News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

August 31, 2014

Written by

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

US Predator drone (Doctress Neutopia via Flickr)

Pakistan military offensive against the Taliban continues.

Two possible US drone strikes in Yemen, bringing seven-week pause in reported US attacks to an end.

The seventh successive month without a reported US attack in Somalia.

Pakistan

August 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in August: 1

Total killed in strikes in August: 5-7

All actions 2004 – August 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 339

Total US strikes since 2004: 390

Total reported killed: 2,347-3,796

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

Total reported injured: 1,099-1,660For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

A CIA drone strike in Pakistan killed at least five people and injured two or three more. The strike reportedly occurred in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan.

None of those killed have been named. Intelligence sources reportedly said “most” of the dead were “foreigners”, though the identity of those killed “could not be ascertained”.

Most reports stated that five were killed on August 6 when a drone fired two missiles at a house. However one report said six died when four missiles were fired at a house and a vehicle, and other reports counted seven killed. This was the fourth drone strike to hit Datta Khel in 2014.

The drone strike casualty rate for August (5) is less than half that of last month’s casualty rate (10.7). In July, 32 people died in three strikes during the bloodiest month for drone strikes in Pakistan since July 2012.

Pakistan is now two months into an offensive aimed at driving the Taliban out of the country. At the beginning of August Islamabad was “bracing” itself for a wave of protests, after the military had to secure the capital during threats of attacks by militant groups.

A Pakistani drone, which was being used for surveillance in eastern Punjab, reportedly crashed at the beginning of the month as it tried to land. Reports said no one was injured.

11 alleged Taliban members were reportedly killed as they attacked air force bases in the west Pakistan city of Quetta on August 15. Four days later, the military claimed to have killed 48 suspected militants in a helicopter raid on militant hideouts in the Khyber and North Waziristan tribal regions.

On August 28 prime minister Nawaz Sharif were named by police in Pakistan as a suspect in a murder case. The allegations of abetting murder are registered against Sharif, his brother and 19 other defendants over the killing of supporters of a cleric in June. Cleric Tahir ul Qadri has been leading anti-government demonstrations in Islamabad, protesting against alleged voting fraud.

Yemen

August 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0

Further reported/possible US strike events: 2

Total reported killed in US operations: 6

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – August 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 65-77

Total reported killed: 339-494

Civilians reported killed: 64-83

Children reported killed: 7

Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 97-116

Total reported killed: 324-515

Civilians reported killed: 24-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 87-120

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

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

A seven-week pause in attacks ended on August 9 with two possible US drone strikes in Yemen, killing six people.

The first possible US drone strike killed three people in the central Marib province. An unnamed military official told AFP that two women were injured in the strike, which reportedly targeted a house belonging to a local man who was renting it to three men from the north western province of Saada.

The strike came a day after AQAP fighters reportedly beheaded 14 captured Yemeni soldiers. They were killed because they were fighting AQAP in the eastern province of Hadramout, the armed group said in a statement. And the attack came the day before Yemen Air Force jets reportedly targeted al Qaeda training camps in the eastern province of Hadramout.

On August 16 a possible US drone strike in the eastern province of Hadramout also reportedly killed three suspected AQAP members. A local official told Reuters that “three armed men” were travelling in a vehicle when “the drone shot two rockets at them”.

A local military official reportedly said that the vehicle was heading towards an alleged military training camp, where “scores of al Qaeda militants” were gathering.

In addition, on August 16 there were two further possible US airstrikes in the southern province of Abyan. A Yemeni security official said that two separate airstrikes in the south killed seven suspected militants, but it is not clear if they were air or drone strikes and whether they were carried out by US forces or the Yemeni government.

Following the capture and beheading of 14 Yemeni soldiers by AQAP in Hadramout at the beginning of the month, Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed a relentless fight against AQAP. Violent clashes between AQAP and the Yemeni military continue in Hadramout province, with AQAP claiming to have killed 50 soldiers on August 7.

On August 23 AQAP planted a bomb on the road which links the two towns of Seiyun and Shibam in eastern Yemen, reportedly killing three soldiers. Four days later three alleged AQAP members were killed outside the town of Shibam when they reportedly attacked troops setting up a checkpoint.

Following the launch of US air strikes targeting the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, AQAP called for attacks on the US in “solidarity with our Muslim brothers.”

This month an AQAP propaganda film alleged the groups deceased second-in-command, Saeed al Shehri, was killed by US drones in 2013, not 2012 as previously thought. The video was the third of a three-part documentary about his life and death and said al Shehri had survived several US attacks. He also ‘was prisoner number 327 at Guantanamo Bay, captured as he tried to cross the border into Pakistan from Afghanistan late in 2001.’

Somalia

August 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – August 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

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

For the seventh successive month there were no reported US operations in Somalia.

Amisom and Somali forces were expected to begin a new drive to push al Shabaab out of territory they hold, according to Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohammed.

Al Shabaab spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, claimed the group killed three policemen in a suicide explosion in the north of the country at the beginning of the month. On August 15, 14 were killed when Somali forces and Amison launched an offensive against al Shabaab in a suburb of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

A week later Lydia Wanyoto, acting special envoy of the African Union to Somalia, announced that the “roadmap” for Amison would be adhered to and troops would pull out of the country in 2016.

Other news from the drone war

An Amnesty International report found that the US military has a “poor” record for investigating war crimes and prosecuting suspected perpetrators in Afghanistan. In nine out of 10 incidents that Amnesty believes “raise concerns about the unlawful use of force” the US appears to have made little effort to document or record what happens, with eyewitnesses to the nine attacks saying they had never spoken to US military investigators.

The Bureau published an interactive timeline showing the growing number of voices calling for transparency on the US’s use of drones. The 20th call for transparency was from a report of the UN Secretary-General which recommended “improving transparency… and developing a robust oversight and accountability mechanism for targeted strikes outside active battlefields.”

Naming the Dead

Bureau reporter Jack Serle talked about the difficulty of identifying those killed in drone strikes with HuffPost Live,  for their “Always at War” web series.  The identities of less than one in three of those killed in drone strikes in Pakistan have been established by Naming the Dead, with some of those only identified by a single source.

Pakistani publication Dawn used data from Naming the Dead to create an infographic highlighting how little we know about drone strikes.

Follow Victoria Parsons on Twitter.

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

Published

August 19, 2014

Written by

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

In February 2011 the Bureau began investigating CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

At that time there was a lethal US drone strike in Pakistan every four days or so, and there had been one hundred and eighty drone strikes there since Barack Obama became president. The US was publicly denying the drone strike campaign.

On August 6 2014 the Bureau recorded the 339th drone strike in Pakistan of President Obama’s presidency. The drone campaign in Pakistan, which is conducted by the CIA, remains an official secret.

In June 2012, Obama declassified the campaigns in Yemen and Somalia – but details of the attacks remain shrouded in mystery. The US has declined to release even the most basic details about the strikes, such as when or where they take place. As a result we also rarely know who or what they hit.

But a growing number of voices have been calling for transparency.

Follow Victoria Parsons on Twitter. Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project, subscribe to our podcast, Drone News from the Bureau, and follow Drone Reads on Twitter to see what the team is reading. Homepage photo: White House

Published

August 1, 2014

Written by

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

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

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

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

Six months without a reported US attack in Somalia.

Naming the Dead database records 700 names.

Pakistan

July 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in July: 3

Total killed in strikes in July: 32-46

All actions 2004 – July 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 338

Total US strikes since 2004: 389

Total reported killed: 2,342-3,789

Civilians reported killed: 416-957

Children reported killed: 168-202

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yemen

July 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0

Further reported/possible US strike events: 0

Total reported killed in US operations: 0

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – July 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 65-77

Total reported killed: 339-494

Civilians reported killed: 64-83

Children reported killed: 7

Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 95-114

Total reported killed: 318-509

Civilians reported killed: 24-48

Children reported killed: 6-9

Reported injured: 85-118

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somalia

July 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – July 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8

Total reported killed: 10-24

Civilians reported killed: 0-1

Children reported killed: 0

Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11

Total reported killed: 40-141

Civilians reported killed: 7-47

Children reported killed: 0-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other news from the drone war

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

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

Naming the Dead

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

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

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

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