News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

July 1, 2016

Written by

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

The US government today claimed it has killed between 64 and 116 “non-combatants” in 473 counter-terrorism strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya between January 2009 and the end of 2015.

This is a fraction of the 380 to 801 civilian casualty range recorded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from reports by local and international journalists, NGO investigators, leaked government documents, court papers and the result of field investigations.

While the number of civilian casualties recorded by the Bureau is six times higher than the US Government’s figure, the assessments of the minimum total number of people killed were strikingly similar. The White House put this figure at 2,436, whilst the Bureau has recorded 2,753.

Since becoming president in 2009, Barack Obama has significantly extended the use of drones in the War on Terror. Operating outside declared battlefields, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, this air war has been largely fought in Pakistan and Yemen.

The White House’s announcement today is long-awaited. It comes three years after the White House first said it planned to publish casualty figures, and four months after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, said the data would be released.

The figures released do not include civilians killed in drones strikes that happened under George W Bush, who instigated the use of counter-terrorism strikes outside declared war zones and in 58 strikes killed 174 reported civilians.

Graphic by Dean Vipond

Today’s announcement is intended to shed light on the US’s controversial targeted killing programme, in which it has used drones to run an arms-length war against al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The US Government also committed to continued transparency saying it will provide an annual summary of information about the number of strikes against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities as well as the range of combatants and non-combatants killed.

But the US has not released a year-by-year breakdown of strikes nor provided any detail on particularly controversial strikes which immediately sparked criticism from civil liberty groups.

Jamel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “While any disclosure of information about the government’s targeted-killing policies is welcome, the government should be releasing information about every strike—the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. Perhaps this kind of information should be released after a short delay, rather than immediately, but it should be released. The public has a right to know who the government is killing—and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public should know that.”

The gap between US figures and other estimates, including the Bureau’s data, also raised concerns.

Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve said: “For three years now, President Obama has been promising to shed light on the CIA’s covert drone programme. Today, he had a golden opportunity to do just that. Instead, he chose to do the opposite. He published numbers that are hundreds lower than even the lowest estimates by independent organisations. The only thing those numbers tell us is that this Administration simply doesn’t know who it has killed. Back in 2011, it claimed to have killed “only 60” civilians. Does it really expect us to believe that it has killed only 4 more civilians since then, despite taking hundreds more strikes?

“The most glaring absence from this announcement are the names and faces of those civilians that have been killed.  Today’s announcement tells us nothing about 14 year old Faheem Qureshi, who was severely injured in Obama’s first drone strike. Reports suggest Obama knew he had killed civilians that day.”

The US government said in a statement: “First, although there are inherent limitations on determining the precise number of combatant and non-combatant deaths, particularly when operating in non-permissive environments, the US Government uses post-strike methodologies that have been refined and honed over years and that use information that is generally unavailable to non-government organsations.”

Bibi Mamana

Bibi Mamana was a grandmother and midwife living in the the tribal region of North Waziristan on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

On October 24 2012, she was preparing for the Muslim festival of Eid. She used to say that the joy of Eid was the excitement it brought to children. Her eight-year-old granddaughter Nabeela was reported to be in a field with her as she gathered vegetables when a drone killed Mamana.

“I saw the first two missiles coming through the air,” Nabeela later told The Times. “They were following each other with fire at the back. When they hit the ground, there was a loud noise. After that I don’t remember anything.” Nabeela was injured by flying shrapnel.

At the sound of the explosion, Mamana’s 18-year-old grandson Kaleem ran from the house to help. But a few minutes later the drones struck again, he told the BBC. He was knocked unconscious. His leg was badly broken and damaged by shrapnel, and needed surgery.

Atiq, one of Mamana’s sons, was in the mosque as Manama gathered vegetables. On hearing the blast and seeing the plume of smoke he rushed to the scene. When he arrived he could not see any sign of his mother.

Picture credit: BBC

“I started calling out for her but there was no reply,” Atiq told the Times. “Then I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards. It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected many different parts from the field and put a turban over her body.”

Atiq’s brother Rafiq told Al Jazeera English he received a letter after the strike from a Pakistani official that said the attack was a US drone strike and that Mamana was innocent. But nothing more came of it, he said. The following year Rafiq, a teacher, travelled to the US to speak to Congress about the strike.

“My job is to educate,” he said in an emotional testimony. “But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand?”

Evaluating the numbers

The administration has called its drone programme a precise, effective form of warfare that targets terrorists and rarely hits civilians.

With the release of the figures today President Obama said, “All armed conflict invites tragedy.  But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.”

In June 2011 Obama’s then counter terrorism chief, now CIA director, John Brennan made a similar statement. He also declared drone strikes were “exceptionally precise and surgical” and had not killed a single civilian since August 2010. A Bureau investigation in July 2011 demonstrated this claim was untrue.

Most of the Bureau’s data sources are media reports by local and international news outlets, including Reuters, Associated Press and The New York Times.

The US Government says it has a much clearer view of post-strike situations than such reporting, suggesting this is the reason why there is such a gap between the numbers that have been recorded by the Bureau, and similar organisations, and those released today.

But the Bureau has also gathered essential information from its own field investigations.

The tribal areas have long been considered a difficult if not impossible area for journalists to access. However, occasionally reporters have been able to gain access to the site of the strikes to interview survivors, witnesses and relatives of people killed in drone strikes.

The Bureau conducted a field investigation through the end of 2011 into 2012, in partnership with The Sunday Times. Through extensive interviews with local villagers, the Bureau found 12 strikes killed 57 civilians.

The Associated Press also sent reporters into the Fata, reporting its findings in February 2012. It found 56 civilians and 138 militants were killed in 10 strikes.

Access to affected areas is a challenge in Yemen too. But in December 2009 a deputation of Yemeni parliamentarians sent to the scene of a strike discovered the burnt remnants of a camp, which had been set up by several families from one of Yemen’s poorest tribes.

A subsequent investigation by journalist Jeremy Scahill revealed a deception that hid US responsibility for the deaths of 41 civilians at the camp – half of them children, five of them pregnant women.

The reality on the ground flew in the face of the US governments understanding of events. A leaked US diplomatic record of a meeting in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, between General David Petraeus and the Yemeni president revealed the US government was ignorant of the civilian death toll.

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, a 40-year-old father of seven, was exactly the kind of man the US needed in Yemen. A widely respected cleric in rural Yemen, he delivered sermons in his village mosque denouncing al-Qaida.

Picture credit: Private

He gave just such a speech in August 2012 and earned the attention of the terrorist group. Three anonymous fighters arrived in his village two days later, after dark, calling for Jaber to come out and talk.

He went to meet them, taking his policeman cousin, Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, with him for protection. The five men stood arguing in the night air when Hellfire missiles tore into them.

A “huge explosion” rocked the village, a witness said. Jaber’s father, Ahmad bin Salim Salih bin Ali Jaber, 77, arrived on the scene to find people “wrapping up body parts of people from the ground, from here and there, putting them in grave clothes like lamb.”

All the dead were al Qaeda fighters, unnamed Yemeni officials claimed. However Jaber’s family refused to allow him to be smeared as a terrorist.

For three years they fought in courts in America and Germany for recognition that he was an innocent civilian. In November 2013 they visited Washington and even managed to arrange a meeting in the White House to plead their case. In 2014 the family said it was offered a bag containing $100,000 by a Yemen national security official. The official said it was a US strike and it had been a mistake.

By late 2015 the family offered to drop their lawsuits against the US government if the administration would apologise. The Department of Justice refused. In February 2016 the court dismissed the family’s suit but they have not stopped fighting: in April they announced they would appeal.

Falling numbers of civilian casualties

The White House stressed that it was concerned to protect civilians and that best practices were in place to help reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties.

The Bureau’s data does show a significant decline in the reports of civilian casualties in recent years.

In Pakistan, where the largest number of strikes have occurred, there have been only three reported civilian casualties since the end of 2012. Two of these casualties – Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto – were Western hostages held by al Qaeda. The US, unaware they were targeting the American and Italian’s captors, flattened the house they were being held in.

The accidental killing of a US citizen spurred Obama to apologise for the strike – the first and only time he had publicly discussed a specific CIA drone strike in Pakistan. With the apology came an offer of a “condolence payment to both the families,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told the Bureau. However, they have yet to receive any compensation from the US government for their loss.

Families who have lost relatives in Pakistan  have not reported been compensated for their loss. In Yemen, money has been given to families for their loss but it is not clear whether it actually comes from the US. The money is disbursed by Yemeni government intermediaries, nominally from the Yemeni government.

Tariq Khan

Tariq Khan was a 16-year-old from North Waziristan who attended a high-profile anti-drone rally in Islamabad in October 2011. Only days later, he and his cousin were killed in a drone strike.

Tariq was the youngest of seven children. He was described by relatives as a quiet teenager who was good with computers. His uncle Noor Kalam said: “He was just a normal boy who loved football.”

On 27 October, Tariq made the eight-hour drive to Islamabad for a meeting convened by Waziri elders to discuss how to end civilian deaths in drone strikes. The Pakistani politician Imran Khan, his former wife Jemima, members of the legal campaign group Reprieve and several western journalists also attended the meeting.

Neil Williams from Reprieve said Tariq seemed very introverted at the meeting. He asked the boy if he had ever seen a drone. Tariq replied he saw 10 or 15 every day. He said they prevented him from sleeping. “He looked absolutely terrified,” Williams said.

After a four-hour debate, the audience joined around 2,000 people at a protest rally outside the Pakistani parliament. After the rally, the tribesmen made the long journey home. The day after he got back, Tariq and his cousin Wahid went to pick up his newly married aunt, according a Bureau reporter who met Tariq at the Islamabad meeting. When they were 200 yards from the house two missiles slammed into their car. The blast killed Tariq and Wahid instantly.

Some reports suggested Wahid was 12 years old.

An anonymous US official acknowledged the CIA had launched the strike but denied they were children. The occupants of that car were militants, he said.

Unnamed

Most of the dead from CIA strikes in Pakistan are unnamed Pakistanis and Afghans, according to Naming the Dead – a research project by the Bureau. Over three years the Bureau has painstakingly gathered names of the dead from US drone strikes in Pakistan. The project has recorded just 732 names of people killed since 2004. The project has named 213 civilians killed under Obama.

The fact that so many people are unnamed adds to the confusion about who has been killed.

A controversial US tactic, signature strikes, demonstrates how identities of the dead, and their status as a combatant or non-combatant, eludes the US. These strikes target people based on so-called pattern of life analysis, built from surveillance and intelligence but not the actual identity of a person.

And the CIA’s own records leaked to the news agency McClatchy show the US is sometimes not only ignorant of the identities of people it has killed, but also of the armed groups they belong to. They are merely listed as “other militants” and “foreign fighters” in the leaked records.

Former Deputy US Secretary of State, Richard Armitage outlined his unease with such internal reporting in an interview with Chris Woods for his book Sudden Justice. “Mr Obama was popping up with these drones left, right and down the middle, and I would read these accounts, ’12 insurgents killed.’ ’15!’ You don’t know that. You don’t know that. They could be insurgents, they could be cooks.”

Image of funeral of Akram Shah and at least four other civilians in June 2011 via AFP/Getty Images

Published

March 7, 2016

Written by

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

The US flattened an al Shabaab training camp in central Somalia and killed around 150 people, the Pentagon said today, making it the highest death toll in a US counter-terrorism strike yet recorded anywhere by the Bureau.

The strike hit approximately 100 miles north of Mogadishu and killed al Shabaab terrorists who posed an imminent threat to the US and African Union peacekeepers, the Pentagon said.

US forces had had the camp under observation for several weeks and believed there were as many as 200 al Shabaab operatives based there.

The US struck after it appeared the terrorists were about to start their operation, Captain Jeff Davis said at the Pentagon.

Somalia’s Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer told Reuters the Somalia intelligence agencies had been involved in the formative stages of the attack. “There has to be intelligence on the ground for this to happen. Our intelligence had helped,” Omer said.

Reported US drone strikes, Somalia 2001-2016
Strikes: 19-23
Total killed: 188-276
Civilians killed: 0-7
Children killed: 0-2
Injured: 2-8

Download our complete Somalia data here

“Manned and unmanned aircraft” were used to carry out the strike, which hit on Saturday March 5. The last US strike in Somalia was December 22 last year. That was the last of 10 attacks to hit the country in that year – an unprecedented frequency of strikes.

The US military said it was continuing to “assess the results of the operation” but “initial assessments are that 150 fighters were eliminated”.

Drones have been striking terrorists in Yemen since 2001, Pakistan since 2004 and Somalia since 2007 but never has the body count been as high as this.

Previously the highest tally recorded by the Bureau was 81 killed in a single CIA drone strike in Pakistan in October 2006. In Somalia, the biggest body count was in April 2011 when as many as 36 people were killed in an airstrike.

The attack last weekend hit Raso Camp, “a training facility of al Shabaab,” the Pentagon said in a statement. It killed “fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp [and] posed an imminent threat to US and African Union Mission in Somalia forces in Somalia.”

Pentagon spokespeople would not be drawn on exactly what kind of aircraft were used, beyond saying some were manned and some were drones.

The US has used several kinds of aircraft in Somalia besides drones. It has conducted strikes with jets and helicopters. It has also deployed AC-130 gunships – large propeller driven aircraft.

Published

December 1, 2015

Written by

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

Gen John Campbell, top US military officer in Afghanistan, admits human error behind the destruction of a hospital on October 3.

US strikes continued in Afghanistan and Somalia last month. Strikes in both countries were carried out to counter a threat to US forces on the ground. There were no attacks reported in Pakistan, where the Pakistan Air Force continues bombing the tribal areas, or in Yemen where the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial bombing campaign continued.

Pakistan

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, November 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 0 13 421
Total reported killed 0 60-85 2,489-3,989
Civilians reported killed 0 2-5 423-965
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 0 25-32 1,158-1,738

All the strikes in the table above were carried out by the CIA using Predator or Reaper drones. The Pakistan Air Force has also carried out air strikes in the same region as the CIA, using jets and its own armed drone – the Burraq.

November was the second consecutive calendar month without a reported US strike in Pakistan.

Despite this halt in CIA drone strikes, US air operations continue across the border in Afghanistan and the impact is being felt in the tribal areas of Pakistan. On November 20 details emerged of several funerals for people killed in US air strikes in Afghanistan. These ceremonies, held in various districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, were reportedly attended by thousands of people.

You can download the Bureau’s complete datasheet of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan here.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan: confirmed US drone and air strikes
All strikes, November 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date
All US strikes 9 175
Total reported killed 64-129 749-1,131
Civilians reported killed 0 44-103
Children reported killed 0 3-21
Total reported injured 21 132-137

The US Air Force has a variety of aircraft carrying out missions over Afghanistan, including jets, drones and AC-130 gunships. The UN reported in August 2015 that most US strikes were by unmanned aerial vehicles. This matches the Bureau’s records that show most US air attacks since January were by drones. However in the absence of US authorities revealing which type of aircraft carried out which attack, it remains unclear which of the attacks recorded were by manned or unmanned aircraft.

The Bureau’s data on strikes in Afghanistan is not exhaustive. The ongoing war creates barriers to reporting and the Bureau’s data is an accumulation of what publicly available information exists on specific strikes and casualties. The US government publishes monthly aggregates of air operations in Afghanistan, minus information on casualties.

US Air Force data, January 1 to October 31 2015
Total Close Air Support (CAS) sorties with at least one weapon release 363
Total CAS sorties 3,824
Total weapons released 847

 

The Bureau recorded nine US strikes in Afghanistan in November. This is a dramatic fall from the 82 recorded in October. It is not yet known if this is an actual fall, or possibly a sharp decline in the number of strikes publicly reported.

The total number of attacks carried out by US forces in November will be released by the US government at some point in the second week of December.

In November fresh details emerged of the October 3 US air strike on the Kunduz hospital. General John Campbell said the attack was “the direct result of avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures”.

The US will publish a redacted copy of the national investigation, according to US Army Colonel Michael Lawhorn, US Forces – Afghanistan spokesman. Though “that process could take some weeks.”

The Bureau’s complete timeline of reported events in Afghanistan can be found here.

Yemen

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, November 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 0 20-21 107-127
Total reported killed 0 71-99 492-725
Civilians reported killed 0 1-7 65-101
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 0 8 94-223

* 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 US drone strikes reported in Yemen in November, the second calendar month this year without a reported attack.

The multi-faceted civil war in Yemen continued regardless of a halt in US strikes. Concerns over collateral damage in the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial campaign against the Houthi militia continued to build. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said on November 25 they had tracked a missile used in one deadly attack on a ceramics factory back to a British manufacturer.

The Houthis were also criticised, with a senior UN official accusing them of blocking the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian and aid supplies to the city of Taiz.

You can download the Bureau’s complete datasheet of US drone and air strikes in Yemen here.

Somalia

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, November 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 1 9-10 16-20
Total reported killed 5-8 12-83 30-116
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-7
Children reported killed 0 0 0-2
Total reported injured 0 0-4 2-8

 

The first strike in Somalia since July killed at least five people on November 21, according to three Somali government officials and local residents. The US confirmed its forces “conducted a self-defense airstrike against al Shabaab”.

Also last month, the US announced it was offering rewards for information about six al Shabaab fighters totalling $26m. The men included the new leader of the terrorist group, Abu Ubaidah, and his deputy, Mahad Karate (above).

You can download the Bureau’s complete datasheet of US drone and air strikes in Somalia here.

Follow our drones team Jack Serle and Abigail Fielding-Smith on Twitter.

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

Published

November 2, 2015

Written by

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

On October 3 a US airstrike destroyed MSF’s hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan (Photo: Victor Blue/MSF)

 

Scores of US air and drone strikes hit Afghanistan in October as the country’s military and police continued struggling to control the resurgent Taliban. While at least 80 strikes reportedly hit Afghanistan, the CIA’s drone strikes stopped at the Pakistani side of the border. There were also no US drone or air strikes reported in Yemen or Somalia last month.

 

Pakistan

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, October 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 0 13 421
Total reported killed 0 60-85 2,476-3,989
Civilians reported killed 0 2-5 423-965
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 0 25-32 1,158-1,738

 

All the strikes in the table above were carried out by the CIA using Predator or Reaper drones. The Pakistan Air Force has also carried out air strikes in the same region as the CIA, using jets and its own armed drone – the Burraq.

There were no reported US drone strikes in Pakistan in October, the third calendar month to pass without a strike there this year.

The Pakistan Air Force continued to target alleged militants in the mountains of Pakistan’s tribal region. Pakistan’s armed drone, the Burraq, carried out its first night strike, according to the Pakistan military’s public relations wing – the ISPR.

You can download the Bureau’s complete datasheet of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan here.

 

Afghanistan

Afghanistan Bureau data: US drone and air strikes
Reported strikes, October 2015 Reported strikes, 2015 to date
All US strikes 80 164
Total reported killed 186-270 685-1,002
Civilians reported killed 30-31 44-103
Children reported killed 3 3-21
Total reported injured 82 111-116

 

The US Air Force has a variety of aircraft carrying out missions over Afghanistan, including jets, drones and AC-130 gunships. The UN reported in August 2015 that most US strikes were by unmanned aerial vehicles. This matches the Bureau’s records which show most US air attacks since January have been by drones. Due to a lack of official US information, it remains unclear which type of aircraft carried out the attacks.

The Bureau’s data on strikes in Afghanistan is not exhaustive. The ongoing war creates barriers to reporting and the Bureau’s data is an accumulation of what publicly available information exists on specific strikes and casualties. The US government publishes monthly aggregates of air operations in Afghanistan, but not casualty figures.

US Air Force data, January 1 to September 30 2015
Total Close Air Support (CAS) sorties

with at least one weapon release

328
Total CAS 3,372
Total weapons released 629

 

A US AC-130 gunship destroyed a hospital in the northern city of Kunduz on October 3, run by the international charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing at least 30 staff and patients. The attack hit while Afghan troops and US special forces were battling to retake the city from Afghan Taliban fighters who stormed it on September 28.

There were 79 more US strikes reported in October. Eleven were concentrated on Kunduz city. However most of the strikes last month – at least 63 – reportedly hit in the course of a week in the southern province of Kandahar. The strikes were in support of a large ground assault by US and Afghan to clear “probably the largest” al Qaeda base found during the 14-year Afghan war, according to the leading US army general in Afghanistan.

The Bureau’s complete timeline of reported events in Afghanistan can be found here.

 

Yemen

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, October 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 0 20-21 107-127
Total reported killed 0 71-99 492-725
Civilians reported killed 0 1-7 65-101
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 0 8 94-223

 

* 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 US strikes in Yemen in October – the first calendar month without reported action there since July 2014. Though there were no reported drone strikes, a drone did reportedly crash in the central province of Mareb. It was unarmed and there were conflicting accounts of whether it was a US or Saudi Arabian aircraft.

Visited @MSF hospital in Haidan, northern Yemen after it was hit by multiple Saudi airstrikes. Destruction is total pic.twitter.com/FesfilxnEo

— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) October 29, 2015

The Royal Saudi Air Force continued to bomb Yemen in its ongoing battle with the Shiite Houthi militia. In October, Saudi jets also bombed a hospital run by MSF. The facility was in Saada, the Houthi stronghold. No one died in the attack though the hospital was destroyed.

You can download the Bureau’s complete datasheet of US drone and air strikes in Yemen here.

 

Somalia

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, October 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 0 8-9 15-19
Total reported killed 0 7-75 25-108
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-5
Children reported killed 0 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0-4 2-7

 

A small faction of al Shabaab swore allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The splinter group amounted to one senior commander and about 20 fighters, according to Reuters.

Fighting between al Shabaab and African Union peacekeepers continued in October. One skirmish, on October 25, saw Kenyan troops reportedly kill 15 al Shabaab fighters in a raid on a terrorist base on the Jubba river in southern Somalia.

You can download the Bureau’s complete datasheet of US drone and air strikes in Somalia here.

Follow our drones team Jack Serle and Abigail Fielding-Smith 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 our team is reading.

Published

October 5, 2015

Written by

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 Reaper in Afghanistan (Photo: US Air Force)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

    CIA and Pakistan Air Force drones hit Pakistan’s tribal areas US strikes continue in Yemen as the civil war rages Al Shabaab continue to kill peacekeepers and civilians in Somalia The three drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen in September means a total of 491 drone strikes there under President Obama US air power helps stem the Taliban tide in Afghanistan Medecins Sans Frontiers trauma centre in Kunduz hit in October air strike The Bureau publishes investigation into UK’s Watchkeeper programme as Cameron doubles RAF drone fleet

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

US drone strikes 421 107-127 15-19 48
Total reported killed 2,476-3,989 492-725 25-108 420-619
Civilians reported killed 423-965 65-101 0-5 14-42
Children reported killed 172-207 8-9 0 0-18
Reported injured 1,158-1,738 94-223 2-7 24-28

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

US air & cruise missile strikes N/A 15-72 8-11 35
Total reported killed N/A 156-365 40-141 79-104
Civilians reported killed N/A 68-99 7-47 0-30
Children reported killed N/A 26-28 0-2 0
People reported injured N/A 15-102 11-21 5-6

 

* The Bureau’s estimates are based predominantly on open sources information like media reports. Sometimes it is not possible to reconcile details in different reports. This is why use ranges for our record of casualties and, in the case of Yemen and Somalia, our strike tallies.

** The US has only carried out drone strikes in Pakistan.

 

iii. Bureau analysis for September 2015:

Two drone strikes in Yemen plus one in Pakistan during September means the total strikes in the US’s covert drone war in those countries and Somalia during Barack Obama’s presidency now stands at 491.

September was the second consecutive month when US air and ground forces reportedly came to the aid of the Afghan army and security forces in their struggle to contain a brutal insurgency. US air attacks continued into October when a series of strikes hit a hospital run by international NGO Medecins Sans Frontier, killing at least 19 people, including 12 staff members.

A CIA drone strike hit Pakistan killing five or six people in the same month that Pakistan jets killed civilians in South Waziristan and the first Pakistan Air Force drone strike reportedly killed three people.

In Yemen the US continued drone strikes while the Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab and African states continued its air and ground war with the Houthi militia in the north, west and south of the country.

There were no US drone attacks reported in Somalia last month despite al Shabaab continuing to inflict a toll on African Union peacekeepers.

September also saw UK Prime Minister David Cameron announce Britain had killed two British men in a drone strike in Syria. This took the total number of Britons reportedly killed with drones to at least 10 – two by the UK and eight in US strikes in Pakistan and Somalia.

And in the first week of October, the Bureau published an investigation with the Guardian into the British Army’s flagship drone, Watchkeeper, as Cameron announced the RAF’s fleet of armed drones would be doubled to 20 aircraft.

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

 

1. Pakistan

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, September 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 1 13 421
Total reported killed 5-6 60-85 2,476-3,989
Civilians reported killed 0 2-5 423-965
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 4 25-32 1,158-1,738

 

Download our full Pakistan data set here.

A single US strike hit Pakistan in September, a month that saw rare reports of civilian casualties from a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) strike and the Pakistan military declare it had used its own drones in combat in the tribal areas.

The CIA strike killed five or six people when it destroyed part of a house at around 11pm on September 1. Up to three of the dead were reportedly foreigners, they were believed to be Uzbeks.

At least 60 people have been killed in the 13 US drone attacks reported so far this year.

On September 7 the Pakistan military said it had used its own armed drone in the tribal areas. The attack killed three people – all reportedly senior militants.

On September 18 there were reports of a third drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal area. A CIA drone reportedly killed at least six people in South Waziristan. It subsequently emerged that the operation was carried out by the Pakistan Air Force.

There was little follow-up coverage of that attack because news broke of a bloody assault on a Pakistan Air Force base in Peshawar by the Taliban that killed at least 29 people.

But a Reuters journalist in Dera Ismail Khan, a region that borders the tribal areas, interviewed a family that was wounded in the attack. They said all the dead were their neighbours and civilians, not terrorists. They said eight or nine civilians were killed in the attack, including three women and at least three children.

2. Afghanistan

Afghanistan: US drone and air strikes
All reported strikes, September 2015 Official US figures, January to August 2015 Bureau identified figures, January to September 2015*
All US strikes 17 282 83
Total reported killed 30-76 499-723
Civilians reported killed 0 14-72
Children reported killed 0 0-18
Total reported injured 0-6 29-34

 

* The Bureau’s data on US air and drone strikes in Afghanistan is not exhaustive. The ongoing war creates barriers to reporting drone strikes. The Bureau’s data on strikes in Afghanistan is an accumulation of what publicly available information exists on specific strikes and casualties. The US government publishes monthly aggregates of air operations in Afghanistan, minus information on casualties.

US Air Force data, January 1 to August 31 2015
Total Close Air Support (CAS) sorties 2,927
Total CAS sorties

with at least one weapon release

282
Total weapons released 523

 

In September the Taliban launched a surprise assault on the northern city of Kunduz. US ground forces were dispatched to the city to aid Afghan security forces’ attempts to retake the city. And the US provided close air support to Afghan and US troops. These were the first US airstrikes reported on the city of Kunduz in 2015.

At least five US airstrikes on September 29 and 30 helped an Afghan counter offensive eventually drive the insurgents out of the capital of the wealthy Kunduz province, which is just 150 miles north of Kabul.

The Taliban assault and Afghan counter-attacks inflicted a heavy toll on the city’s civilian population. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that 296 wounded, including 64 children, had arrived at its trauma centre in Kunduz between September 28 and the start of October.

In October, the hospital was hit by several air strikes that left at least 22 people dead. MSF condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms”. The charity closed the hospital after the attack, evacuating its staff. It had been the only free trauma centre in northern Afghanistan, MSF said.

US and European soldiers were reportedly involved in the effort to retake Kunduz with a US spokesman telling Reuters: “US Special Forces advisers, while advising and assisting elements of the Afghan Special Security Forces, encountered an insurgent threat in Kunduz city.”

The city’s Afghan garrison were driven out to the airport in the suburbs where they regrouped and waited for reinforcements. Special forces from the US were reportedly in the area and moved to the airport to assist. US soldiers called in air support on at least one occasions near the airport, reportedly destroying a tank captured by the Taliban.

UK and German soldiers were also reportedly involved, but British and German authorities have denied their forces were involved.

The month began with the Afghan security forces struggling to retake the district of Musa Qala in northern Helmand – a province in southern Afghanistan that saw fierce fighting between the Taliban and Nato forces. The US gave considerable air support to the Afghans, with 18 strikes in the final of week of August and seven in the first week of September.

After Musa Qala fell, 90 US special forces operatives were reportedly rushed to Helmand’s Camp Antonik military headquarters. This detachment reportedly included joint terminal attack controllers that “must be on the ground directing the strike to ensure they are conducted within our rules of engagement,” according to the US military spokesman in Afghanistan.

Few details emerged from the US strikes in Musa Qalas or Kunduz. The US military released some details but would not say how many people were killed. There were reports one attack in Kunduz killed 15, including Taliban shadow governor for Kunduz, Mawlawi Salam. However he subsequently denied reports of his demise, the Long War Journal reported.

Other attacks this month hit in Kunar, Paktika and Nangarhar – provinces that border Pakistan and where the majority of the reported strikes have concentrated.

The US tally of aggregated monthly data from August was published last month. It showed the number of airstrikes in Afghanistan nearly doubled from 45 in July to 84 in August – both far exceeding the monthly average of 35 per month after eight months. However this is still far lower than when US and allied soldiers were engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan.

3. Yemen

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, September 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 2 20-21 107-127
Total reported killed 7-11 71-99 492-725
Civilians reported killed 0-4 1-7 65-101
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 2 8 94-223

 

Download our full Yemen data set here.

* 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 US drone strikes in Yemen last month, and two possible US attacks in addition.

The two confirmed attacks killed 9-11 people in Mukalla, a port city on the south coast of Yemen and the capital of Hadramout province. It has become the focus of al Qaeda activity in Yemen this year. It is also a focus of US strikes: 13 have hit since the start of the year.

The two possible attacks killed six in Mareb province in central Yemen. The Bureau cannot confirm US involvement in these strikes because the number of sources reporting US involvement is not sufficient, according to the Bureau’s methodology. Furthermore, the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing in Mareb and it is possible their attacks have been misreported as US attacks.

There were two other, possible US strikes that hit in Mareb province, central Yemen. These attacks were only reported by one or two sources and therefore are not included in the Bureau’s figures for confirmed US operations.

Last month saw foreign forces become more deeply embroiled in Yemen’s civil war, adding a new layer of complexity to the conflict as its toll on civilians continued to rise.

At the beginning of the month, a missile attack by the Shia Houthi militia in the central province of Marib killed at least 55 troops sent by Sunni Arab governments in the Gulf, who were there fighting in support of ousted president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition and heavy clashes occurred in different parts of the country, in spite of ongoing attempts by Oman to broker peace talks.

The Islamic State group reminded people of its growing presence in Yemen by claiming responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in the capital, Sanaa, which was reported to have killed 25 people.

The Saudi-led coalition pressed on with an offensive in Marib.  Towards the end of the month, Hadi returned to the southern city in Aden, which he had attempted to turn in to seat of government after Houthis overran the capital. The Houthis’ advance south forced him to flee the country in March.

September ended with a strike reportedly killing at least 130 civilians at a wedding party near the Red Sea port of Mocha. The attack was reported as a suspected airstrike, but a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition insisted there were no flights in the area at the time.

4. Somalia

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, September 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 0 8-9 9-13
Total reported killed 0 7-75 23-105
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-5
Children reported killed 0 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0-4 2-7

 

Download our full Somalia data set here.

The militant group al Shabaab went on the offensive in September, seizing towns in the Lower Shabelle region.

On September 1 reports emerged that the group had raided an African Union base in Janale, killing at least 12 peacekeeping troops. By the second half of the month, the acting governor of Lower Shabelle told Reuters that much of the area was in al Shabaab’s hands, including Janale.

Also in September, the UK announced at the end of the month that it would send up to 70 troops to support the African Union mission in non-combat roles.

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Published

September 2, 2015

Written by

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 Reaper taxis at Creech airbase in Nevada, USA (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry E Reid Jr)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

    US actions continue in Afghanistan, eight months after combat operations officially ended. American drones continue to kill alleged AQAP fighters as Yemen’s civil war rages. The first strike in two months kills 4-7 in Pakistan.

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

US drone strikes 420 105-125 15-19 43
Total reported killed 2,471-3,983 485-714 25-108 393-561
Civilians reported killed 423-965 65-97 0-5 14-42
Children reported killed 172-207 8-9 0 0-18
Reported injured 1,154-1,734 92-221 2-7 18-22

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

US air & cruise missile strikes N/A 15-72 8-11 23
Total reported killed N/A 156-365 40-141 76-86
Civilians reported killed N/A 68-99 7-47 0-30
Children reported killed N/A 26-28 0-2 0
People reported injured N/A 15-102 11-21 5-6

 

* The Bureau’s estimates are based predominantly on open sources information like media reports. Sometimes it is not possible to reconcile details in different reports. This is why we use ranges for our record of casualties and, in the case of Yemen and Somalia, our strike tallies.

** The US has only carried out drone strikes in Pakistan.

 

iii. Bureau analysis for August 2015:

There were more US air strikes reported in Afghanistan in August than Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia combined. More than half the 32 reported attacks in Afghanistan came in the space of a week. The US was providing air support to Afghan security forces trying to stop a second district in the southern province of Helmand falling under Taliban control.

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

 

1. Pakistan

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, August 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 1 12 420
Total reported killed 4-7 55-79 2,471-3,983
Civilians reported killed 0 2-5 423-965
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 0 21-28 1,154-1,734

 

The first CIA drone strike in Pakistan in 61 days reportedly killed between four and seven Haqqani Network fighters on August 6. The alleged militants were killed when the drones destroyed a house in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, Pakistani media reported.

This was the only drone strike reported in August. The CIA drone campaign in Pakistan has slowed since the end of January this year – when five strikes reportedly killed at least 26 people. Seven strikes have killed at least 29 people since the start of February.

During this time, the Pakistan military has continued its air and ground attacks on the various armed groups in the tribal areas. Several Pakistani air strikes reportedly killed scores of people in August, including a series of attacks on August 17, which killed at least 65 people, and  two on August 19 that left as many as 43 dead.

US-Pakistani relations showed further signs of strain last month, with Washington threatening to withhold $300m in military assistance unless Islamabad did more to tackle the Haqqani network. The US has said it believes the network is behind a recent increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. In response to the US complaints, Pakistan insisted the network had been disrupted.

 

2. Afghanistan

Afghanistan: US drone and air strikes
All reported strikes, August 2015 Official US figures, January to July 2015 Bureau identified figures, January to August 2015*
All US strikes 32 198 66
Total reported killed 125-141 469-647
Civilians reported killed 0-33 14-72
Children reported killed 0 0-18
Total reported injured 0 23-28

 

* The Bureau’s data on US air and drone strikes in Afghanistan is not exhaustive. The ongoing war creates barriers to reporting drone strikes. The Bureau’s data on strikes in Afghanistan is an accumulation of what publicly available information exists on specific strikes and casualties. The US government publishes monthly aggregates of air operations in Afghanistan, minus information on casualties.

US Air Force data, January 1 to July 31 2015
Total Close Air Support (CAS) sorties 2,435
Total CAS sorties

with at least one weapon release

198
Total weapons released 380

 

The intensity of reported US air and drone attacks in Afghanistan increased again in August. There were 32 reported strikes that killed at least 125 people.

This casualty record is a significant underestimate. There were eighteen US attacks in the Musa Qala district of the southern province of Helmand from August 23 to August 30, according to US officials. However the death toll remains largely unreported. The first three reported attacks, on August 23, killed 40 according to Reuters.

A further 10 people were killed between August 23 and August 29 though it is not clear when or where in Musa Qala district.

The bombardment was in part a failed attempt to stem an advancing tide of Taliban fighters who threatened to take the district and its capital. The insurgents eventually drove the Afghan district administration out of Musa Qala and reportedly overran the district capital on August 24.

The US continued its air attacks as Afghan forces tried to push the Taliban back, eventually succeeding on August 30 when reinforcements arrived from neighbouring Kandahar province. The counter-offensive reportedly left 220 Taliban fighters dead, according to the Afghan ministry of defence.

The beleaguered Afghan army and police garrisons in Musa Qala suffered losses of their own. When the Taliban overran the capital, 25 police officers and soldiers were reportedly killed and 15 more injured.

“We left the district early in the morning because the Taliban were attacking from all sides,” Musa Qala district Governor Mohammad Sharif told Reuters. “We had asked for reinforcements for days but none arrived and this was what happened,” he said

The extent of US involvement in the defence and recapture of Musa Qala remains unclear. Afghan military officials said US ground forces were not involved. However a US military spokesman in Kabul publicly reported the air attacks and told the New York Times: “It is important to note whenever the US conducts airstrikes, a US JTAC [Joint Terminal Attack Controller] must be on the ground directing the strike to ensure they are conducted within our rules of engagement.”

In addition, 10 strikes hit the eastern province of Nangarhar last month, killing at least 72 people. There have been more strikes reported in Nangarhar than any other province. So far in 2015 there have been at least 25 reported attacks killing 276, according to the Bureau’s data. Nangarhar borders Pakistan’s tribal areas, a region the US and Afghanistan have long said is a haven for Afghan insurgents.

Between 56 and 66 people were reported killed in a single day on August 4 when a volley of strikes hit Narngahar and Paktika. Some of the dead were reported to be Islamic State fighters, as well as Taliban.

3. Yemen

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, August 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 3 18-19 105-125
Total reported killed 14 64-88 485-714
Civilians reported killed 0 1-3 65-97
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 0 6 92-221

 

* 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.

Drone strikes continued in Yemen as the US and Saudi allied forces loyal to president Hadi sought to press ahead with their campaign to roll back the advance of the Shia Houthi militia after retaking the port city of Aden in July.

There were three confirmed US attacks in August, all in or around the city of Mukalla, reportedly killing 14 people. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) took advantage of the country’s chaos and took control of the city earlier this year. It has been the target of 10 of the 18 confirmed US strikes so far this year.

There was a fourth strike that was attributed to the US drones. It killed three in the central Marib province however the Bureau has yet to confirm it as a US operation.

Since moving into Mukalla in April, AQAP had reportedly adopted a low profile, leaving the day to day running of the city to a council of local residents. However in July the terrorist group spurred people to protest its presence by rounding up and arbitrarily arresting retired military officers and policemen. And in August its fighters blew up an army headquarters. According to AFP, it feared a military operation against them by pro-Saudi forces.

4. Somalia

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, August 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 0 8-9 15-19
Total reported killed 0 7-75 25-108
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-5
Children reported killed 0 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0-4 2-7

 

There were no covert actions reported in Somalia in August.  The al Shabaab militant group has been gradually pushed back from territories in central and southern Somalia by Somali troops and the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeepers.

Al Shabaab has posed an increasing threat to neighbouring Kenya however, and still has the capacity to carry out deadly operations inside Somalia itself.

On August 22 the group was reported to have killed 21 in twin suicide bomb attacks, one in the capital and on a military training base in the southern port city of Kismayo.

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Published

August 3, 2015

Written by

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

African Union peacekeepers liberated towns from al Shabaab control last month, with US air support (AU UN IST PHOTO/Tobin Jones taken in 2014)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

    As many strikes hit Afghanistan in July (17) as in January to June combined No strikes hit Pakistan for the second calendar month this year, now 56 days without incident Number of confirmed drone strikes in Yemen in 2015 reaches 15 Unprecedented intense action as at least six strikes hit Somalia while US provides African Union peacekeepers close air support

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)*

US drone strikes 419 102-122 15-19 29-61
Total reported killed 2,467-3,976 471-700 25-108 308-677
Civilians reported killed 423-965 65-97 0-5 14-39
Children reported killed 172-207 8-9 0 0-20
Reported injured 1,152-1,731 92-221 2-7 18-31

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

US air & cruise missile strikes N/A 15-72 8-11 5
Total reported killed N/A 156-365 40-141 36-46
Civilians reported killed N/A 68-99 7-47 0
Children reported killed N/A 26-28 0-2 0
People reported injured N/A 15-102 11-21 5-6

 

* The Bureau’s estimates are based predominantly on open sources information like media reports. Sometimes it is not possible to reconcile details in different reports. This is why use ranges for our record of casualties and, in the case of Yemen and Somalia, our strike tallies.

** The US has only carried out drone strikes in Pakistan.

iii. Bureau analysis for July 2015:

As many US air strikes were reported in Afghanistan in July as in the preceding six months combined. This high intensity bombardment came as the CIA goes 56 days without carrying out a strike across the border in Pakistan.

The US continued its campaign in Yemen despite the ongoing civil war tearing the country apart. And there appears to have been a change of tactics in Somalia with six strikes targeting al Shabaab fighters about to attack African Union peacekeepers.

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

1. Pakistan

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, July 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 0 11 419
Total reported killed 0 51-72 2,467-3,976
Civilians reported killed 0 2-5 423-965
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 0 19-25 1,152-1,731

 

There were no CIA strikes reported in Pakistan in July – the second calendar month of 2015 without a recorded attack after February.

With the last strike on June 6, the pause in attacks has stretched to 56 days, in stark contrast to the intensity of air attacks just across the border in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, which abuts Pakistan’s tribal areas.

While US drone attacks may be on hiatus in Pakistan, the Pakistan military has continued its offensive in the tribal areas. These operations have reportedly pushed Taliban fighters into Afghanistan, possibly leaving the drones with a paucity of targets in Pakistan and a glut in Nangarhar.

So far in 2015, the Shawal area of North Waziristan has been the focus of US air attacks. Nine of the 11 strikes reported this year have hit this mountainous, thickly wooded territory that straddles the North and South Waziristan border, and the Pakistan-Afghanistan boundary.

This terrain makes it a difficult place for the Pakistan army to operate. The military had held off going into Shawal until the first week of July. The advancing troops may have pushed Taliban fighters and their families across the border into Afghanistan, emptying a formerly target rich environment for the CIA’s drones.

2. Afghanistan

Afghanistan: confirmed US drone and air strikes
All strikes, July 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date
All US strikes 17 34
Total reported killed 216-326 344-506
Civilians reported killed 0 14-39
Children reported killed 0 0-18
Total reported injured 7-12 23-28

 

Fourteen confirmed US strikes hit the eastern province of Nangarhar last month with three more strike reported elsewhere in Afghanistan.

At least 216 people were reportedly killed in July – more than in any month since January 1.

The Bureau has managed to record casualty data on a fraction of the strikes reported in monthly aggregates by the US military. The air force has flown 153 “sorties with at least one weapon release” between January 1 and the end of June, at an average of 26 per month. However the intensity increased in June – rising to 49 sorties from 21 in May.

The increased tempo of US operations could reflect a growing concern the Afghan military is struggling to keep the resurgent Taliban at bay. Nangarhar in particular has seen considerable levels of violence, potentially a consequence of Taliban fighters fleeing Pakistan’s nearby tribal agencies, before the advancing Pakistan army.

The US military is only supposed to be carrying out counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, leaving the counter-insurgency work to the Afghan army and police.

When the US does comment on air attacks in Afghanistan, it generally says the strike was carried out against “individuals threatening the force”. It is not clear whether this is a reference to US troops carrying out ground operations who are in need of air support – possibly the US trying to mop up fighters from the various armed terrorist groups that have fled across the border from Pakistan. Or the US could now be providing air support to beleagured Afghan security forces which are struggling to maintain stability.

Afghan forces have been calling on the US for air support. And the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, said it provided the US with intelligence for a July 7 strike on a group of alleged Islamic State fighters.

A US strike on a Afghan National Army outpost on July 20 provoked outrage in the Afghan senate. Two helicopter gunships killed at least seven Afghan soldiers in Logar province. “The incident happened at a time when there were no clashes in the area and foreign troops had not been asked for help,” according to General Abdul Razziq Sapai, commander of the army brigade in the province.

3. Yemen

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, July 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 3 15-16 102-122
Total reported killed 11-19 50-74 471-700
Civilians reported killed 0 1-3 65-97
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 0 6 92-221

 

* 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.

Three US drone strikes hit Yemen in July, killing at least 11 people. Two strikes hit Mukalla in the eastern Hadramout province and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP’s) base of operations. The third strike hit in Abyan, Hadramout’s neighbouring province, killing four or five people in a car reportedly driving from Mukalla.

AQAP has been operating out of Mukalla since April when central government forces withdrew from the eastern province.

The US has continued drone operations in Yemen while chaos has engulfed the country. The three attacks in July took the total number of people reported killed in 2015 to 50. There have now been 15 strikes this year, two less than were recorded in all 2014.

Yemen’s civil war ground on throughout July despite attempted ceasefires as fears of a humanitarian crisis grew. The Saudi-led campaign against the Houthi militia which took over the capital last year appeared to gain momentum, with the key southern city of Aden falling to Riyadh-allied forces in the second half of the month. The Washington Post attributed the turnaround – coming after months of airstrikes failed to break the stalemate – to the arrival of Saudi-trained Yemeni fighters on the frontline.

4. Somalia

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, July 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 6 8-9 15-19
Total reported killed 2-3 7-75 25-108
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-5
Children reported killed 0 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0 2-7

 

At least six US strikes hit Somalia in the space of two or three days after July 15 – an unprecedented frequency of attacks in the Bureau’s records.

One killed two or three people, according to local residents and Somali officials. The death toll from the other five strikes remains unreported. A US spokesman told the Bureau: “We are still assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information if and when appropriate.”

The strikes appeared to signal a change in tactics from the US. Strikes reported in Somalia have historically been attempts at decapitating al Shabaab, targeting senior members of the group. However the six or more strikes in July were close air support for African Union peacekeepers, as the US spokesman explained: “Over the past week, US forces conducted a series of strikes against al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Somalia, in defense of Amisom [African Union Mission to Somalia] forces under imminent threat of attack.”

The Amisom troops were advancing on the town of Baardheere which they took after the glut of drone attacks, in later July. Kenyan military reportedly killed 50 in an artillery barrage shortly after the first reported US strike on July 15. There were reports that US forces were involved in the operation.

The US has reportedly moved more drones out to East Africa, according to a senior US official speaking to the LA Times. This is reflected in the greater capacity built into the US drone base in Djibouti, at Chabelley air field, in 2015.

Follow our drones team Jack Serle and Abigail Fielding-Smith on Twitter.

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Published

July 1, 2015

Written by

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

President Barack Obama publicly acknowledged a specific drone strike in Pakistan, an unprecedented step. He apologized for killing American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, two al Qaeda hostages, in a signature strike in Pakistan (Photo: White House)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

    Signature strikes return to Pakistan and Yemen. First confirmed civilian casualties since 2012 in Pakistan. Drone strikes persist in Yemen despite catastrophic civil war. More than 100 people killed in US air strikes in Afghanistan. Al Shabaab attacks continue in Somalia despite losing leaders in drone strikes.

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

US drone strikes 419 99-119 9-13 13-38
Total reported killed 2,467-3,976 460-681 23-105 99-342
Civilians reported killed 423-965 65-97 0-5 14-42
Children reported killed 172-207 8-9 0 0-20
Reported injured 1,152-1,731 92-221 2-7 18-27

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

US air & cruise missile strikes N/A 15-72 8-11 4
Total reported killed N/A 156-365 40-141 29-36
Civilians reported killed N/A 68-99 7-47 0
Children reported killed N/A 26-28 0-2 0
People reported injured N/A 15-102 11-21 0

 

* The Bureau’s estimates are based predominantly on information from open sources like media reports. Sometimes it is not possible to reconcile details in different reports. This is why we use ranges for our record of casualties and, in the case of Yemen and Somalia, our strike tallies.

** In Pakistan the US has only carried out drone strikes.

iii. Bureau analysis for the first half of 2015:

US drone and air strikes killed at least 207 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen so far in 2015, according to data collected by the Bureau.

The strikes left 52 dead in June alone. Last month there were two confirmed US strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and four in Afghanistan.

CIA drones have been striking in Pakistan at a rate of around two per month for the past two years. After an intense start to the year, with five attacks reported in January, the strikes have become more occasional with none reported in February, one in March and April, and two in May and June.

This year Yemen has sunk into a civil war. Despite this, on January 25 President Barack Obama said the crisis would not affect the US’ counter-terrorism tactics. The US punctuated this statement with drone strikes on January 26, January 31 and February 2. There was then a pause for more than two months in Yemen.

The attacks abated as the Shia Houthi militia forced the government into exile and began taking control of major cities in the west of the country. Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in an as-yet fruitless effort to halt the Houthi advance.

The drone strikes returned in April in response to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) exploiting the crisis and taking control of the city of Mukalla in the east of the country.

Pakistan(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Yemen

(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Afghanistan

(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Somalia

(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Confirmed US strikes 11 12-13 17 2-3
Total reported killed 51-72 39-55 128-180 5-12
Civilians reported killed 2-5 1-3 14-39 0-4
Children reported killed 0 1-2 0-18 0
Reported injured 19-25 6 18 0-4

 

Two strikes in the past six months are of particular note. Both were signature strikes – targeted at men who had been judged as al Qaeda based on their observed patterns of behaviour rather than their actual identities.

In January, the US killed two al Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian, in Pakistan. The attack was aimed at a building housing four unnamed targets – correctly determined to be al Qaeda fighters by their observed patterns of behaviour.

Unbeknownst to the CIA, the two hostages were being held in the same building. It took the Agency several weeks to determine it had killed the two civilians in the attack.

US government

Another CIA drone strike, this time in Yemen, also appeared to be a signature strike. It killed AQAP’s commander, Nasser al Wuhayshi (right).

Unnamed “US officials familiar with the situation” told Bloomberg the CIA had tracked al Wuhayshi and targeted him in the attack. Other unnamed US officials, however, told the Washington Post they did not know al Wuhayshi was in the car when the drones struck.

The CIA has not commented on the strike, however the timeline of events leading to the White House declaring al Wuhayshi dead suggests this was indeed a signature strike. CNN first reported his death, citing two unnamed Yemeni officials. A US official told the broadcaster America was reviewing its intelligence to see if they had killed him. It was only after AQAP itself declared Wuhayshi dead that the US came out with its own statement.

Country Reports

1. Pakistan

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, June 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 2 11 419
Total reported killed 11-14 51-72 2,467-3,976
Civilians reported killed 0-3 2-5 423-965
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 4 19-25 1.152-1,731

 

The CIA’s drone campaign continued in Pakistan with two strikes killing 11-14 people in the first week of June.

Four or five people were killed in a strike on the Shawal area of North Waziristan on June 1. Five days later drones reportedly hit the Shawal again, killing 7-9 people. Tribal and security sources told The News three women were among the dead. Another unnamed official told the paper fighters had their families with them “and it is possible the drone killed women as well.” None of the people killed last month have been identified.

June also saw the one year anniversary of the beginning of the Pakistani offensive in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military began air strikes in June 2014, gradually putting ground troops into the tribal agency as the second half of the year progressed. Thousands of militants have been killed since, according to the Pakistani military information service ISPR. However it is impossible to verify these claims as the army is not allowing journalists into the area and telecoms have reportedly been disrupted in some areas. This is also affecting the flow of information relating to drone strikes.

Six month analysis

All the CIA drone strikes so far this year have damaged or destroyed domestic buildings. And 10 of the 11 strikes have reportedly hit in the Shawal area of North Waziristan.

The Shawal is a forested area of steep valleys. This inhospitable region straddles the North-South Waziristan border, and the Afghan-Pakistan border. It has long been a stronghold for smugglers and armed groups. It is one of the last Taliban bastions to be taken by Pakistani ground forces in the military’s ongoing offensive.

The rate of strikes in Pakistan could be reaching a stable point after falling from the peak of the campaign in the second half of 2010. The first and second halves of 2013, and the second half of last year saw strike hit at a rate of around two per month.

The exception is the first half of 2014 when attacks stopped entirely for more than five months while the Pakistan government tried and ultimately failed to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistan Taliban. Three drone strikes hit in June, after the Pakistan military had begun its now year-long military operation in North Waziristan.

Two al Qaeda hostages, American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, were accidentally killed in a signature in January. They were the first confirmed civilians to die since the second half of 2012. However in the intervening 25 months, the Bureau has collected reports of up to 14 civilians dying in six drone strikes.

US aid worker Warren Weinstein ,73 (Photo: from Al Qaeda propaganda video)

2. Afghanistan

Afghanistan: confirmed US drone and air strikes
All strikes, June 2015 All strikes, 2015
All US strikes 8 17
Total reported killed 50-89 128-180
Civilians reported killed 14-39 14-39
Children reported killed 0-18 0-18
Total reported injured 17 18

 

The Bureau has been collecting data on US air and drone strikes in Afghanistan since the start of January this year. In this period, June has been the deadliest month yet recorded.

There have been eight confirmed US attacks that have killed 50-89 people, including at least 14 civilians.

The first two confirmed US attacks, on June 5 and June 8, reportedly killed civilians. The first hit a convoy of vehicles leaving a funeral in Khost province. The attack either killed 34 insurgents who had just buried a senior Taliban commander. Or it killed 14-29 civilian members of the Kuchi tribe who had buried a tribal elder.

The US said it had attacked armed militants in Khost and that reports of civilian casualties were being investigated.

The second attack hit three days later and killed seven people. One was identified as Spargahy, a local Taliban commander. Up to six of the dead were said to be high school students who had been taken for military training. It was not clear what age they were or whether they were taken by force.

The third and fourth strikes killed 13-15 people, including up to seven named alleged Taliban insurgents. There were three US air strikes reported at the end of the month, hitting Nuristan and Paktika province. The Taliban had reportedly fought fierce battles with the Afghan army in the days before the US attacks. The Taliban briefly took control of the province’s Want Waygal district on June 26. The insurgents were pushed out of the area the same day and US air attack killed five in that district on June 27.

The final strike of the month hit on June 30 in Nangarhar province, killing between four and 14 people – all reportedly insurgents. The attack hit after Reuters revealed fighters who claimed loyalty to the Islamic State had pushed the Taliban out of six of the 21 districts in Nangarhar.

Taliban violence continued last month with an attack on the parliament in Kabul. A suicide car bomb breached the wall of the complex and shook the parliament chamber itself. Gunmen stormed the building but were killed by security forces, before they could kill or take hostage any MPs.

The first six months of the year have been particularly bloody for Afghan civilians. As of April 30, 978 civilians had been killed in the ongoing conflict, according to Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s deputy special representative in the country.

This translates as 245 people killed per month. In 2014, 308 civilians died per month. However, with violence becoming more intense in Afghanistan through May and June, it seems likely 2015 will be at least as lethal for Afghan civilians.

“[Doctors] told me that they are seeing a 50 per cent increase in the number of civilians injured this year compared to the same period last year,” Bowden added.

Fighting continues in the north of the country around the city of Kunduz. The Taliban has advanced on the city and been beaten back by the Afghan army on several occasions this year.

During the latest round of fighting, the Afghan forces reportedly called on the US for air support though none was forthcoming, according to the Washington Post.

3. Yemen

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, June 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 2 12-13 99-119
Total reported killed 7-8 39-55 460-681
Civilians reported killed 0 1-3 65-97
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 2 6 92-221

 

* 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.

Two confirmed drone strikes killed 7-8 people in June, almost replicating the picture in May when two attacks killed 6-8 people.

The first strike in June killed Nasser al Wuhayshi, the leader of AQAP and second in command of al Qaeda overall.

Wuhayshi had been a leading figure in al Qaeda since the 1990s when in Afghanistan he became Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary. He rose to prominence in the Yemen branch of the terrorist group in 2007 and in January 2009 publicly declared himself the leader of AQAP – an amalgamation of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.

Wuhayshi had led AQAP since it was formed in 2009 out of the remnants of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda in Yemen, which he led since 2007. He had been deputy leader of al Qaeda and Ayman al Zawahiri’s deputy since 2013.

The second strike killed four or five people on June 24. A vehicle was reportedly targeted on the outskirts of Mukalla, in a former army base that AQAP had taken over when they took control of the city in April.

June was the third month of an ongoing Saudi Arabian bombing campaign in Yemen. The strikes are trying to halt the advancing Houthis, a Shia militia, who drove President Abdu-Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile in Riyadh in March.

Hadi was ensconced as president in 2011 by the US and its Gulf allies in 2012 after a popular uprising ousted his predecessor, dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. Forces loyal to Hadi and his Gulf supporters are fighting the Houthis who have allied themselves with Saleh’s militias. Militias associated with southern secessionists have taken up arms against the Houthis though are adamant this does not mean they are aligned with Hadi.

Thousands of people have been killed by the civil war and Saudi air campaign. Atrocities have been reported on all sides. Saudi Arabia and its allies are stopping aid supplies from entering the country by sea and air. Houthi forces have besieged the second city of Aden. Vital infrastructure has been destroyed, food is scare, disease rife. The UN says the country is one step from famine and 31 million people require humanitarian aid.

There have been 12 drone strikes so far in 2015, more than in any six month period since the second half of 2012 when 14 drone strikes hit the country. This frequency of attacks is surprising considering Yemen has been riven by civil conflict for most of the past six months.

The increase in the rate of attacks is in part because in April AQAP took advantage of Yemen’s crisis. Its forces swept into Mukalla, the capital of Hadramout province, establishing themselves as the new authority. Four strikes hit in April and since April 12 five of the nine drone strikes have hit Mukalla.

The US drones have not been this focused on a single town or city before now, according to the Bureau’s data. The US did focus its efforts on the Abyan governorate in the second half of 2011 and into 2012. This was in response to AQAP exploiting another period of instability in Yemen to take control of most of the area in and around the governorate, declaring it an Islamic Emirate.

While the number of strikes has been going up, the casualty rate has fallen with fewer people dying per strike in the first half of 2015 than any six month period since the first half of 2013.

The attacks in the past six months have killed a number of named, senior figures in the group. Besides Nasser al Wuhayshi, killed in a signature strike in June, the drones have killed one of AQAP’s key ideologues, Nasser al Ansi, and its chief spokesman, Mohanned Ghallab.

The attacks also killed Ibrahim al Rubaish, a senior AQAP figure, and Sheikh Harith al Nadhari, a leading ideologue who released a statement praising the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

4. Somalia

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, June 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 0 2 9-13
Total reported killed 0 5-12 23-105
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-5
Children reported killed 0 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0 2-7

 

June passed without a reported US attack on al Shabaab. However this month the group released pictures of a US surveillance drone it said crashed in May.

Crowds gather in #AlShabab HQs in Dinsor town to view possible US surveillance drone the group said crashed on May 17 pic.twitter.com/14fYHkRHy4

— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) June 5, 2015

There were two confirmed drone strikes in Somalia in the past six months. In a country where such attacks are rare, this represents a high intensity of operations

The strikes continued the trend seen in both the first and second halves of 2014, targeting senior figures in al Shabaab. In March a US special forces drones killed Adnan Garaar, a senior member of al Shabaab’s Amniyatt intelligence service. He reportedly replaced Ysusuf Dheeq as head of the group’s external operations. Dheeq was killed in a drone strike in February this year.

There were two confirmed drone strikes in the second half of last year – both killed senior al Shabaab figures. The first, on September 1, killed the group’s supreme leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Taking out these senior figures appears not to have blunted al Shabaab’s capacity for extreme violence. It has attacked supposedly secure buildings in the fortified government district of Mogadishu. It has assassinated MPs and senior officials.

This year the group committed its worst atrocity to date. Its gunmen murdered 148 students as they slept in their dormitories at Garissa university in northeastern Kenya.

In May, Somalia expert Matt Bryden published a report that explained how al Shabaab was still a potent, transnational terrorist threat, despite having lost leaders to the drones and territory in Somalia to African Union peacekeepers.

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