News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

February 5, 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 CIA director and other intelligence chiefs were urged to increase transparency over covert drone operations by members of the House intelligence committee yesterday.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic Party congressman, called on CIA director John Brennan, to support an annual report detailing the number of alleged militants and civilians killed each year. This would enable the administration to ‘correct the record at times where there are misleading claims of civilian casualties’, he added, without providing detailed information to enemies of the US.

Brennan said this was ‘certainly a worthwhile recommendation’, but he refused to explicitly back it, insisted that the decision rested with the administration.

He added: ‘There’s a lot of debate about what is the basis for those determinations [of civilian and combatant casualties], and those numbers, so it’s something again I would defer to the administration on’.

Yesterday he emphasised his past efforts to increase transparency around the secretive campaign: ‘When I was at the White House [where he was Obama’s adviser on counter-terrorism] … I spoke repeatedly publicly about the so-called drones – remotely piloted aircraft – that had become an instrument of war and I spoke about that to the extent that I could.’

Brennan has repeatedly attacked ‘misinformation’ over civilian death tolls from drone strikes but the US administration has consistently refused to publish anything more detailed than lump-sum estimates of deaths. Where the US has published such estimates they are significantly below all independent estimates, including those assembled by the Bureau, Washington think-tank the New America Foundation, and security blog the Long War Journal.

Related story – Incoming CIA boss says drone strikes are ‘last resort’

Drones and targeted killing were a recurring theme as the heads of five US intelligence agencies faced members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of a wide-ranging hearing over international threats to the US. The committee is one of two Congressional bodies charged with overseeing the activities of the intelligence community.

Schiff’s Democrat Party colleague Jan Schakowsky said that public attempts to debate the use of drones were ‘thwarted by a lack of transparency’.

She added: ‘This year both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have conducted serious research and raised very legitimate concerns about the consequences of the drone programme on US security yet the government has not responded.’

The hearing opened with committee chair Mike Roberts criticising Obama’s drone policy guidelines, introduced in May 2013, as an ‘utter and complete failure’. He claimed they were ‘today, right now, endangering the lives of Americans at home and our military overseas’.

The guidelines included a restriction on targeting when civilian casualties were a possibility, and an insistence that lethal action should be a last resort, taken only when capture was not possible.

A Bureau analysis of the six months following the introduction of the guidelines found that in Yemen, the number of incidents that killed civilians had actually risen.

Schakowsky asked a series of questions of Clapper and Brennan about the controversial practice of signature strikes, in which unidentified individuals are targeted by drones based on suspicious behaviour.

Clapper conceded that the US’ use of signature strikes could pose a threat to the nation if other forces developed drones of their own.

Schakowsky asked: ‘Do you believe that the signature strike model, if adopted by other countries that are developing an armed drone programme, can be a threat to the US?’

Clapper responded: ‘It could be – but I would have to comment, to the extent that is possible here, on the great care that is exercised by the US. And so I would hope in being very precise about which targets we strike, so I would hope as other countries acquire similar capabilities that they follow the model that we have for the care and precision that we exercise.’

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Published

February 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.

Noor Khan’s legal challenge to drones in the English courts was rejected this month (Photo: Reprieve).

January was the first month in two years without a drone strike in Pakistan.

The first civilian casualty of the year was reported in a possible drone strike in Yemen.

A rare drone strike – the second in three months – hit Somalia.

Pakistan

January 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in January: 0

Total killed in strikes in January: 0

All actions 2004 – January 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 330

Total US strikes since 2004: 381

Total reported killed: 2,537-3,646

Civilians reported killed: 416-951

Children reported killed: 168-200

Total reported injured: 1,128-1,557For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

January was the first calendar month without a strike since December 2011, when US-Pakistan relations hit a nadir.

At the end of 2011 the CIA stopped strikes in Pakistan amid a diplomatic crisis caused by a series of incidents. The year had seen the arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore, the secret US raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and the death of 24 Pakistani border guards in a botched Nato airstrike in November. At that point strikes paused for 55 days.

This month, the Bureau published a leaked Pakistani document showing details of more than 300 CIA attacks between 2006 and late 2013. It is the most complete official record of the covert campaign to be placed in the public domain. Although overall casualties closely match independent estimates such as the Bureau’s, the routine recording of civilian casualties stops suddenly at the start of 2009. And several entries in the document appear to contradict the rare public statements on individual strikes released by the US.

January 23 marked five years since the first drone strike of the Obama presidency. A Bureau analysis shows that under Obama the US has launched over 390 drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing 2,400 – six times more than his predecessor President Bush. However the number of people killed on average in each strike has fallen during Obama’s two terms.

The Pakistan Taliban (TTP) carried out a series of attacks in January. The bombing of a military convoy killed more than 20 soldiers – the bloodiest single Taliban attack on the army, according to the Financial Times. Three polio workers were killed in Karachi. And a suicide bomber killed 13 people in a market near the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The Pakistan military has carried out strikes around Miranshah and Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Pakistan Air Force attacks have reportedly killed dozens of alleged militants, including three Germans and 33 Uzbeks in one incident. There have been reports of civilian casualties and thousands more fled the region.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif dispatched a team to negotiate with the Taliban, despite having indicated earlier in the month that he was ready to take the fight to the militants. To date, the Pakistan military has not launched an all-out assault in North Waziristan like the 2009 attacks on Swat and South Waziristan.

Imran Khan’s opposition party PTI continues to block a key supply line into Afghanistan, despite warnings from US defence secretary Chuck Hagel in December that Pakistan could lose billions of dollars in military aid if the blockade continues.

Also this month, the Court of Appeal in London stopped a Pakistani citizen’s legal challenge to discover if UK officials are complicit in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. For two years, Noor Khan has been trying to get English courts to examine whether UK officials at GCHQ share information about targets in Pakistan with the CIA, and whether this could therefore make British spies complicit in murder or war crimes.

Yemen

January 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 4 Total reported killed in US operations: 0-7Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-1

All actions 2002 – January 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 59-69

Total reported killed: 287-423Civilians reported killed: 24-71Children reported killed: 6Reported injured: 74-185

Possible extra US drone strikes: 87-106

Total reported killed: 306-486

Civilians reported killed: 24-47

Children reported killed: 6-8

Reported injured: 79-110

All other US covert operations: 12-77Total reported killed: 144-377Civilians 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.

At least four possible US drone strikes hit Yemen in January, all in the first half of the month. An unnamed farmer was reportedly among the 6-7 killed in these attacks.

Several media sources reported that the farmer was walking home early on the morning of January 15 when US drones targeted a vehicle carrying alleged members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Although the car’s passengers were injured, the farmer – or bystander – was reportedly the only person killed. This account was later contradicted by a ‘well-informed source’ who told al Hayat the strike killed alleged al Qaeda member Abdel Majid al Shahry – a Saudi national.

Two men injured in the first reported US strike of January were civilians, according to their parents. The wounded men were identified as Adnan Saleh al Taysi and Ibrahim Hussein al Aarif. As many as 10 members of the al Taysi family reportedly died in a drone strike that hit a wedding convoy in December. Up to 15 civilians were killed in this US attack on December 12. This month US officials confirmed an investigation into the claims of civilian deaths is underway.

The final reported strike this month, also on January 15, killed 3-4 people in Wadi Abeeda. Mohammed Saeed Jardan, an alleged militant and local to the area, was reportedly among the dead.

Also this month, three peers from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats tabled amendments to the Defence Reform Bill that would increase scrutiny of US forces based in the UK. The draft reforms include establishing scrutiny groups to ensure US operations in Britain comply with domestic law. The proposed changes were prompted by reports that bases in the UK are part of the US drone war in Yemen and Somalia.

Somalia

January 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 1Total killed in strikes in January: 2-9

All actions 2007 – January 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-11Total reported killed: 11-39Civilians reported killed: 0-16Children reported killed: 0Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 8-15Total reported killed: 48-150Civilians reported killed: 7-42Children reported killed: 1-3Reported injured: 13-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

The US military launched its first drone strike of the year in Somalia, killing 2-9 people. It was the first reported US action in the country since October 2013.

The attack targeted al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, according to anonymous US officials. But a source in the African Union peacekeeping force said Godane survived the attack. Several sources said Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior al Shabaab figure, was killed. He may have been meeting Godane ‘right before the attack‘.

Unnamed US officials told CNN the US had targeted Godane in the strike. One of them said he posed a threat to US interests in the region. As Sarah Knuckey reported, this appeared to contradict a restriction on drone attacks set out in a summary of President Obama’s new rules, released in May 2013. The summary read: ‘The United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to US persons.’

Also this month, the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) announced more than 4,000 Ethiopian soldiers had become part of the peacekeeping force. Ethiopia unilaterally invaded Somalia in 2007, and remained in the country for two years, nominally supporting the central government against the Islamic Courts Union, a loose affiliation of clans and groups that governed most of the country. Al Shabaab was a peripheral member of the ICU at the time.

During Ethiopia’s presence in the country, its troops were accused of war crimes, notably by Amnesty International. The addition of Ethiopian troops to Amisom ‘will not be popular in Somalia’, EJ Hogendoorn, a Somalia expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Bureau.

Hogendoorn said: ‘Al Shabaab was able to use the Ethiopian “occupation” for recruiting and fundraising. They received a lot of support from the diaspora not because of their ideology but because they were seen as the most effective force fighting “Ethiopian colonisation”. They will seek to do the same thing this time around.’

Naming the Dead

It emerged that US drones killed a German last year. The man, whose name has been anonymised as Patrick K, came from was from Hesse, near Hamburg and was reportedly killed in a strike on February 16 2012.

Previous reporting on the strike only mentioned unnamed Uzbeks dying. But a video purportedly produced by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed Patrick died alongside Uzbek fighters. He was reportedly approached to become a source for German intelligence before leaving for Pakistan.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

To sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project click here.

Published

January 6, 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.

2013 saw fewer drone strikes than previous years (Photo: US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Jason Epley)

In 2013 the number of drone strikes to hit Pakistan fell to the lowest levels of Obama’s presidency: 27 strikes reportedly hit the country’s tribal areas, down from a peak of 128 in 2010. And for the first time since Pakistan strikes started in 2004, there were no confirmed reports of civilian casualties.

The changes reflected growing opposition from within Pakistan, as both the political and military elites were publicly critical of the strikes. 

 The Obama administration continued 2012’s trend of limited transparency around drone strikes

In Yemen, by contrast, at least 11 civilians including 4 children died in confirmed drone attacks. This steep rise from previous years was despite the number of confirmed strikes halving since 2012. The US continued to enjoy the Yemeni government’s support for attacks on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), now viewed as al Qaeda’s most active and dangerous franchise.

In Somalia, al Shabaab, an ally of al Qaeda, regrouped after heavy defeats in 2012 and continued launching attacks. A drone strike and two commando raids took place.

The Obama administration continued 2012’s trend of limited transparency around drone strikes. Both Obama and his new CIA director John Brennan publicly discussed the use of covert drones, but the administration remained tight-lipped on key data including casualty numbers. Officials almost always refused to discuss individual strikes, and where they did it was usually anonymously.

The administration expressed an intention to move drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, but at year’s end many drone strikes – including the Pakistan campaign – remained under Agency control.

2013 in review

Ben Emmerson QC, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, announced details in January of an investigation for the UN into drone strikes. Emmerson told the Bureau the investigation is ‘a response to the fact that there’s international concern rising exponentially’ around drones. He published an interim report in October.

Drones were a key topic when John Brennan, sometimes described as the ‘architect’ of Obama’s drone policy, faced questioning from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February as part of nomination proceedings for the role of CIA director. He told the committee: ‘The CIA should not be doing traditional military activities and operations.’ Days before, a leaked memo outlined the legal justification for targeting US citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union called the memo ‘a profoundly disturbing document’.

In March, Ben Emmerson visited Pakistan, where government officials told him drones had killed at least 400 civilians, and possibly as many as 600. In the country’s elections, both Nawaz Sharif’s PLM-N party and Imran Khan’s PTI made opposition to drone strikes a central part of their campaigns. The elections were blighted by violence as the Taliban attacked political gatherings.

US news agency McClatchy obtained documents in April showing the CIA’s own assessment of drone strikes in Pakistan. They showed drones were used to kill Afghans, Pakistanis, and ‘unknown’ militants, despite US assertions that drones only target senior al Qaeda members. The documents also showed that a June 2011 claim by Brennan that no civilians were killed in ‘almost a year’ was false.

Journalist Farea al-Muslimi told US Senators of the impact of drones on his native Yemen, days after a drone attacked his village, Wessab. General James Cartwright, the Pentagon’s former second-in-command, warned the US had ‘ceded the moral authority’ through its use of drones.

 President Obama delivered a high-profile speech in May defending his administration’s targeted killings

Also in April, a UK defence minister revealed British pilots had been flying drone missions as part of the US military under an ’embedding’ programme, and Britain’s first drone base opened at RAF Waddington.

President Obama delivered a high-profile speech in May defending his administration’s targeted killings. But he acknowledged that civilian casualties had occurred, describing them as ‘heartbreaking tragedies’. The administration outlined new policy guidelines, including a requirement that strikes are not carried out unless there is ‘near-certainty’ no civilians are present.

The US attorney general acknowledged the deaths of four US citizens in drone attacks under Obama – only one of whom, Anwar al Awlaki, was the intended target of the strike. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was among the others. He was killed two weeks after his father in 2011.

Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron reported that a 10-year-old named Abdulaziz was among those killed in Yemen in a strike on June 9. Months later, the Los Angeles Times revealed the CIA had secretly briefed Congress on the child’s death.

The Bureau published a leaked Pakistani document in July showing the tribal administration’s assessment of over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and 2009, including 147 civilians.

In August the Bureau published a major field investigation revealing the CIA appeared to have briefly revived its controversial tactic of attacking rescuers – first exposed by the Bureau in February 2012. The Bureau identified five attacks on rescuers over three months in the summer of 2012, several of which appeared to be the result of efforts to hunt al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Yahya al Libi.

The Bureau launched a new project, Naming the Dead, in September, aiming to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. At launch it featured the names of over 550 of an estimated 2,500 or more killed in strikes. Just two of those names belonged to women.

Al Shabaab launched an attack in Nairobi, storming the Westgate shopping centre. It occupied the complex for four days, killing up to 61.

Two UN experts presented reports to the General Assembly in October. Both criticised the lack of transparency surrounding drone operations and questioned some of the legal justifications for covert strikes. The following week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch simultaneously published field investigations into civilian casualties in Pakistan and Yemen.

In November, six months after Obama’s speech on drones, a Bureau analysis found that the rate at which people are killed in each strike on average, and reported civilian casualties, were both higher in the six months after the speech than in the six months before.

In Pakistan, a CIA strike killed Pakistan Taliban (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud and a separate attack hit Pakistan’s ‘settled’ Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. In protest, Imran Khan’s PTI named a man it claimed was the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, and blockaded a NATO supply route into Afghanistan.

In December the UK invited reporters into its drone base at RAF Waddington in the east of England as part of efforts to increase transparency, but continued to withhold data including casualty data and information on where and when strikes took place.

In Yemen, AQAP launched a huge attack on the Ministry of Defence in the capital Sanaa, claiming there was a drone operations room inside the building. An estimated 52 were killed, including foreign medical staff in a hospital near the ministry. It later apologised for the civilian deaths. The following week, 6-15 civilians were among up to 17 people reported killed when a US military drone attacked vehicles in a wedding convoy. It was the worst single loss of civilian life in a drone strike in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia in over a year.

Pakistan

The annual casualty rates – the average number of people killed in each CIA drone strike, in Pakistan, 2004-2013. 

As well as seeing the fewest strikes since 2007 and the fewest civilian casualties ever, the casualty rate – the number of people killed in each strike on average – fell to 4.2, the the lowest yet recorded. This is less than half the casualty rate in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency.

 Fifteen of the year’s 27 strikes killed named individuals, including very senior militants

Obama has now been in office for five years and has launched 330 strikes according to the Bureau’s count. President Bush launched 51 drone strikes, all during the last five years of his presidency. Under Obama, the casualty rate has been lower – 6.5 people killed in each strike on average, compared to 8 under Bush. The civilian casualty rate is 76% lower under Obama – 0.8 civilians killed per strike, compared to 3.3 under Bush.

Several possible factors could be behind these declines, including reported improvements in technology since the early years of Bush’s covert drone strikes, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and increasing scrutiny of the covert drone campaign by the international community as well as Washington and Islamabad.

Related story – Pakistan drone strikes visualised

Fifteen of the year’s 27 strikes killed named individuals, including some very senior militants. These included Maulvi Nazir, leader of a faction of the ‘good Taliban’, so called because they had reached peace treaties with the Pakistani government; and both Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali ur Rehman, respectively the leader and second-in-command of the TTP, which continues to attack Pakistani targets. However multiple unnamed alleged militants died alongside the named commanders.

All CIA strikes in Pakistan 2013

Total strikes: 27

Total reported killed: 112-193

Civilians reported killed: 0-4

Children reported killed: 0-1

Total reported injured: 41-81

Pakistan: December 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in December: 1

Total killed in strikes in December: 3-4, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians

All Pakistan actions 2004 – 2013

Total Obama strikes: 330

Total US strikes since 2004: 381

Total reported killed: 2,537-3,646

Civilians reported killed: 416-951

Children reported killed: 168-200

Total reported injured: 1,128-1,557For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

Yemen

The annual casualty rates for confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen, 2011-2013.

There were 15 confirmed US drone strikes and at least 15 additional aerial strikes that may have been carried out by drones. This was a steep decline from 2012’s peak, when the US launched 29 confirmed drone strikes as it joined a Yemeni government effort to push AQAP out of territory it had occupied in the country’s south.

Related story – Yemen strikes visualised

 The casualty rate fell  by a third compared to 2012 – but the civilian casualty rate more than trebled

Nine of 2013’s confirmed drone strikes took place during a fortnight in late July and early August, after the US reportedly intercepted top-level communications between AQAP and other terrorist commanders. The US and some European allies closed more than 20 embassies in Yemen and across the Middle East and east Africa in anticipation of a possible attack, a move one counter-terrorism expert called ‘crazy pants‘.

Officials told the Washington Post and New York Times that the guidelines on targeted killings introduced in May could be relaxed ‘in response to elevated threat’. At least three civilians, including two children, were reportedly killed in the fortnight’s attacks.

And on December 12, 6-15 civilians reportedly died in an attack on a wedding procession in Radaa. Sources later told the New York Times the strike was carried out by a US military drone, although they did not acknowledge reports of civilian casualties. Two UN experts later called on the US and Yemen to account for the reports of high civilian casualties in the attack.

The casualty rate – the number of people killed on average in each confirmed drone strike – fell by a third compared to 2012, from six people per strike to four. But the civilian casualty rate has more than trebled, from 0.2 civilians killed per strike to 0.7. This is the highest annual civilian casualty rate yet recorded in Yemen.

The increase in the civilian casualty rate is partly because in previous years, attacks with high civilian casualties have been carried out by other weapons, or have not been confirmed as drone strikes. For example, a strike in December 2009 that killed more than 40 civilians was carried out by US cruise missiles, not drones. And in September 2012 a US air strike killed 12 civilians. Anonymous US officials belatedly confirmed the US military carried out the attack but it is still not known if a drone or manned aircraft was used.

The US continues its policy of not officially acknowledging individual strikes and not paying compensation to victims. The tribe attacked in the December 12 strike was compensated by the Yemeni government with $140,000 (£85,000) and a gift of 101 Kalashnikovs. Civilians harmed in US actions in Afghanistan are routinely paid far more.

All Yemen actions in 2013

Total confirmed US operations: 16

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 16

Possible additional US operations: 15-16

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 15-16

Total reported killed: 61-167

Total civilians killed: 11-30Children killed: 4

Yemen: December 2013 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 1

Further reported/possible US strike events: 3

Total reported killed in US operations: 10-32Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 6-15

All Yemen actions 2002 – 2013*

Total confirmed US operations: 71-81

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 59-69

Possible additional US operations: 142-167

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 83-102

Total reported killed: 431-1,279

Total civilians killed: 83-205

Children killed: 30-40Click 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.

Somalia

Aftermath of an al Shabaab bomb attack on a Mogadishu cafe that killed 15 (AU-UN IST Photo/Stuart Price)

Al Shabaab staged a resurgence in 2013. It launched ambitious attacks including September’s brutal siege of the Westgate mall in Nairobi, and a June attack on the heavily fortified compound of the UN Development Programme in Mogadishu, killing up to 22.

 2013’s only reported drone strike saw a military drone attack a vehicle, reportedly killing an al Shabaab commander and his companion 

In July a UN report found that al Shabaab is the country’s biggest threat to security, retaining control of ’most of southern and central Somalia’. The US and UK are ‘increasingly involved in directly supporting intelligence services in “Somaliland”, “Puntland” and Mogadishu’,the investigators added.

French commandoes launched a failed attempt in January to rescue a spy held hostage by al Shabaab; at least 27 died including eight civilians. And following the Westgate mall siege, US special forces launched a pre-dawn raid in October on an al Shabaab compound. However, the troops quickly aborted the mission as they encountered stiff resistance and unexpectedly found women and children in the compound.

The only reported drone strike in 2013 took place later in October, when a military drone attacked a vehicle, reportedly killing an al Shabaab commander and his companion. However as the Bureau has previously reported, other strikes may have gone unreported. The government of neighbouring Djibouti asked the US to move its drones from the Camp Lemmonier base to one further from civilian populations after a series of crashes during takeoff and landing.

All Somalia actions in 2013

Total US operations: 2

Total US drone strikes: 1

Total reported killed: 3-10Civilians reported killed: 0

Children reported killed: 0

Somalia December 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All Somalia actions 2007 – 2013

Total US operations: 12-25

Total US drone strikes: 4-10Total reported killed: 57-180Civilians reported killed: 7-58

Children reported killed: 1-3Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

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Published

December 3, 2013

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 destroyed part of a madrassa in Hangu district – the first strike outside Pakistan’s tribal areas. (Reuters/Syed Shah)

CIA drones kill one of the most senior militants in Pakistan.

The first reported airstrikes in Yemen in three months kill alleged foreign fighters.

More African peacekeepers will go to Somalia as al Shabaab remains a threat to security.

Eighteen people killed by CIA drones are added to Naming the Dead.

Pakistan

November 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in November: 3

Total killed in strikes in November: 11-19, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – November 30 2013

Total Obama strikes: 329

Total US strikes since 2004: 380

Total reported killed: 2,534-3,642

Civilians reported killed: 416-951

Children reported killed: 168-200

Total reported injured: 1,127-1,556For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

Three CIA drone strikes hit Pakistan, killing at least 11 people including the leader of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and several alleged senior Haqqani Network members. The attacks sparked popular protests and condemnation from the government and political parties.

On November 1 (Ob327) the US killed Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). Islamabad said it had started peace talks with the TTP and this strike had snuffed out any chance of a negotiated settlement. However an official TTP spokesman denied the group had had any contact with the government.

Mullah Fazlullah was elected to lead the TTP after Mehsud’s death. As the leader of the Swat Taliban, he ordered the shooting of schoolgirl activist Malala Yousfuzai. He is nicknamed Mullah Radio, for his diatribes broadcast on illegal FM radio, and the Butcher of Swat, for the uncompromising way his forces dealt with dissent when his group occupied the region between 2007 and 2009. The group promised to avenge Mehsud’s death with a wave of attacks on the Pakisani state and security forces.

A second strike 20 days later (Ob328) killed at least six including Ahmad Jan – an alleged senior Haqqani Network commander – in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in Pakistan’s ‘settled’ areas as all previous strikes have hit either Pakistan’s tribal regions or the frontier regions that act as a buffer zone between tribal and settled areas.

The opposition politician Imran Khan called on the government to block Nato supply routes in and out of Pakistan in protest. Khan’s party the PTI filed a First Incident Report at the local police station in Hangu. It claimed civilians were killed and injured in the attack – including four children. Six days after the strike it named two men as responsible for their ‘murder’: CIA director John Brennan and a man PTI said is the CIA station chief in Islamabad. A previous CIA station chief was forced to return to Washington in 2010 after being named in another legal complaint over drone strikes.

The CIA struck again on November 29 (Ob329) around a day after the PTI said it had outed Washington’s top spy in Pakistan. It killed 1-3 people and injured up to two more. Reports suggested the dead were members of the Punjabi Taliban. The News reported an alleged militant named Aslam (aka Yaseen) was injured in the attack. Aslam is allegedly connected to attacks on Pakistani military installations in Rawalpindi and Afghanistan.

November also saw the six-month anniversary of a major policy speech given by President Barack Obama in Washington on May 23. An analysis by the Bureau shows that there were fewer drone strikes in Pakistan in the six months after the speech compared to the previous six months – 13 between May and November 23, compared with 18 in the previous six months. But each strike killed more people on average.

This went against the trend of the last three years: the average number of people killed in each strike has been falling since 2009 when on average over 11 people were killed in every strike. In the six months before the speech, an average of 3.5 people were killed in each strike. Since the speech this has risen to almost five.

Yemen

November 2013 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 2-3 Total reported killed in US operations: 15-17Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – November 30 2013*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 55-65

Total reported killed: 269-389Civilians reported killed: 21-56Children reported killed: 5Reported injured: 67-150

Possible extra US drone strikes: 83-102

Total reported killed: 302-481

Civilians reported killed: 23-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 81-108

All other US covert operations: 12-77Total reported killed: 148-377Civilians reported killed: 60-88Children reported killed: 25-26Reported injured: 22-114Click 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.

After a three-month pause, up to three possible drone attacks occurred in Yemen, but none can as yet be confirmed as US operations.

The first attack, on November 19, killed five alleged al Qaeda militants who were named as Abu Habib al Yemen, Yemeni; Abu Salma al Russi, Russian; Abu Suhaib al Australi, Australian; Wadhah al Hadhrami from Hadramout in Yemen; and Hamam al Masri, Egyptian. A Yemeni journalist told the Bureau these were nom de guerre, explaining that al Qaeda fighters take their names from the first name of their eldest son and their birthplace.

A single source reported a possible strike on November 20 in the same province, Hadramout. And the final strike of the month, on November 26, killed 12 alleged al Qaeda militants travelling in a car through the southern province of Abyan. Yemen’s government claimed responsibility for the strike. However as the Bureau has previously reported, the Yemen Air Force is incapable of a precision strike on a moving vehicle.

It emerged that the CIA knew it had killed a civilian in a strike in June, and the Agency had secretly briefed Congress on the death. The CIA destroyed a car on June 7; it later emerged that a child aged 6-13 was in the car. An investigation by McClatchy at the time of the attack had identified the child as Abdulaziz, the 10-year old brother of Hassan al-Saleh Huraydan, an alleged militant.

Abdulaziz was one of at least six civilian casualties in the six months since President Obama gave his set-piece speech in May. The President said the US only takes lethal action when it is almost certain there will be no civilians killed or injured.

A man whose civilian relatives were killed in a 2012 drone strike visited Washington. Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber spoke at a Congressional briefing about a drone strike that killed his nephew Waleed Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, a policeman, and Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, his brother-in-law an imam and outspoken critic of al Qaeda.

He said he had travelled to the US capital ‘to find out who was responsible for the deaths of Salem and Waleed, and I want to know if someone will be held accountable for their deaths’. Salem and Waleed were killed on August 29 2012. Three al Qaeda members had travelled to their village to remonstrate with Salem over an anti-al Qaeda sermon he had given. The five were talking when drones fired several missiles, killing them all.

Somalia

November 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – November 30 2013

US drone strikes: 4-10Total reported killed: 9-30Civilians reported killed: 0-15Children reported killed: 0Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 8-15Total reported killed: 48-150Civilians reported killed: 7-42Children reported killed: 1-3Reported injured: 13-21Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

No US operations were reported in Somalia.

However there were reports of al Shabaab attacks. The militant group assaulted a police station near Mogadishu killing and wounding at least 23 people. Six Somali policemen and four Djiboutian peacekeepers were among the dead.

The Guardian reported that after a turbulent period of infighting the militant group is rebuilding its strength, while unnamed officials told the paper the African Union peacekeeping operation is stalling.

The UN and African Union have agreed to send in more troops to bolster the peacekeeping force, Amisom, by over 4,000 in the new year. More than 17,500 African Union troops are already on the ground fighting alongside the Somali security forces. A spokesman from the peacekeepers told the Bureau in December the force will review and renew its overall strategy, or Concept of Operations (ConOps), in Somalia.

There has been speculation that troops from neighbouring Ethiopia will be part of this surge. Ethiopia has had a sizeable force in Somalia off and on since 2007. However the two countries have a fractious history. The Amisom spokesman said during the ConOps review the countries already contributing troops – Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Sierra Leone and Kenya – would be asked to send in more soldiers. If they do not contribute more men then the numbers will be made up by other African Union members. However the spokesman did not know which other countries would be approached.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau has added 18 more names to the Naming the Dead database this month. Fifteen of these emerged in press and think tank reports of the three drone strikes in the month. The Bureau gained a further three names during a research trip to Pakistan in October 2013 (Ob113).

New case studies include those of five civilian chromite miners, and a profile of Ibne Amin, a commander in the Swat Taliban and former right-hand man of the TTP’s new leader, Mullah Fazlullah.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

Sign up for updates on the covert drone war investigation or download the Bureau’s drones podcast.

Published

October 18, 2013

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.

Emmerson: Drones operate in an ‘accountability vacuum’ (Photo: United Nations)

A report by a UN expert urges the US to ‘release its own data on the level of civilian casualties’ caused by drone strikes and attacks the lack of transparency surrounding CIA and US special forces drone operations.

Ben Emmerson, a British barrister and UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, has released the second of two major UN reports in a week to examine the use of drones both in conflict zones and in covert settings.

In the earlier report, Christof Heyns also called for increased transparency around the use of drones. In the new report Emmerson emphasises that this is a vital step to ensuring accountability and redress for the civilian victims of drone strikes.

‘The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data’– Ben Emmerson

Emmerson says: ‘The single greatest obstacle to an evaluation of the civilian impact of drone strikes is lack of transparency, which makes it extremely difficult to assess claims of precision targeting objectively.’

Related story – UN expert calls for increased transparency over armed drones

The report says the involvement of the CIA in drone operations has created an ‘almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency’, and he is also critical of the ‘almost invariably classified’ nature of special forces drone operations in Yemen and Somalia. ‘The Special Rapporteur does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data.’

Drones currently operate in an ‘accountability vacuum’, Emmerson says, adding that there is a legal obligation on states to launch a full investigation into claims from ‘any plausible source’ of civilian casualties – including those made by non-governmental organisations. The results of such investigations should be made public, ‘subject to redactions on grounds of national security’, he adds.

He notes that the current director of the CIA John Brennan has called for the release of data relating to civilian casualties. The US government is in the process of moving its drone operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense to improve transparency, he says, adding that he understands this is due to be completed ‘by the end of 2014’.

The report highlights ‘differences of view’ over who should be considered a civilian in situations where non-uniformed fighters live and operate among the civilian population. He points to ‘considerable uncertainty’ over the criteria used to identify individuals as legitimate targets and calls for further clarification.

Emmerson examines US, British and Israeli drone operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Gaza.

‘Only in the most exceptional of circumstances would it be permissible under international human rights law for killing to be the sole or primary objective of an operation’– Ben Emmerson

The Pakistani government released data to Emmerson showing at least 400 civilian casualties – a number close to the Bureau’s lower-end estimate – and a further 200 were ‘regarded as probable non-combatants’. Emmerson wrote ‘those figures were likely to be an underestimate’ according to local officials. He told MSNBC there is no reason ‘on the face of it’ to question this data as it echoed independent estimates.

For Yemen drone operations, the report cites the Bureau’s estimate of 21-58 civilian casualties as the highest such figures. But the report does not provide estimates for drone operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Somalia or Gaza, pointing to a lack of official figures specifically covering civilians killed in drone strikes.

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the human rights charity Reprieve, which represents civilian victims of drone strikes, said: ‘This report highlights the US’ failure to reveal any information whatsoever about their shadowy, covert drone programme. Hiding the reality of civilian deaths is not only morally abhorrent but an affront to the sort of transparency that should be the hallmark of any democratic government. Some basic accountability is the very least people in Pakistan and Yemen should expect from the CIA as it rains down Hellfire missiles on their homes and villages.’

Related story – Pakistan government says ‘at least 400’ civilians killed in drone strikes

Emmerson also addresses the legality of drone strikes outside of military conflict areas, saying that where no official conflict exists lethal action will ‘rarely be lawful… because only in the most exceptional of circumstances would it be permissible under international human rights law for killing to be the sole or primary objective of an operation’.

The US claims it can legally carry out such lethal operations – but Emmerson says this ‘gives rise to a number of issues on which there is either no clear international consensus, or United States policy appears to challenge established norms’. The US has claimed that it carries out drone strikes in countries including Pakistan and Yemen in legitimate self-defence against imminent threats and that it is in a state of continuing war against al Qaeda and associated groups.

The report recommends that a clear international legal consensus is reached and Emmerson is currently consulting states with a view to ‘clarifying their position on these questions’.

He writes that he has identified 33 strikes that appear to have led to civilian casualties and ‘undoubtedly raise issues of accountability and transparency’. The full findings on these strikes will be published at a later stage.

A White House spokeswoman, Laura Magnuson, said: ‘We are aware that this report has been released and are reviewing it carefully.’

The reports by Heyns and Emmerson will be presented to the UN General Assembly in New York next week. Also next week on October 22 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will publish reports on drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen respectively.

Published

October 17, 2013

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.

Heyns warns about a ‘lack of consensus’ over the international law governing drone strikes (Photo: United Nations)

A UN expert has called for nations that operate armed drones to be more transparent and ‘publicly disclose’ how they use them.

In a report prepared for the UN, Christof Heyns, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, points to international secrecy surrounding who owns armed drones, how they are operated, and who they are killing.

He also warns against ‘wide and permissive interpretations’ of international law to justify lethal attacks using the capabilities offered by armed drones.

The report is the first of two major papers on drone strikes due to be presented to the UN this month. The second, by Ben Emmerson, special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, will be published next week.

Heyns highlights ‘concern that there is uncertainty about which States are developing and acquiring armed drones’ in addition to how nations use them.

He says nations have an obligation to publish details such as their targeting criteria, civilian casualties and investigations – and drone operations should not be run by institutions that are prevented from publishing such details. The CIA, which runs drone operations in Pakistan, operates under tight classification controls.

He points out that there is a ‘lack of consensus’ around the legal framework for their use. But international laws contain provisions that should regulate the use of armed drones, he adds.

The report examines the thorniest issues in the US’s covert drone campaign – although it does not refer directly to the US. Heyns explores civilian harm, ‘double-tap’ strikes, sovereignty and the consent of other nations, accountability, and the pillars of the US’s legal justification for using armed drones in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, where it is not on a formal war footing.

He cautions that drone technology lowers the bar for lethal action, making it ‘easier for States to deploy deadly and targeted force on the territories of other States’.

Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union said: ‘Once again, a top UN rights official has confirmed that the international legal framework restricting the use of lethal force is clear and doesn’t need to change, but that the ease with which lethal drones can be used threatens that framework and the right to life.  Violations of law and the right to life are real under the US targeted killing program, and the precedent it is setting for other countries such as China, Russia, or Iran is a very dangerous one, which the U.S. may well come to regret.’

She added: ‘Although top US officials insist publicly that the targeted killing program is lawful, effective, and wise, the government refuses to provide the meaningful transparency Mr. Heyns’ report requires, which would allow the American public and the international community to test those claims. In response to an on-going ACLU lawsuit seeking basic information about the use of lethal drones, the government has refused to disclose even the number and identity of who it has killed, on what legal basis, and why.’

Kat Craig of legal charity Reprieve said: ‘This report rightly states that the US’ secretive drone war is a danger not only to innocent civilians on the ground but also to international security as a whole. The CIA’s campaign must be brought out of the shadows: we need to see real accountability for the hundreds of civilians who have been killed – and justice for their relatives.’

Heyns calls for strong protections for civilians, writing: ‘If there is any doubt whether a person is a civilian, the person must be considered a civilian’.

The report also addresses ‘double-tap’ strikes – a controversial tactic first exposed by the Bureau and the Sunday Times in which drones attack a site, and then return to attack again as people are carrying out rescue work. Heyns told a meeting in Geneva last year: ’Reference should be made to a study earlier this year by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism… If civilian ‘rescuers’ are indeed being intentionally targeted, there is no doubt about the law: those strikes are a war crime.’

In the new report, Heyns says attacks on rescuers could be legal if they target civilians who are ‘directly participating in hostilities’ at the time of the strike. But where the strike is carried out in order to target the wounded it ‘constitutes a war crime’.

The US case for dronesThe US has justified drone strikes using two main arguments, which were repeated by President Obama in a major speech in May: that they are part of a war against al Qaeda and its ‘affiliates’, and that they are an act of ‘self-defence’.

In order for a state of war – in this case a non-international armed conflict – to exist, Heyns argues, a threshold of ‘protracted armed violence’ at a certain level of intensity must be met. He adds: ‘It is to be questioned whether the various terrorist groups that call themselves Al-Qaida or associate themselves with Al-Qaida today possess the kind of integrated command structure that would justify considering them a single party involved in a global non-international armed conflict.’

Senior US officials including Brennan and attorney general Eric Holder have claimed that drone strikes are an act of self-defence in the face of an ‘imminent threat of violent attack’.

But a governmental memo on lethal targeting obtained by NBC News showed officials at the Department of Justice embracing a ‘broader concept’ of what might constitute an ‘imminent threat’, with no requirement for ‘clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future’.

Heyns adopts a narrower definition of what constitutes legal lethal action in self-defence. ‘It may not be done pre-emptively to prevent a threat from arising in the future,’ he writes. ‘The necessity of the self-defence, in the well-known phrase, must be instant, overwhelming and leaving no choice of means, no moment of deliberation.’

The US has long claimed that its drone operations have the consent of the countries in which they operate. Yemen’s President Hadi has openly acknowledged his government’s support for US drone operations in his country, while Pakistan’s former President Musharraf has admitted to giving his private approval for some early drone strikes – and in several cases the government even claimed such attacks were Pakistani military operations.

However relations between the US and Pakistan have grown increasingly rocky and senior politicians have claimed the US no longer has consent for strikes – although rumours persist that the strikes operate with the support of Pakistan’s intelligence services.

President Sharif, who entered power in May, announced after his first cabinet meeting: ‘The policy of protesting against drone strikes for public consumption, while working behind the scenes to make them happen, is not on.’

‘Only the State’s highest government authorities’ can offer consent for strikes, writes Heyns: ‘It is not sufficient to obtain consent from… particular agencies or departments of the Government’. Such consent doesn’t have to be made public, although he recommends that nations should acknowledge such consent ‘openly and clearly’.

Published

September 2, 2013

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.

Secretary of State John Kerry meets President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan.(State Department photo/Public Domain).

One strike in Pakistan ends 34-day stretch without an attack.

Yemen sees more strikes in a month than any time since March 2012.

Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières pulls out of Somalia.

Pakistan

August 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in August: 1

Total killed in strikes in August: 3-4, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – August 31 2013

Total Obama strikes: 321

Total US strikes since 2004: 372

Total reported killed: 2,508-3,588

Civilians reported killed: 407-926

Children reported killed: 168-200

Total reported injured: 1,112-1,494For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

A Bureau investigation appears to confirm the CIA briefly revived its controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers. The Bureau first exposed these so-called ‘double-tap‘ strikes in February 2012. The new study focussed mainly on strikes around a single village in early summer of 2012, aimed at one of the last remaining senior al Qaeda figures, Yahya al Libi.

US Secretary of State John Kerry started the month with a visit to Islamabad in which he said drone strikes in Pakistan would end ‘very, very soon’. This statement was quickly taken back by the Department of State. A spokesman said: ‘In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises.’

On August 31 CIA drones killed four alleged militants from the Islamic Movement of Turkmenistan. Locals said they were foreigners affiliated with militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. It was the only strike in the month.

The lull in strikes this month in Pakistan came as an international security alert centred on Yemen led to a reported shift in focus from Pakistan’s tribal areas to the Middle East. Yemeni officials claimed a Pakistani bomb-maker had been killed in the sudden surge of Yemen strikes after crossing into the country.

Also in August, the Pakistan government said there had been a tacit understanding between Washington and Islamabad over drone strikes, not a written agreement – although it did not say when the understanding had started, or whether it was still in place. This came in response to questions in the National Assembly. The Pakistan government also came under pressure in the Punjab assembly, which adopted a resolution condemning drone strikes.

Yemen

August 2013 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 6 Further reported/possible US strike events: 2 Total reported killed in US operations: 22-43Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 6

All actions 2002 – August 31 2013*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 54-64

Total reported killed: 268-393Civilians reported killed: 21-58Children reported killed: 5Reported injured: 65-147

Possible extra US drone strikes: 82-101

Total reported killed: 289-467

Civilians reported killed: 23-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 83-109

All other US covert operations: 12-77Total reported killed: 148-377Civilians reported killed: 60-88Children reported killed: 25-26Reported injured: 22-111Click 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.

A terror alert centred on Yemen gripped the US in August leading to six confirmed drone strikes. The US closed 21 diplomatic missions in the Middle East and east Africa in a move that one counter-terrorism expert called ‘crazy pants‘.

August saw the highest number of confirmed drone strikes since March 2012 when the Sanaa-based government, with considerable US air support, drove al Qaeda out of its southern and central provinces.

Of the 22-43 people killed, three were said to be senior militants. Alleged commanders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Saleh al Tays al Waeli and Saleh Ali Guti (aka Saleh Jouti) reportedly died on August 6, while Qaid Ahmad Nasser al Dhahab, described as AQAP’s ‘spiritual leader’ was killed in a night-time precision attack that was likely to be a drone strike on August 30.

Six civilians were reportedly killed, three children among them: two were adolescents, Hussain, 16, and Hassan, 17. The name and age of the third child is not known.

The unusual intensity of the drone strikes appears to support reports suggesting that restrictive new targeting rules, introduced at the time of President Obama’s major speech on drones in May, were relaxed in the face of the ‘elevated threat‘. A senior US official told the New York Times the list of people who could be targeted was increased: ‘Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be an operations director. Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.’

The exact details of the plot – believed to be the work of AQAP – are unknown. However President Hadi told Yemeni police cadets that it involved two huge car bombs, one intended for an oil terminal and the other a target in the capital.

Somalia

August 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – August 31 2013

US drone strikes: 3-9Total reported killed: 7-27Civilians reported killed: 0-15Children reported killed: 0Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 7-14Total reported killed: 47-143Civilians reported killed: 7-42Children reported killed: 1-3Reported injured: 12-20Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

 

There were again no recorded US attacks in Somalia this month.

Médecins Sans Frontières announced it was ending all operations in the country after over 20 years of continuous work.

The medical charity said it was pulling out because of ‘extreme attacks on its staff in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.’ Sixteen MSF workers have been killed in Somalia since 1991 and just last month two kidnapped MSF staff were released after 21 months in captivity.

It also emerged that six major British financial institutions are evaluating their investments with BT following allegations by legal charity Reprieve that the telecoms giant had supplied communications infrastructure that was used to target drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen. BT has the $23m (£15m) contract to provide telecommunications between RAF Croughton and Camp Lemonnier, the US base in Djibouti from which drone strikes in the countries are flown.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

To sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project click here.

Published

August 2, 2013

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.

A US Air Force Predator on patrol (US Air Force Photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt).

The CIA killed more people in Pakistan per strike than at any point since July 2012.

US drones return to Yemen‘s skies and al Qaeda confirms the death of its deputy leader.

UN report finds indications of increased US and UK involvement in Somalia.

Pakistan

July 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in July: 3

Total killed in strikes in July: 23-29, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – July 31 2013

Total Obama strikes: 320

Total US strikes since 2004: 371

Total reported killed: 2,514-3,584

Civilians reported killed: 410-928

Children reported killed: 164-195

Total reported injured: 1,112-1,493For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

July was the busiest month since January for the CIA’s drones with three strikes and at least 23 dead, eight of them identified by name. This was the highest ratio of people killed in each strike in Pakistan since July 2012 when when four operations reportedly killed at least 38 people.

The first strike on July 3 (Ob318) skewed the kill ratio – it was the bloodiest attack in nine months with 16-18 people reported dead. This bucked a trend identified by the Bureau for low-casualty strikes: there has been a decline in the number of reported killed in each strike since the peak in 2009.

The death toll was unusually high: US drones have reportedly killed 16 or more people in a strike only three times in the past two years, most recently on October 11 2012.

Three weeks after the strike, anonymous US officials said Washington had cut the rate of attacks and tightened its targeting policy as a concession to the Pakistan army. The unnamed sources told the Associated Press the July 3 strike was based on ‘hugely detailed’ intelligence ‘laid out in a 32-page PowerPoint presentation’ that apparently indicated the targets were Haqqani Network militants gathering to plan an attack on the Ariana Hotel in Kabul.

On July 28 a further strike killed at least five people. Three were reportedly al Qaeda training experts. An unnamed Taliban source claimed the three had trained the team that attacked a Pakistani prison on July 29. At least 250 militants escaped in the assault, including several senior operatives. Reuters named the three alleged trainers as: Abu Rashid, from Saudi Arabia; Muhammed Ilyas Kuwaiti, from Kuwait; and Muhammed Sajid Yamani, from Yemen.

Also in July, the Bureau released an internal Pakistani record of drone strike casualties showing officials found CIA drone strikes have killed a significant number of civilians. Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

Yemen

July 2013 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 1 Further reported/possible US strike events: 1 Total reported killed in US operations: 4-12Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – July 31 2013*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 47-57

Total reported killed: 243-358

Civilians reported killed: 15-52

Children reported killed: 2

Reported injured: 62-144

Possible extra US drone strikes: 81-100

Total reported killed: 286-460

Civilians reported killed: 23-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 81-106

All other US covert operations: 12-77Total reported killed: 148-377Civilians reported killed: 60-88Children reported killed: 25-26Reported injured: 22-111Click here for the full Yemen data.

 

Reported US drones killed at least seven people in Yemen this month in the first air strikes since a suspected US drone killed a 10-year-old boy and as many as six others.

July’s strikes came as President Hadi was visiting the US and days before a scheduled meeting at the White House on August 1 to discuss counter-terrorism policies and political reform.

In July AQAP’s chief theologian Ibrahim al Robaish confirmed the group’s deputy commander Said al Shehri‘s death by video eulogy. Al Shehri has been reported killed on several occasions since co-founding AQAP in January 2009.

Al Robaish revealed al Shehri was killed by a drone while talking on his phone in Saada province. However it was not clear exactly when al Shehri died. The only strike in Saada in 2012 recorded by the Bureau is YEM121, which killed at least three people on October 28.

A US court held preliminary hearings in a lawsuit brought by relatives of US citizens killed in drone strikes abroad, including Anwar and Abdulrahman al Awlaki. District court judge Rosemary Collyer asked government lawyers who were attempting to get the case dismissed, ‘How broadly are you asserting the right of the United States to target an American citizen?’ She added that she was ‘troubled‘ by the US administration’s view it can kill US citizens abroad without judicial oversight. ‘The executive is not an effective check on the executive,’ she added.

And the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has reportedly opened an investigation into UK telecoms company BT, though BIS refused to confirm or deny this to the Bureau. The British legal charity Reprieve has brought a complaint against BT over a contract to service and maintain a fibre-optic link between the US drone base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and a US base in England. Reprieve believes the link is used as part of US drone operations in Yemen and Somalia.

* 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.

Somalia

July 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – July 31 2013

US drone strikes: 3-9

Total reported killed: 7-27

Civilians reported killed: 0-15

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 7-14

Total reported killed: 47-143

Civilians reported killed: 7-42

Children reported killed: 1-3

Reported injured: 12-20Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

 

For the eleventh consecutive month there were no reported drone strikes in Somalia. A UN report found that al Shabaab retains control of ‘most of southern and central Somalia’ and is the country’s main threat to security.

According to the report, al Shabaab has steered clear of direct conflict, sticking to asymmetrical fighting. The group’s supplies and fighting force of 5,000 have been largely preserved. Al Shabaab attacks have risen from the end of 2012 into 2013, despite losing the key southern port of Kismayo in September 2012 to African Union forces. This month militants struck in the capital once again, killing a Turkish official and a Somali in a bomb attack on the Turkish consulate.

Al Shabaab continued presence is despite a reported increase in Western support for Somali counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency forces. ‘Multiple diplomatic and military sources’ told the UN monitors both the US and UK ‘are increasingly involved in directly supporting intelligence services in “Somaliland”, “Puntland” and Mogadishu.’ Some of this support is in violation of the UN arms embargo on the country, the investigators said.

Follow Alice K Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

To sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project click here.