retaliatory Pakistan Air Force strikes on the tribal regions. A Bureau investigation found that 15 Pakistani air strikes between December and June 15 reportedly killed 291-540 people, including 16-112 civilians.

The peace talks conclusively ended after a June 8 attack in which gunmen and suicide bombers stormed Karachi airport. At least 34 people were killed in the ensuing gun battle, including 10 attackers. The TTP and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), also based in North Waziristan, claimed responsibility.

On June 15, the Pakistani government announced a long-awaited military offensive against the TTP in North Waziristan.

More than 450,000 people have fled their homes in North Waziristan since late May. On June 19 the Pakistan government said it would not ask aid agencies, including the UN, for help handling the refugee crisis. A week later the World Health Organisation warned the mass exodus risked increasing the spread of polio beyond the tribal belt – currently Pakistan’s worst affected area.

Nek Mohammed speaks during a tribal jirga in Pakistan (REUTERS/Kamran Wazir)

June 17 marked the tenth anniversary of the first drone strike in Pakistan. In June 2004, CIA drones killed Nek Mohammed and at least five others, including two children. On the anniversary, the Bureau published an interactive timeline of key milestones in the campaign, and eyewitness accounts of this strike. One local told the Bureau he heard a buzzing: ‘There was some noise then from the east, a flash of light came. There was a big blast.’

Also in June, a task force of legal experts, retired military and national security officials convened by the Stimson Center, a Washington-based think-tank, published a year-long analysis of the US use of armed drones for targeted killing.

The report called for more transparency over drone strikes and voiced concerns that the Obama administration’s ‘heavy reliance on targeted killings as a pillar of US counter-terrorism strategy … risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts.’ The authors also concluded drones do not ’cause disproportionate civilian casualties or turn killing into a “video-game”.’

Six-monthly trends

The absence of reported drone strikes in the first five months of 2014 led some to question whether the campaign in Pakistan had ended entirely.

Several factors may have contributed to the lengthy hiatus. The Pakistani government spent the first half of the year in often fractious peace negotiations with the TTP. A source close to the talks told the Bureau that Islamabad had asked the US to stop drone strikes during the process. All hope of the talks succeeding ended with the TTP’s joint attack on Karachi airport on June 8; drone strikes returned days later.

Drones reportedly continued flying over the tribal regions, and US officials said the administration reserved the right to use lethal force if a target presented itself. It is possible the CIA may have decided to pursue a more limited list of targets.

The campaign may have been affected by the scaling-down of the US intelligence network over the border in Afghanistan. CIA border posts and listening stations are closing ahead of the drawdown and AP reported the CIA is ending payments to its proxy militias in the region, which gather human intelligence on targets in Pakistan.

The strikes may also have been constrained by secret negotiations leading up to the May 31 release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the last US prisoner of war. He was exchanged for five members of the Afghan Taliban held in Guantanamo. Bergdahl had been held prisoner in Pakistan’s tribal areas by the Haqqani Network, members of which were the target of at least one of June’s three strikes.

The year’s three strikes so far killed 14-24 people, none of whom were described as civilians. This is the smallest reported death toll for a six-month period of drone strikes in Pakistan since the first half of 2006, when 13-22 people reportedly died.

The average number of people killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan during Obama’s presidency.

However the casualty rate – the average number of people killed per strike – for the first half of 2014 is 4.7. This rate has hovered between around 3.5 and 5 for the past three years, after peaking at more than 10 in the first half of 2009.

Yemen

June 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 1

Further reported/possible US strike events: 2

Total reported killed in US operations: 5-10

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – June 30 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 65-77

Total reported killed: 339-494

Civilians reported killed: 34-83

Children reported killed: 7

Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 95-114

Total reported killed: 318-509

Civilians reported killed: 24-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 85-118

All other US covert operations: 14-79Total reported killed: 150-386Civilians reported killed: 60-89Children reported killed: 25-27Reported injured: 22-115Click here for the full Yemen data.

* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.

June saw one confirmed drone strike in Yemen, killing 5-6 people, and two further attacks that may have been drone strikes. One of these possible strikes, on June 4, killed 3-4 people. Casualties were unknown in the other.

Only two of the dead were identified, both described as members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). ‘Tribal sources‘ told reporters that the June 4 strike killed Jafar al Shabwani, describing him as a mid-level AQAP commander. He was the fourth man with this name to have reportedly died in a drone strike this year, but their relation to each other is unclear.

The confirmed US drone strike, on June 13 or 14, killed ‘leading AQAP figure’ Musaed al Habshi al Barasi al Awlaqi and two unnamed Saudis, along with at least two other unidentified casualties.

The US added alleged AQAP member Shawqi Ali Ahmed al Badani to a US sanctions list. According to unnamed officials, al Badani was the target of a disastrous US drone strike on a wedding procession in December 2013.

US citizen Anwar al Awlaki, killed in a drone strike in September 2011 (YouTube screengrab)

On June 23 the US government released, with redactions, a secret memo setting out legal justifications for killing a US citizen, Anwar al Awlaki. The release met with mixed reactions from national security analysts and legal experts.

June also saw the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) overrun major cities in Iraq. So far Washington has refused Baghdad’s requests for airstrikes on ISIS fighters, but has started flying armed drones over the country. And there are now more than 180 US special forces in the country.

Six-monthly trends

Six confirmed drone strikes since January this year have reportedly killed at least 50 people, including four civilians. This makes it the bloodiest six-month period for drone strikes in the country since the first half of 2012, when the US launched at least 21 confirmed drone strikes, killing upwards of 140 people.

While more people died overall in January to June 2012, this year’s drone strikes have had higher death tolls. The casualty rate for the past six months was 8.3 people killed per strike – the highest yet recorded in Yemen, and almost double that recorded in the second half of last year.

The average number of people killed per US drone strike in Yemen and Pakistan during Obama’s presidency.

Since 2011 the casualty rate in Pakistan and Yemen has been at a similar level. But in the first half of 2014, as in the first half of 2012, the casualty rate in Yemen spiked. These periods both coincide with Yemeni government attempts to oust AQAP from territory it had seized.

The increased casualty rate this year is because a cluster of attacks on April 19 and April 20 killed at least 37 people.

This analysis examines only strikes considered confirmed by the Bureau – those described as drone strikes by three separate credible sources, or those acknowledged by US sources. In the first half of 2012, up to 102 air attacks were reported, so the true number of drone strikes is unknown but may be higher. And in the first half of 2014, the Bureau recorded a further 12 possible drone strikes, killing 18-30.

The civilian casualty rate – the number of civilians killed in each strike on average – fell sharply compared to the previous six months but continued a longer-term upwards trend.

The minimum number of civilians reportedly killed by US drones in Yemen during Obama’s presidency.

The high rate in the second half of last year is in large part because at least eight civilians were killed in the catastrophic wedding party strike on December 12 2013 strike. However, the civilian casualty rate in the first half of this year is more than three times that of the same period in 2012.

This could be due to improved reporting: journalists have, until recently, enjoyed better access to parts of the country than they did in 2011 and 2012, when the areas affected by drone strikes were often under AQAP control.

However journalists’ ability to report is now being restricted by the Yemeni government. Journalists have repeatedly been harassed by the security forces, and the government has closed media groups owned by the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. US journalist Adam Baron was expelled from the country, and UK reporter Iona Craig left shortly afterwards. They were the last accredited international journalists living and working in Sanaa.

Somalia

June 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – June 30 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

Reported injured: 11-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

There were no reported US operations in Somalia for the fifth successive month. However al Shabaab sites came under attack from Kenyan Defence Force jets. Military sources claimed up to 80 alleged militants died, though there were no independent casualty estimates.

The strikes were reportedly in support of the African Union peacekeeping mission, Amisom, which has been trying to roll back al Shabaab control in southern and central Somalia. Amisom has had some success against al Shabaab but a report by the International Crisis Group predicted it will be a long war against the armed group.

Al Shabaab killed at least 48 people in a bloodthirsty attack on people watching the World Cup in Mpeketoni, a poor Kenyan coastal town. Scores of al Shabaab fighters poured into the town after dark, targeting a police station and hotels, reportedly killing men with guns and knives but sparing women and children. Mpeketoni is near the popular tourist destination Lamu. The continuing attacks are harming Kenya’s crucial tourist industry,

The attack echoed a 2010 al Shabaab bombing in Kampala, Uganda, which also targeted crowds watching the World Cup. In that attack more than 70 died.

Six-monthly trends

A single drone strike this year killed 2-9 people on January 26. It reportedly targeted Ahmed Abdi Godane, al Shabaab’s leader. It later emerged one of Godane’s aides, Sahal Iskudhuq, was killed in the attack. Godane had reportedly met with Iskudhuq that evening.

Ethiopian soldiers join the Amisom peacekeeping force in Somalia (Amisom/Flickr)

There have been between five and eight US drone strikes reported in Somalia since the first one in June 2011, a small number compared with Yemen and Pakistan. However, because much of the country remains beyond government control and out of reach for journalists and civil society, it is possible further attacks have gone unreported.

This year Amisom announced Ethiopia would contribute soldiers to the peacekeeping force. Ethiopia unilaterally invaded Somalia in December 2006 and its occupation was marked by accusations of war crimes.

Amisom have made territorial gains against al Shabaab, but the armed group has continued to launch lethal attacks in the heavily defended green zone around Mogadishu’s airport and the presidential palace.

Naming the Dead

This month the Bureau has added 14 names to Naming the Dead project, which identifies those killed in Pakistan drone strikes, taking the number of names published to 698.

These people were killed in June’s second strike. This poses a puzzle: there were only 6-10 people reportedly killed by the strike. However it was just hours after the earlier attack, so some of those 14 names could have belonged to those killed in that strike. Alternatively, the extra names could be pseudonyms or aliases.

The Bureau has profiled Nek Mohammed, the local Taliban commander who was the target of the first CIA drone strike in Pakistan, 10 years ago this month.

Additional reporting by Olivia Rudgard.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter – or to see what the team is reading, follow Drone Reads. Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project and subscribe to our podcast, Drone News from the Bureau.

 

Published

June 3, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross and Jack Serle
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

CIA drones have not hit Pakistan for over five months – some now suggest it is a permanent end to strikes.

The hiatus in drone strikes continues as Pakistan’s military takes the fight to the Taliban.

A US drone strike kills at least four amid an ongoing Yemen military offensive against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Another month without a reported US attack in Somalia as al Shabaab attacks neighbouring countries.

New case studies added to the Naming the Dead project.

Pakistan

May 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in May: 0

Total killed in strikes in May: 0

All actions 2004 – May 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 332

Total US strikes since 2004: 383

Total reported killed: 2,296-3,719

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

Total reported injured: 1,089-1,639For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

More than five months have passed without a drone strike in Pakistan, and some analysts suggest the campaign is drawing to a close.

The Associated Press reported that CIA drones are still flying armed missions over Pakistan and analysts are still adding targets to the kill list. But the US intends to continue drawing down its forces in Afghanistan, leaving altogether by 2016. This would mean the air bases from which the drones fly and the intelligence outposts that provide them with their targets will close.

Congressman Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told AP: ‘By the end of this year we will have a noticeable degradation in our ability to collect intelligence on people of concern.’

President Obama made a major speech on foreign policy at West Point military academy, in which he confirmed the US will continue to conduct off-battlefield drone strikes. But he mentioned Pakistan only once, declaring that ‘al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated’.

The Pakistan military has stepped up operations in North Waziristan, continuing the air strikes that began in April and also attacking Taliban targets with artillery, helicopters and ground forces. There have been reports of high casualties from the strikes; at least 60 people reportedly died in a series of attacks on May 21. Thousands of people have already reportedly been displaced, fleeing to neighbouring Bannu region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Pakistan Taliban has reportedly fragmented this month as infighting between factions continued. A faction based in South Waziristan, made up of Mehsud tribesmen commanded by Khan Said, has broken from the main group commanded by Mullah Fazlullah. Said’s Mehsud group is reportedly on good terms with the Pakistani government and there is hope this schism could lead to increased stability in South Waziristan.

The US government agreed to publish a redacted version of the memo outlining the legal basis for killing US citizens overseas. The move came after an appeals court ordered the publication last month. However, a week after the judgment, the Justice Department sought a fresh court hearing to redact further sections of the memo, beyond those agreed by the court. The government also sought to have the new hearing held in secret. The court agreed to hear the government’s case for further redactions but refused to do so entirely behind closed doors.

This month the Bureau published major research analysing all strikes that have taken place in Pakistan. This revealed that drones have attacked more domestic buildings than another type of target – more than 60% of strikes hit houses, killing at least 222 civilians.

Since 2008 in Afghanistan air strikes on domestic buildings have been banned in all but the most urgent situations, as part of measures to reduce civilian casualties. But they have been the most frequent targets of attacks in Pakistan in each year of the campaign, including since 2008. The research, a collaboration with Forensic Architecture and Situ Research, is also presented in an interactive map, Where the Drones Strike.

Yemen

May 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 1

Further reported/possible US strike events: 0

Total reported killed in US operations: 4-6

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – May 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 64-76

Total reported killed: 334-488

Civilians reported killed: 34-84

Children reported killed: 7-8

Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 93-112

Total reported killed: 315-505

Civilians reported killed: 24-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 85-118

All other US covert operations: 14-79Total reported killed: 150-386Civilians reported killed: 59-88Children reported killed: 24-26Reported injured: 22-115Click here for the full Yemen data.

* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.

A US drone killed at least four people in a vehicle in the Wadi Abeeda area of Mareb province. Witnesses named two of the dead as alleged al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members Naif Faraj and Mousleh al Arahabi.

The Yemeni military continued to carry out operations against AQAP in the central and southern Yemeni provinces of Shabwa, Abyan and al Bayda, with casualties to both sides. AQAP responded with attacks and bombings in the capital and other cities.

The UN estimates more than 24,000 refugees have been displaced by the fighting, as of May 20. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Yemen Red Crescent have been providing humanitarian relief.

There have been few reports of civilian casualties beyond five civilians killed on May 22, when Yemeni government forces targetted their vehicle with artillery. However the Yemeni government appears to have been taking steps to shut down critical media coverage of its activities.

On May 20 a team of al Jazeera reporters were detained in Shabwa by government forces while covering the conflict and ‘evacuated’ to the capital, Sana’a.

On May 8 the Yemeni authorities expelled Adam Baron, a reporter for McClatchy who had worked in the country for more than three years. On May 12 Iona Craig of The Times left the country; at the airport she was told she would not be allowed to return. She later wrote: ‘The foreign media may not be welcome in Yemen, but if they are quietly trying to remove us then the greatest threat to be faced will be to domestic reporters.’

Barack Obama cited Yemen in his West Point speech, as part of his declaration that the US will continue to launch drone strikes ‘when we have actionable intelligence’. He also announced the US would spend $5bn on developing and training counter-terrorism forces in countries around the world, pointing to the US’s direct support for Yemen’s security forces as an example of the work this new programme will do.

Also this month, it emerged Saudi Arabia had bombed northern Yemen with US-made cluster bombs in 2009 and 2010.

Somalia

May 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – May 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

Reported injured: 11-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

There was again no reported US strikes in Somalia – it is now more than four months since the last confirmed US attack in the country.

However al Shabaab continues to penetrate security to carry out attacks in Mogadishu, including an attack on the parliament building that killed 10 people.

The attack came two weeks after 100 Somali MPs signed a letter calling on the president to resign for failing to improve the security situation. The MPs threatened to impeach him. The president rejected the call for his resignation.

African Union peacekeeping forces (Amisom) continue to battle al Shabaab south and west of the capital. On May 18 Kenyan jets killed at least 50 alleged militants in a strike described as an Amisom operation. However the peacekeeper’s UN mandate extends to ‘an appropriate aviation component of up to twelve military helicopters’; not jets. On May 28 the militants hit back, ambushing a column of Amisom forces and killing 32 Ethiopian troops.

Al Shabaab also attacked a restaurant in the tiny African state, Djibouti to the north of Somalia, killing three people. This country is home to the only permanent US base in Africa as well as a French base and EU and Nato naval forces involved in counter-piracy operations. The group has also vowed to take its fight into Kenya. It has continued to attack targets in Kenya, in the capital, Nairobi and in the coastal city of Mombassa. At least 13 were killed in two bomb blasts in Nairobi on May 16.

There is increasing concern that the attacks in Kenya are doing serious damage to the economy, particularly to the  tourism industry – the country’s second-biggest source of foreign currency.

Kenya has continued to crack down on ethnic Somalis living in the country in operations Amnesty International described as ‘a disturbing wave of serious human rights violations’.

Naming the Dead

New case studies on the Naming the Dead website this month include profiles of British brothers Abdul Jabbar and Mohammed Azmir Khan, who died in separate drone strikes in North Waziristan in 2010 and 2011. Following reports that an Australian and Yemeni citizen died in a drone strike in Yemen, we have profiled Saifullah, described in reports as an Australian militant, and Zahirullah, the owner of the house in which Saifullah died. Emeti Yakuf, commander of a Chinese militant group, has also been profiled.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project and subscribe to our podcast Drone News.

Published

May 1, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross and Jack Serle
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The wreckage of a four-wheel drive destroyed by CIA drones in Yemen (EPA/stringer).

More than four months without a drone strike in Pakistan.

US drones and special forces launch barrage of attacks in Yemen.

‘Western’ special forces support peacekeeper offensive in Somalia.

The Bureau has added more than 100 names to its Naming the Dead project since launch.

Pakistan

April 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in April: 0

Total killed in strikes in April: 0

All actions 2004 – April 30 2014

Total Obama strikes: 332

Total US strikes since 2004: 383

Total reported killed: 2,296-3,719

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

Total reported injured: 1,089-1,639For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

It is now more than four months since the last reported drone strike in Pakistan. This is reportedly to allow peace talks to take place between the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and the government.

While drone attacks have stopped, there have been reports of sightings of unmanned aircraft over Miranshah, North Waziristan and Hangu, beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas, indicating that CIA surveillance may be continuing.

The pause in drone strikes has been welcomed by senior Pakistani military officers, according to Owen Bennett-Jones, who recently visited Waziristan and described the trip for the Bureau’s drones podcast.

It was reported that the US drone strikes in Pakistan are carried out by US Air Force (USAF) personnel, under the direction of the CIA. The strikes are carried out by the USAF 17th Reconnaissance Squadron based at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The CIA manages the operations but the drones are operated by military crews. Former USAF drone operator Brandon Bryant said: ‘The CIA might be the customer but the air force has always flown it. A CIA label is just an excuse to not have to give up any information. That is all it has ever been.’

A ceasefire between the TTP and the government in Islamabad broke down this month, although both sides have said they want the peace talks to continue. There was a dramatic drop in militant attacks over the first quarter of 2014, according to research organisation the Conflict Monitoring Center. But attacks continued in April, including some before the ceasefire was officially dropped. Policemen and civilians were among those killed in various militant attacks. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jets reportedly killed at least 35 people including eight civilians in strikes on Khyber agency.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee dropped a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the White House to publish yearly drone strike casualty figures. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote to the committee saying that the administration is exploring ways to be more transparent about US drone strikes.

Clapper wrote: ‘To be meaningful to the public, any report including the [casualty] information… would require context and be drafted carefully.’

A separate bipartisan bill, also aiming to compel the White House to publish drone strike casualty figures, was put before Congress this month. The independent analysis firm GovTrack gives the bill a negligible chance of passing the committee stage.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser said intelligence provided by Australian spies to the CIA could expose Australian spies to prosecution if it is used to target drone strikes in Pakistan. He said intelligence officers working at Pine Gap, a joint Australian-US listening station in central Australia, could be vulnerable to charges of crimes against humanity. Last year an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Pine Gap intercepts mobile phone and radio traffic in Pakistan’s tribal region to identify and track targets for drone strikes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Yemen

April 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 2-4

Further reported/possible US strikes: 1

Total reported killed in US operations: 37–55

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 4-10

All actions 2002 – April 30 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 63-75

Total reported killed: 330-482

Civilians reported killed: 34-84

Children reported killed: 7-8

Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 93-112

Total reported killed: 315-505

Civilians reported killed: 24-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 85-118

All other US covert operations: 14-79Total reported killed: 150-386Civilians reported killed: 59-88Children reported killed: 24-26Reported injured: 22-115Click here for the full Yemen data.

* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.

At least 40 people were killed in a blitz of attacks on Yemen between April 19-20. At least five civilians were reportedly among the dead, including children aged 14 and 16.

CIA drones destroyed a truck carrying alleged militants during the night of April 19, killing at least 10 people. However, a nearby vehicle was also caught in the blast. At least three labourers were killed by flying shrapnel. Up to six other civilians were wounded; they were taken to a nearby hospital where the Yemeni government reportedly paid for their treatment.

CIA drones and Yemen Air Force jets, possibly with support from US warships, killed at least 24 people on April 20. A 14-year-old boy was among the dead from a massive strike on an alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) camp.

On the night of April 20 a further operation left three to four people dead. US and Yemeni special forces ambushed a car travelling through the southern Shabwa province. A 16-year-old boy was reportedly killed in the attack.

AQAP’s master bomb-maker Ibrahim al Asiri and the group’s leader Nasser al Wuhayshi were initially reportedly killed in this strike. However unnamed US officials said they were not the targets of the operation. And it subsequently emerged that DNA tests showed they were not among the dead.

Al Wuhayshi appeared in a widely publicised video with dozens of fighters in late March, reportedly filmed in the same area as the second strike. In the video al Wuhayshi tells the fighters: ‘We should remember that we fight the biggest enemy. We must overthrow the leaders of infidelity and remove the cross and its holder, America.’

After the strikes, Yemen’s armed forces, backed by local militia, began an offensive to ‘purge‘ AQAP from the districts in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa. The militant group established a foothold in Abyan in 2011, spurring the US and Yemeni governments to launch a bloody offensive in 2012. One area the military has said it will focus on is al Mahfed in Abyan – a frequent target of US attacks. Every strike on Abyan since January 2013 has hit in the al Mahfed area, according to Bureau data.

It also emerged this month that two Westerners, described as AQAP ‘foot soldiers’, were killed in a US attack in November 2013. Christopher Harvard, 27, was an Australian citizen who had travelled to Yemen purportedly to teach English. The Australian foreign ministry confirmed his death in the operation. A dual Australian and New Zealand national initially identified as Muslim bin John also died, the New Zealand prime minister confirmed. He was later identified as Daryl Jones – he had reportedly been travelling in the Middle East since mid-2012. Two Yemenis and an Egyptian were also killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, a federal US court of appeal said the government must release its legal justification for killing US citizens abroad in drone strikes. The unanimous decision is in response to a Freedom of Information request by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking government records about the deaths of Anwar al Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman and Samir Khan – three US citizens killed in Yemen in 2011.

Somalia

April 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – April 30 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

Reported injured: 11-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

There are no reported US attacks in Somalia in April, though ‘foreign Special Forces’ and US drones supported an offensive by African Union peacekeepers, according to AFP.

African Union troops (Amisom) soldiers made considerable gains capturing towns from al Shabaab, though the militant group continues to hold swathes of territory.

Sierra Leone sent a battalion of soldiers to join Amisom this month – the fifth state to contribute personnel. Kenya has had troops in the south of Somalia for three years, which are now part of the Amisom force. An investigation by a Kenyan newspaper revealed the strain the three-year occupation of Somalia is putting on its armed forces.

Despite losing ground to Amisom, al Shabaab again launched attacks in Mogadishu, the capital. The militants shot dead a Somali lawmaker less than 24 hours after killing another Somali MP with a car bomb.

The militant group also issued a bloodthirsty video message to the world this month, declaring: ‘We will blow you up, until we finish you off.’

A French citizen and a Briton were shot dead as they arrived in Galkayo. The men were employed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Al Shabaab did not claim the attack, though they did celebrate the foreign workers’ death.

Also this month, Kenya continued to crack down on ethnic Somalis living in the country, reportedly detaining 3,000 and expelling dozens.

Dutch journalists revealed the Netherlands has been intercepting vast amounts of Somali telephone traffic and sharing it with US intelligence – although the Dutch government denied involvement in US drone strikes.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau has now added more than 100 names to the Naming the Dead database since the project launched in September 2013. Over 50 of the new names have come from Bureau research in Pakistan, while the others have emerged from media reports of drone strikes.

Bureau field researchers, working with local officials, have uncovered 35 new names of alleged militants this month. Six names were added to a strike in October 2012 that left 16-26 dead, and 15 alleged militants killed in a strike on January 6 2013 were also identified. The Bureau also added 14 names to three strikes in July 2013: eight new names from a July 3 2013 strike that killed 16-18 people emerged. Two new names were added to the data for a July 13 strike that killed 2-3 people. And four names were added to a July 28 2013 strike that killed 5-8 people.

Picture on homepage: USAF/Senior Airman Jack Sanders

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project and subscribe to our podcast.

Published

April 1, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross and Jack Serle
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US drones were under scrutiny at the UN Human Rights Council this month (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

There have been no reported drone strikes in Pakistan for more than three months

Strikes hit Yemen at an intensity not seen since July 2013

Another month without a US operation in Somalia, while African Union forces make advances

Naming the Dead identifies sixteen people killed by CIA drones in Pakistan

Pakistan

March 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in March: 0

Total killed in strikes in March: 0

All actions 2004 – March 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 332

Total US strikes since 2004: 383

Total reported killed: 2,296-3,718

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

Total reported injured: 1,089-1,639For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

There has not been a drone strike in Pakistan for 96 days. The current pause is almost twice as long as 54-day break at the end of 2011.

Islamabad and the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) continued to hold peace talks but violence persisted on the part of both the state and militants. The Pakistan Air Force bombed the tribal regions and militants struck at the heart of the Pakistani capital.

On March 1 the TTP announced a month-long ceasefire. The next day the Pakistan government bombed Taliban commander Maulvi Tamanchey’s base in Khyber tribal agency, killing at least five. Pakistan blamed Tamanchey for killing 12 people in an attack on a polio vaccination team.

The day after the Khyber strike, suicide bombers and gunmen killed 11 people in an attack on the courts district of Islamabad. The TTP disowned the killings but a group called Ahrar ul Hind, reportedly a Taliban proxy, claimed responsibility for the attack. In addition, six Frontier Corps soldiers were killed three days later on March 5 – reportedly carried out by TTP-associated group Ansar ul Majahideen.

While there were no drone strikes in Pakistan, over the border five Afghan National Army soldiers were reportedly killed by US military drones. US military officials subsequently said manned aircraft were involved in the attack, in eastern Afghanistan.

Also this month, 26 members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution, proposed by Pakistan, that called on states to be more transparent in recording drone strikes and casualties. Yemen and Switzerland were among the co-sponsors of the resolution.

The US, UK and France voted against the resolution. Several Nato members abstained, including Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic.

The resolution also called on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organise an expert panel to examine the law around drone strikes. This was one of UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s recommendations in his final report on drones.

Emmerson presented the report to the HRC this month. It included eight key legal questions. He told the HRC meeting in Geneva these ‘need to be urgently debated and if possible resolved’.

This month the Bureau finished reconciling information gained from a Pakistani document leaked to the Bureau that records drone strikes in Pakistan. The document corroborated two strikes recorded in the Bureau’s database as possible CIA drone strikes.

Yemen

March 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 2 Further reported/possible US strike events: 4 Total reported killed in US operations: 4-19Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-1

All actions 2002 – March 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 61-71

Total reported killed: 293-430

Civilians reported killed: 30-74

Children reported killed: 6

Reported injured: 76-187

Possible extra US drone strikes: 92-111

Total reported killed: 311-501

Civilians reported killed: 24-44

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 81-114

All other US covert operations: 13-77

Total reported killed: 148-377

Civilians reported killed: 59-88

Children reported killed: 24-26

Reported injured: 22-115Click here for the full Yemen data.

* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.

There were two confirmed drone strikes in Yemen this month, killing at least four people. These are the first confirmed US attacks this year.

In addition, there were four further, possible US attacks. These six attacks killed19 people in the space of 11 days. Covert bombings in Yemen have not seen this level of intensity since an international terror alert in July and August last year spurred the US to launch nine drone attacks in 15 days, killing at least 31 people.

Two attacks this month killed members of the Shabwan tribe. The first strike of the month killed Jaber Saleh al Shabwani, an alleged al Qaeda member, approximately 19-years old. He was the son of a respected Yemeni businessman in the oil industry. Jaber Saleh’s fellow tribesmen and alleged al Qaeda members Mohammed Jabir al Shabwani and Ebad al Shabwani, reportedly a friend of Jaber Saleh. Ebad was reportedly driving the car destroyed in the strike. His family later denied he was a part of al Qaeda and said he was a 16-year old boy.

The six attacks this month hit targets in four provinces – Abyan, Mareb, Shabwa, and Jawf – a vast area that forms a central band across the country from the Gulf of Aden to the Saudi Arabian border. Three quarters of all recorded attacks in Yemen have hit in these provinces.

Also this month, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula shot dead a man accused of being a spy. The group released a video of the alleged spy’s confession. Amin Abdullah Muhammad al Mualimi confessed to planting tracking chips on vehicles that killed seven alleged al Qaeda members in a strike at the end of 2012. His body was strung up between football goal posts in the eastern province of Hadramout as a warning to others.

Relatives of drone strike victims announced the formation of the National Organisation for Drone Victims, an advocacy group. It intends to highlight ‘the civilian impact of the covert programme’, according to legal charity Reprieve.

Somalia

March 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – March 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

Reported injured: 11-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

There were no reported US operations in Somalia for the second month running. However UN-backed African Union peacekeepers Amisom has made gains against al Shabaab. Kenyan and Ethiopian troops have successfully retaken key towns, including El Bur and Hudur in central Somalia. The UN’s representative said the advances are ‘significant and geographically extensive’.

The US-trained multinational force has expanded, with up to 410 Ugandan troops reportedly being sent to the country, taking the Uaganda’s deployment to 6,223. The new troops are being deployed to guard UN institutions in Mogadishu, to ‘free the bulk of Amisom forces from escort duties to pursue al Shabaab in their hide-outs’. The move came two weeks after militants launched a bloody attack on the presidential palace in Mogadishu which is at the heart of what is supposed to be the most secure part of the city.

That attack last month demonstrated the al Qaeda-aligned militant group remains a potent threat. Al Shabaab’s economic power is significantly reduced but it retains the ability to carry out ‘almost daily operations of indiscriminate violence’, BBC Somalia editor Mary Harper told the Bureau’s podcast. This month a suicide bomber and al Shabaab gunmen killed at least 25 Amisom and Somali soldiers in an attack on a hotel in central Somalia.

Alleged Somali terrorists have been active in Kenya as well this month. On March 18 police arrested two alleged Islamist terrorists in Mombassa, They were reportedly carrying two large bombs which ‘would have caused massive destruction’ police said. The Kenyan government subsequently ordered the concentration of all Somali refugees in the country into two refugee camps, one on the Somali border and the other on the South Sudanese border. There are an estimated 1.1m Somali refugees in Kenya. Three days later, on March 31, a bomb attack left six people dead in the predominantly Somali Eastleigh neighbourhood of Nairobi.

The militants executed six men by firing squad who they accused of spying. On March 4 al Shabaab announced it had killed 29-year-old Mohammed Abdulle Gelle for helping US drones kill an al Shabaab commander in October 2013. Ahmed Abdullahi Farole, 47, was also shot dead. The militants claimed he was spying for the government in Puntland. Four others were also killed after similar accusations, including three unnamed men publicly executed in a single incident on March 28.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau has added 16 names to its Naming the Dead database. Bureau sources in Pakistan revealed the names of eleven men killed in a night strike on a house in June 2013. Four more civilians killed in the infamous ‘jirga strike’ on March 17 2011 were identified. They were named by a victims relative who was interviewed by production company Brave New Films. The transcript of the interview was given to the Bureau. A senior TTP member was identified by the Taliban as killed in a strike in October 2010.

Four new case studies have also been added to Naming the Dead. Atiyah Abd al Rahman was a Libyan, born in Misrata. CIA drones killed him in September 2011. Pakistani al Qaeda member Aslam Awan died in January 2012 in a strike that destroyed a mud-brick house. Tuersun Toheti died in August 2012 as an alleged key member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – a group of ethnic Uighurs fighting for an independent state in Xinjian, western China. And alleged Haqqani Network commander Sangeen Zadran was killed in strike on a house in North Waziristan.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

Sign up for regular updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project and subscribe to our podcast, Drone News.

Published

March 25, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The £1bn Watchkeeper drone will not be used in Afghanistan, the report reveals (Photo: Defence Images)

The British government should be more transparent about intelligence-sharing that leads to covert drone strikes, say MPs in a report published today.

The call for greater transparency ‘in relation to safeguards and limitations the UK Government has in place for the sharing of intelligence’, came in a report on drones by the Defence select committee. The report acknowledged that intelligence-sharing was outside the committee’s remit and called on the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the issue.

The report adds that it is ‘vital’ that a ‘clear distinction’ is drawn between UK drone operations and covert strikes such as those conducted by the US in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The British government has refused to confirm or deny whether it shares locational intelligence with the US that could lead to drone strikes, including contesting a court case brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani tribesman whose father was killed in an attack in March 2011.

Related story – GCHQ intel sharing for drone strikes may be ‘accessory to murder’

However, Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism who has conducted a year-long investigation into the use of armed drones by the US, UK and Israel, told a parliamentary meeting last year that intelligence ties between the UK and US are so closely intertwined that it is ‘inevitable’ such sharing had taken place.

The select committee considered submissions from 21 experts and organisations including the Ministry of Defence (MoD), defence manufacturers, activist groups, and academics. Madeleine Moon MP, a Labour member of the committee, visited several British drone bases and spoke to pilots as part of the inquiry.

 ‘We consider that it is of vital importance that a clear distinction be drawn between the actions of UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan and those of other States elsewhere’– Defence select committee

The Bureau submitted evidence highlighting the prominent role played by UK-piloted drones in Afghanistan – data obtained by the Bureau shows that they have carried out over a fifth of all drone strikes in the country, and the proportion of strikes carried out by UK pilots has grown over time. The Bureau’s submission outlines the need for transparency on drone strikes.

Read the Bureau’s full submission here

The report is highly supportive of British drone operations and crew, who it described as ‘experienced professional personnel with a clear purpose and keen understanding of the Rules of Engagement which govern their operations’. It notes that British-piloted drones have killed civilians in a single incident, taking place in March 2011.

Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, chair of the committee, said in a statement that pilots are ‘no video gaming “warrior geeks” as some would portray them. Despite being remote from the battle space they exhibit a strong sense of connection to the life and death decisions they are sometimes required to take.’

Drones are a ‘key capability’, the report adds, and their use has helped avoid battlefield casualties and particularly civilian casualties. This is because the ‘persistence’ of drones – the length of time they can observe a scene – means that commanders are more aware of the situation.

However, the committee emphasised the differences between British battlefield operations and the operations of ‘other States’, including covert drone strikes away from internationally recognised armed conflicts such as those carried out by the US in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

‘We consider that it is of vital importance that a clear distinction be drawn between the actions of UK Armed Forces operating remotely piloted air systems in Afghanistan and those of other States elsewhere. On the basis of the evidence we have received we are satisfied that UK remotely piloted air system operations comply fully with international law,’ wrote the MPs.

Related story – UK drones three times more likely than US to fire in Afghanistan

They also call on the government to clarify its position on whether covert strikes such as those in Pakistan are legal under international law.

‘The Committee calls for the Government to ‘draw a clear distinction’ between UK use of armed drones and the US use outside of International Humanitarian Law situations. The best way to do this is for the UK government to condemn such use and to be clear that any intelligence it provides the US should not be used for unlawful attacks,’ Chris Cole of campaign group Drone Wars UK told the Bureau.

The Association for Military Court Advocates warned in its submission that drones offer ‘unparallelled opportunities for secrecy’, and the committee says the MoD should be ‘as transparent as it can be… in order to build public confidence about their use’. The report quotes the Bureau’s argument that it is ‘important that the British government establishes the international precedent of publishing a fuller record of drone strikes and their impact, to the extent that is operationally secure’.

Other topics tackled in the wide-ranging report include:

• Pilots and crewThe committee spoke to pilots and crew members, who listed ‘Upgrades to the sensor suites on the Reaper’ in order to do their jobs better. Reaper is often described as having top-of-the-range sensor equipment. Crews also said they needed more staff, and the Royal Aeronautical Society described the ‘strain’ on squadrons of delivering round-the-clock drone surveillance. Crews also called for a ‘UK training system’ rather than the current ‘reliance’ on the US Air Force for training.

• FutureAir Vice-Marshal Philip Osborn said in January that the Air Force has ‘every intention’ of carrying on using Reaper after the withdrawal from Afghanistan. But the report notes that it is unclear which other unmanned aircraft the UK will continue using after the end of 2014, and calls on the MoD to clarify this.

• AutonomyThe MoD told the committee that it has no intention of using fully autonomous armed drones. ‘[C]urrent UK policy is that the operation of weapon systems will always be under human control’, the report says.

• WatchkeeperThe UK originally awarded Thales UK a contract to develop the Watchkeeper surveillance drone in 2005, with the intention of deploying it in Afghanistan. In 2008 the committee was told that Watchkeeper would be ready for use by 2013. But the report notes that the aircraft did not begin flight training until this month, and ‘it is now unlikely that Watchkeeper will be utilised in Afghanistan, the theatre for which it was originally procured’. The programme has cost ‘approximately £1bn’, the report notes.

• NamingThe report describes the term ‘drone’ as ‘inaccurate and misleading as it fails to capture either their purpose or degree of technological sophistication’. It recommends ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ (RPA) and ‘remotely piloted air(craft) system’ (RPAS) as ‘the most accurate terms’ for referring to armed drones.

The full report is here

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Published

March 4, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross and Jack Serle
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US drones launched no attacks in Pakistan for the second month in a row

(Photo: US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee).

Pakistan military attacks Pakistan Taliban as the pause in drone strikes enters its third month.

One possible drone strike hits Yemen. More details of December 12 wedding strike emerge.

No US operations are reported in Somalia.

Pakistan

February 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in February: 0

Total killed in strikes in February: 0

All actions 2004 – February 28 2014

Total Obama strikes: 330

Total US strikes since 2004: 381

Total reported killed: 2,412-3,701

Civilians reported killed: 416-951

Children reported killed: 168-200

Total reported injured: 1,122-1,606For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

There has been no report of a drone strike in Pakistan since Christmas Day, making this the longest pause in drone strikes in the country since 2007.

Unnamed US officials said the attacks have been stopped during peace talks between the Pakistan government and the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). Rahimullah Yusufzai, the Pakistani journalist who is part of the negotiating team, confirmed to the Bureau that Islamabad had requested the pause: ‘Pakistani officials have discussed this with the US ambassador [to Pakistan] and said that serious talks would be derailed by a drone strike,’ he said.

On February 17 peace talks collapsed following unremitting violence by the TTP. The militants killed scores of people, including 23 members of the Frontier Corps, before the negotiations eventually halted.

The Pakistan military has carried out several air attacks on North Waziristan, targeting militant positions. There have been reports of heavy civilian casualties as well as claims that leading Taliban commanders have been killed. As many as 50,000 people have been displaced from North Waziristan by the threat of a Pakistan Army offensive.

Unnamed officials told reporters that the Obama administration is considering whether to authorise the killing of a US citizen, who is reportedly in hiding in Pakistan. This would be the second time the administration has taken such steps – the previous occasion was before the death of New Mexico-born preacher Anwar al Awlaki, who was eventually killed by a drone in Yemen in September 2011. The New York Times identified the potential target as a bombmaker who operates under the nom de guerre Abdullah al Shami.

A blockade of Nato supplies crossing into Afghanistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in protest at drone strikes ended on February 27 after 98 days. The blockade was organised by PTI, the opposition party led by Imran Khan.

Local media reported that CIA director John Brennan secretly met Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif on February 21. It also emerged that General Lloyd Austin, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also met General Sharif days beforehand, and the men had discussed sealing the Afghan border in the event of a full-scale Pakistani offensive against militants in North Waziristan.

Kareem Khan, an anti-drones activist whose brother and son were killed in a drone strike, was removed from his home by uniformed and plain-clothes men days before he was due to travel to Europe. He was held for nine days and alleges he was tortured. After his release, he went ahead with his trip to Europe, addressing politicians in Berlin, the Hague and London alongside tribal journalist Noor Behram. He also gave an interview to the Bureau’s podcast.

Members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion calling on EU states not to ‘perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states’. And legal charity Reprieve filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing US allies of being complicit in war crimes.

UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson published the second report of his year-long investigation into drone strikes. This included details of 30 drone strikes that ‘cross the threshold’ of requiring a ‘public explanation’ on the part of the state that carried them out. Eight of the strikes were in Pakistan, while a further six were in Yemen and one was in Somalia.

Yemen

February 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 1 Total reported killed in US operations: 0-4Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – February 28 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 60-70

Total reported killed: 293-429

Civilians reported killed: 30-75

Children reported killed: 6

Reported injured: 74-185

Possible extra US drone strikes: 88-107

Total reported killed: 305-487

Civilians reported killed: 24-43

Children reported killed: 6-8

Reported injured: 79-112

All other US covert operations: 13-77Total reported killed: 148-377Civilians reported killed: 59-88Children reported killed: 24-26Reported injured: 22-115Click here for the full Yemen data.

* All but one of these actions have taken place during Obama’s presidency. Reports of incidents in Yemen often conflate individual strikes. The range in the total strikes and total drone strikes we have recorded reflects this.

There was one reported possible US drone strike in Yemen this month, though it is not clear if this was carried out by a different weapon, and whether the US or another party carried out the attack.

There are few confirmed details of the attack. But local and international media reported that an airstrike killed 0-4 people on February 3. The victims were not identified in media reports. Most sources alleged they were al Qaeda members, but one source said they could have been civilians.

More details emerged on the bloody strike on a wedding convoy on December 12 last year. Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigated the attack, reporting that it appears to violate several of the policy guidelines for targeted killing introduced by President Obama in May 2013. The investigation highlighted claims by multiple sources that some or all of the dead were civilians, but US officials told Associated Press an internal investigation had found that all the dead were allegedly members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In the process of investigating the strike, HRW spoke to President Abdel Rabbo Mansur al Hadi. The Yemeni leader said the UK, US, Yemen and Nato all participate in a secret ‘joint operations control room’ in Yemen’s capital, from which individuals who are ‘going to be targeted’ are identified. A Nato official denied it was involved in any such operations room. The UK declined to comment.

AQAP threatened more violence against the Yemeni security forces, and reportedly killed a cleric who spoke out against AQAP. There were claims a new shoe bomb threat to the US was being planned in Yemen.

It became clear that a tentative ceasefire signed between warring factions in the north of Yemen could collapse. And at the end of the month reports surfaced that Yemeni soldiers and Houthi separatists clashed, reportedly for the first time since 2010. It is not clear what this means for the planned political transition to a federal republic, made up of six states with more political and economic freedom from central government in Sanaa.

Somalia

February 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – February 28 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11Total reported killed: 40-141Civilians reported killed: 7-47Children reported killed: 0-2Reported injured: 11-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

There were no reported US operations in Somalia this month, but the US is reportedly increasing operations in the Horn of Africa. The BBC reported US troops are launching missions from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti with increasing frequency.

Al Shabaab, the local militant group that has declared loyalty to al Qaeda, carried out an assault on the presidential compound, Villa Somalia, in the heavily fortified diplomatic and government quarter of Mogadishu. A spokesman for the militants said: ‘We sent well-trained mujahedin from our special forces to bring us the president dead or alive.’ The attack killed 12, nine of whom were alleged militants, according to the New York Times.

Also this month, the chief of Kenya’s defence force told journalists the FBI is holding the bodies of al Shabaab militants who attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi last year. General Julius Karangi said only four men took control of the upmarket Westgate shopping complex in September 2013, killing more than 60 people.

In February the Bureau completed an audit of its database of covert US operations in Somalia. Owing to the huge difficulties of reporting from the country, some of the incidents relied on single sources. We have now classed these as unconfirmed strikes, in line with the Bureau’s methodology. This has led to a fall in the number of strikes and casualties recorded in the tally. The unconfirmed strikes are still presented in the timeline, with the suffix ‘c’ added to the strike’s code.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau published a detailed case study of Jude Kenan Mohammad, who the US identified last year as one of four US citizens to have been killed in drone strikes under President Obama. And Kareem Khan shared with the Bureau previously unreported details about Khaliq Dad, a stonemason, and his brother Asif Iqbal, who both died in a strike on December 31 2009.

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Published

March 1, 2014

Written by

Alice Ross
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A UN counter-terrorism expert has published the second report of his year-long investigation into drone strikes, highlighting 30 strikes where civilians are reported to have been killed.

The report, by British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, identifies 30 attacks between 2006 and 2013 that show sufficient indications of civilian deaths to demand a ‘public explanation of the circumstances and the justification for the use of deadly force’ under international law.

Emmerson analysed 37 strikes carried out by the US, UK and Israel in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza, to arrive at a ‘sample’ of strikes that he believes those nations have a legal duty to explain.

 States must ‘conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation of the results’ – Ben Emmerson

Britain and the US conduct strikes as part of the armed conflict in Afghanistan, and the US also conducts covert strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Although Israel has never officially acknowledged using armed drones, Emmerson met with Israeli officials in the course of preparing his report and lists seven attacks in Gaza among those requiring investigation.

This report expands on an argument for the legal obligation for states to investigate and account for credible claims of civilian casualties, which Emmerson first laid out in his previous report, presented to the UN General Assembly in October.

Related story – US must release data on civilian drone casualties, says UN report

He writes: ‘in any case in which there have been, or appear to have been, civilian casualties that were not anticipated when the attack was planned, the State responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation of the results.’

A February 2010 attack in Afghanistan serves as a ‘benchmark’ of the kind of disclosure that should follow claims of civilian casualties.

After a US drone attack on a convoy of trucks reportedly killed up to 23 civilians, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which runs international operations in Afghanistan, partially declassified the findings of its internal investigation. Emmerson writes that this report strongly criticised the crew’s actions and revealed ‘a propensity to “kinetic activity” [lethal action]’.

This level of transparency is rare.

The most recent incident featured in Emmerson’s report is a December 2013 attack that hit a wedding procession near Rada’a in Yemen, killing at least 12. Multiple sources have identified numerous civilian casualties among the dead, including a Human Rights Watch investigation published last week.

Three unnamed US officials told Associated Press after the publication of Human Rights Watch’s report that an internal investigation had found only alleged militants were killed – but no results of this investigation have yet been officially released.

Information is particularly scarce for activity in Somalia, Emmerson notes. The only strike from the country in the report is the February 2012 strike that killed former British citizen Mohamed Sakr, whose case the Bureau has reported on as part of its investigation into the British government’s deprivation of citizenship.

Neither the US nor the UK routinely publish details of their drone operations. The UK states that it has killed civilians in only one incident in Afghanistan, a March 2011 strike that killed four civilians.

The US has repeatedly dismissed the Bureau’s estimate that at least 400 civilians have died in Pakistan drone strikes as ‘ludicrous’; the CIA director John Brennan has said that claims of high civilian casualties amount to ‘disinformation’.

Emmerson notes that operations that kill civilians are not necessarily illegal under international law, but states have a duty of transparency where there are credible allegations of non-combatants being harmed.

The report does not take a position on the legality of drone strikes away from the battlefield, but says there is an ‘urgent and imperative need’ for international agreement on the legal arguments advanced in favour of covert lethal action.

The US has argued that its strikes are legal on two grounds: they are legitimate acts of self-defence against an imminent threat, and they are part of an armed conflict against an enemy, al Qaeda, and its ‘associated forces’. Emmerson asks a series of questions – about the thresholds for action in self-defence, the definition of ‘imminent’ threat, al Qaeda’s current state, and more – on which he says the international community must reach consensus.

Last week the European Parliament voted 534 to 49 in favour of a motion calling on the EU to develop a ‘common position’ on drone strikes and other targeted killings.

To date, Europe has remained largely silent on the issue, but the motion expressed ‘grave concern’ over drone strikes ‘outside the international legal framework’ and called on member states not to ‘facilitate such killings by other states’.

The UK has refused to clarify whether it shares intelligence with the US that could lead to drone strikes in Pakistan; in January the Court of Appeal ruled that any attempt to force the government to disclose such information could endanger international relations. In December, Emmerson told a meeting in parliament that such intelligence-sharing is ‘inevitable’ owing to the closeness of the relationship between the US and UK. ‘It would be absurd if it were not the case,’ he added.

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