News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

October 17, 2014

Written by

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

Nek Mohammed, the first recorded casualty in the US drone war in Pakistan, attends a jirga in May 2004 – three weeks before his death (REUTERS/Kamran Wazir)

This week’s Drone News looks at casualty recording; how it’s done, and what we know about the victims of airstrikes by the US and its allies.

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project has been trying for over a year to identify people killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. Jack Serle told Owen Bennett-Jones that the project has used publicly available sources and independent reporting to add around 100 names to the list, bringing it to just over 700, but that more than 1500 victims remain unidentified.

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Identifying the remaining victims is getting “increasingly difficult,” Serle said, explaining that when it comes to women and foreign fighters it often appears as if “nobody knows their names, even amongst local community.”

The Iraq Body Count’s Lily Hamourtziadou, who has been tracking civilian deaths in Iraq for more than eight years, cast light on an overlooked aspect of the campaign against the militant group Isis. According to Hamourtziadou, whilst the recent surge in violent deaths of civilians in Iraq is partly due to Isis, Iraqi government airstrikes have killed 1500 civilians since the end of last year.

The Bureau’s Abigail Fielding-Smith meanwhile raised the question of how the US’s new aerial campaign against Isis in Syria will be affected by the relative sophistication of casualty recording networks there. “Unlike other places where the US has launched aerial bombardment campaigns, there is an incredibly well-developed network of local casualty reporting there, because there’s been this civil war going on for the last two years,” she explained.

Follow Abigail Fielding-Smith and Jack Serle on Twitter. Subscribe to the Bureau’s drones podcast and newsletter and follow Drone Reads on Twitter to see what the team is reading.

Published

July 4, 2014

Written by

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

International terrorism has changed and that change is making lethal drone strikes more likely, according to Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University.

‘The whole thing has really made a transition from what you would probably just about call a movement 10 years ago to an idea that really has spread and has taken root in groups that are aggrieved often for other reasons,’ Rogers explained.

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This loose structure without a central leadership makes its harder to gather intelligence, he continued. ‘And if you can’t control them by finding out what they’re doing and what they’re planning you have to use other means which is where I think the use of special forces and drones is more likely to come in.’

Rogers continued: ‘Many of these groups are not looking at a world wide war against the ‘far enemy’ of the United States and its Western allies.’

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‘They are much more focused on their own countries – the one exception to some extent is the Yemenis.’

Also in this episode, the Bureau’s Alice K Ross discusses the Obama administration’s ‘gradual process of disclosure’ after the White House finally released a memo that outlines the legal justification for the US to kill its own citizens abroad.

 

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

April 14, 2014

Written by

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

Ethicists and drone experts discuss the morality of drone warfare in the latest episode of the Bureau’s podcast Drone News.

Dr Alex Leveringhaus of Oxford University and Dr Peter Lee, Portsmouth University lecturer of military ethics who teaches at the RAF College Cranwell, spoke to the Bureau about what they see as the key ethical issues of drone warfare.

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In the podcast, Lee challenged the notion of drone operators having a ‘PlayStation mentality’, emphasising the professionalism of drone operators. He explained how he thinks drones ‘can be, if used properly, the most ethical means of delivering air power’ because they can drop smaller munitions and loiter for long periods, meaning ‘they can spend hours and days ensuring that they have got the right target’.

However, Lee added that drones could increase the risk of lethal force being used. ‘Because there is no aircrew involved, you can see there is a greater political temptation perhaps to want to use [drones] when otherwise there might not be a use of force.’

Previous episode: Noel Sharkey on the unreliability of ‘killer robots’

Leveringhaus said a moral justification for killing in war is ‘the idea that combatants… [are] liable to be killed because they are posing a material threat’ – something lacking in drone war. ‘There is no immediate threat posed to the life of the drone pilot,’ he explained.

He added that he is worried by the vagueness of the test of whether a drone target poses a threat to the US. He said that in his view ‘there needs to be somehow an immediate threat for the use of lethal force to be justified.’

Also in the podcast, the Bureau’s Alice K Ross and Jack Serle discuss these opinions with Chris Cole from Drone Wars UK, an advocacy and research organisation.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter. Subscribe to the Bureau’s drones podcast and newsletter.

Published

March 14, 2014

Written by

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

Al Shabaab remain a violent threat, even in Mogadishu (Albany Associates)

Somali militant group al Shabaab are still capable of indiscriminate violence, the BBC’s Somalia editor Mary Harper told the Bureau.

Al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab is still a considerable threat despite almost a decade of Western interventions, including drone strikes. It remains effective because it is focusing its efforts and resources on ‘almost daily operations of indiscriminate violence’.

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However the group ‘has definitely been weakened in terms of its economic power,’ Harper told the Bureau. The group has lost control ‘of the most commercially vibrant parts of Mogadishu’ and Kismayo, a port town ‘from which it made millions and millions from the export of charcoal and other goods’.

The US targets ‘senior Islamist extremist operatives’ who were part of al Shabaab and al Qaeda, Harper said. However latterly she has seen a change in who is being targeted: ‘Certainly within the more recent strikes has been more to do with al Shabaab than al Qaeda. Whether that means al Qaeda’s East African leaders have abandoned Somalia, I don’t know.’

Also in this episode the Bureau’s podcast Alice Ross discusses the recent execution by militants of alleged US spies in Somalia and Yemen. And Jack Serle reports on an intense cluster of strikes in Yemen.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter. Subscribe to the Bureau’s drones podcast and newsletter.

Published

December 6, 2013

Written by

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

‘I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of what’s happened’, Jeremy Scahill tells the Bureau (Photo: Civic Bakery)

Journalist and filmmaker Jeremy Scahill says that handing control of CIA drone operations to the military could lead to ‘very serious abuses’, in Drone News, the Bureau’s new drones podcast.

Scahill met the Bureau’s Alice K Ross when he was in London promoting his new film Dirty Wars, which follows Scahill through the shadowy conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia as he tracks the expansion of US covert lethal actions under President Obama.

Obama officials and the president himself have indicated that drone operations are to be transferred out of CIA command and into the Department of Defense, as part of moves to increase transparency around drone strikes.

But Scahill believes the move is unlikely to lead to significant improvements. ‘In some ways it could make it worse, if you look at the way US military forces have circumvented any form of effective congressional oversight. The door is wide open for very serious abuses and I think it has the potential to enable more of these strikes to take place.’

Scahill praised the Bureau’s ‘incredible work’ in tracking covert drone strikes but added that much remains unknown. ‘I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of what’s happened because no one has access where much of this is taking place. We have no idea the scope of this – I think we only understand a tiny fraction of it.’

The podcast also includes news and analysis from the Bureau’s drones team, including Jack Serle’s report on the latest round of the first legal challenge in the English courts to the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan.

Listen to the latest episode of Drone News and download it from iTunes