News

News

Published

January 3, 2013

Written by

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

An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada (USAF/Lance Cheung)

Reported civilian deaths fell sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with Bureau data suggesting that a minimum of 2.5% of those reported killed were civilians – compared with more than 14% in 2011. This suggests the CIA is seeking to limit non-militant casualties, perhaps as a result of sustained criticism.

Drone strikes in Pakistan are now at their lowest level in five years, as Islamabad protests almost every attack. The CIA also appears to have abandoned ‘signature strikes’ on suspected militants fitting certain patterns of behaviour – at least for the present. Almost all attacks in recent months have been against named al Qaeda and other militant leaders.

As drone strikes fell in Pakistan they rose steeply in Yemen, as US forces aided a major military campaign to oust al Qaeda and other Islamists from southern cities. A parallel CIA targeted killing programme killed numerous alleged militants, many of them named individuals. Yet US officials took more than three months to confirm that American planes or drones had killed 12 civilians.

Little is still known about US drone strikes in Somalia, with only two credibly reported incidents in 2012. One of those killed was a British-Somali militant, Bilal al-Barjawi.

In 2012,the US also chose to loosen the bonds of secrecy on its 10-year-old drone targeted killing programme. A number of senior officials went on the record about aspects of the covert war. But details of those killed – still a highly contentious issue – remain classified.

The year also saw a number of significant legal challenges to the campaign, most of them ultimately unsuccessful.  UN experts also announced a study into possible war crimes, partly in response to a Bureau/Sunday Times investigation.

A year of drones

President Obama became the first senior US official in eight years openly to discuss the covert drone programme in January, telling viewers of a Google Town Hall session that ‘a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Area], and going after al Qaeda suspects.’

And he insisted that ‘actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties, for the most part they have been very precise precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates.’

Days afterwards, the Bureau and the Sunday Times published evidence in February showing that the CIA has deliberately targeted rescuers and funeral-goers in Pakistan, leading to the reported deaths of civilians. The administration has yet to deny the claims – although one anonymous senior official appeared to claim that the Bureau was ‘helping al Qaeda.’

Reported civilian deaths fell sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with Bureau data suggesting that 2.5% of those killed were civilians – compared with more than 14% in 2011.’ 

A major covert US military offensive in Yemen began in March. Its aim – in which it was successful – was to break al Qaeda’s grip on a number of towns and cities in the south of the country. By late spring, drone strikes were occurring more frequently in Yemen than in Pakistan.

One reason for a decline in Pakistani strikes may have been growing hostility. Some 74% of polled citizens said they viewed the US as an enemy, and uniquely Pakistan bucked a global trend to register as the only nation favouring Mitt Romney for president. In contrast, the American public appears to staunchly support covert drones – in one poll 83% of respondents were in favour of the strikes.

The British High Court was called on in April to look into US covert drone strikes and possible British co-operation, which some lawyers in the UK insist is illegal. Days before the end of the year the High Court declined to investigate. After years of inactivity, US and Pakistani courts also began to consider legal questions surrounding the campaign.

In one of the biggest news stories of the year, in May the New York Times revealed that President Obama was personally deciding whether to kill some individuals. The paper also revealed that the administration ‘counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’

As the Bureau noted at the time, ‘The revelation helps explain the wide variation between credible reports of civilian deaths in Pakistan by the Bureau and others, and the CIA’s claims that it had killed no ‘non-combatants’ between May 2010 and September 2011 – and possibly later.’

In June, Washington partially declassified aspects of the secret campaign, with officials openly acknowledging ‘direct action’ in Yemen and Pakistan. However the CIA’s parallel campaign remains classified – and Pentagon officials still refuse to release information relating to specific drone strikes.

CNN found itself in the firing line in July when it claimed there had been ‘zero civilian casualties’ from US drone strikes in Pakistan in the first six months of the year. The Atlantic was among a number of publications which attacked the broadcaster for relying on error-filled data.

One reason for a decline in Pakistani strikes may have been growing hostility. Some 74% of polled citizens said they viewed the US as an enemy. Uniquely Pakistan bucked a global trend to register as the only nation favouring Mitt Romney for president.’ 

One of Pakistan’s most senior diplomats told the Bureau and the Guardian in August that drone strikes were now undermining democracy. And in September, President Obama laid out the five rules he said need to be followed in covert US strikes, as it emerged that US ‘consent’ for strikes in Pakistan appears to rest on a monthly unanswered fax.

October saw the publication of a major academic report by Columbia Law School into the reporting of drone strike casualties. Noting the problems all casualty recorders face, the study concluded that only the Bureau appeared to be accurately reflecting reported civilian deaths. An earlier study by Stanford and New York universities reached similar conclusions.

The tenth anniversary of the first US covert drone strike in November received little US coverage, coming as it did days before the presidential elections. Both Obama and Mitt Romney had told voters that it would be business as usual if elected.

And days after the 300th Pakistan drone strike of Obama’s presidency, the Bureau exclusively reported in December on declassified data which showed 1,200 US and British conventional drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Country by country

Pakistan: The drop in strikes from their 2010 peak continued, and proportionally civilian casualties plummeted. Of at least 246 people killed in 2012 only 7 were credibly reported as civilians. Last year 68 non-combatants were reported among a minimum of 473 dead.

Yemen: After al Qaeda took and held a swathe of land in southern Yemen, the US responded by massively increasing the rate of drone and air strikes. At least 185 people were killed. But up to two thirds of the strikes and casualties exist in a limbo of accountability.

Somalia: The US fight in the Horn of Africa is the most secretive in the covert war on terror. There were only two confirmed US strikes in Somalia this year despite evidence that operations are continuing unreported.

Pakistan

Under President Bush the CIA launched 52 drone strikes. Since then the Agency has launched 306 attacks under President Obama.

The big story of 2012 was the steep fall in both the number of CIA strikes and casualties in Pakistan.

Attacks resumed on January 10 after a 54-day break, following a Nato airstrike which killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Throughout the year prolonged pauses between strikes indicated the vulnerability of the drone campaign to external events.

The tenth anniversary of the first US covert drone strike received virtually no coverage – coming as it did days before the US presidential elections.’ 

In April attacks again halted as Islamabad and Washington haggled over the reopening of supply lines into Afghanistan. There was no halt for the fast of Ramadan, the ‘month of peace’, as both the CIA and Pakistani Taliban continued their deadly operations.

Overall there was a significant fall in the number of CIA drone strikes in 2012 – down two thirds on their peak of 2010. Even more marked was the proportional fall in the numbers of reported civilians killed  – down from an estimated 14% to 2.5% of those killed year-on-year. The majority of non-combatants killed this year were close relatives – often the wives – of named militants.

All CIA strikes in Pakistan 2012

Total strikes: 48

Total reported killed: 246-397

Civilians reported killed: 7-54

Children reported killed: 2

Total reported injured: 107-167

Pakistan: December 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in December: 5

Total killed in strikes in December: 17-28, of whom 1-4 were reportedly civilians

All Pakistan actions 2004 – 2012

Total Obama strikes: 304

Total US strikes since 2004: 356

Total reported killed: 2,604-3,407

Civilians reported killed: 473-889

Children reported killed: 176

Total reported injured: 1,259-1,417

For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

 

Yemen

 

US operations have escalated over Yemen in the last 12 months. However the Bureau cannot yet confirm responsibility for 127 strikes since 2010 which may have been the work of US aircraft.

Southern Yemen was gripped by a civil war in 2012 as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and allies established their ‘Islamic Emirates‘ in the south of the country, exploiting the chaos of a popular uprising to tighten their grip.

Once entrenched it proved too difficult for Yemen’s army alone to dislodge them. But in February President Ali Abdallah Saleh was overthrown and his replacement Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi invited the United States to help do the job for him.

As drone strikes fell in Pakistan in 2012 they rose steeply in Yemen, as US forces aided a major military campaign to oust al Qaeda and other Islamists.’ 

In March the number of airstrikes rose steeply, and the following month the CIA was given permission to launch signature strikes in Yemen. US operations peaked in May. Even after militants were driven out the violence continued. A suicide bomber penetrated security in the capital to kill 100 Yemeni soldiers and injure at least 200 more, a bloody portent of AQAP’s return to guerilla tactics.

Following the ousting of AQAP from its southern stronghold US operations declined sharply. At present drone attacks are most frequently on named militants in moving vehicles, suggesting an effort by the US to limit the risk of civilian casualties.

US or Yemeni officials often claim responsibility when senior militants are killed. In contrast there are rarely admissions of responsibility when civilians die in US airstrikes, as between 18 and 58 did in 2012. Only in December – three months after a dozen civilians died in Rada’a – did anonymous US officials admit that an American drone or plane had carried out an attack.

Questions have also been asked about how effective US operations are. Analyst Gregory Johnsen has pointed out that AQAP membership had grown steeply since the US began targeting militants in 2009.

 

As reported US air strikes have increased in Yemen so too have reported casualties.

All Yemen actions in 2012

Total confirmed US operations: 32-39

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 29-36

Possible additional US operations: 127-149

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 55-69

Total reported killed: 185-705

Total civilians killed: 18-58Children killed: 3-9

Yemen: December 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0

Further reported/possible US strike events: 4-7

Total reported killed in US operations: 10-14Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All Yemen actions 2002 – 2012*

Total confirmed US operations: 53-63

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 42-52

Possible additional US operations: 124-143

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 66-79

Total reported killed: 362-1,059

Total civilians killed: 60-170

Children killed: 24-35Click here for the full Yemen data.

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

Somalia

US operations remained largely a mystery throughout 2012. One more confirmed strike was reported this year compared with last. However the Washington Post reported that armed US drones continue to fly sorties over Somalia from a US base in Djibouti.

Little is still known about US drone strikes in Somalia with only two credibly reported incidents in 2012. One of these killed a British-Somali militant, Bilal al-Barjawi.’ 

And the Bureau learned that as much as 50% of US military and intelligence operations go unreported in Somalia. A UN study said that so many drones were operating over Somalia that several air traffic accidents were narrowly avoided.

Because of the dangers of reporting from Somalia – Reporters Without Borders says 18 journalists have been killed in Somalia this year – there are no trustworthy reports of strikes or casualties. Only Iranian broadcaster Press TV consistently reports alleged US strikes. But while the Bureau monitors Press TV’s coverage we do not consider these reports reliable, and do not count them in our data.

In September, Somalia’s first elected government for 20 years was finally installed in the capital, with new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud inaugurated. But days later, al Shabaab suicide bombers tried to assassinate him as he gave a press conference with the Kenyan foreign minister, indicating that the country remains in crisis.

Amisom peacekeepers made slow progress against al Shabaab. But in September they drove militants out of their southern stronghold of Kismayo. (Albany Associates/Flickr)

All Somalia actions in 2012

Total US operations: 4

Total US drone strikes: 2 Total reported killed: 11-14Civilians reported killed: 0

Children reported killed: 0

Somalia December 2012 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

 

All Somalia actions 2007 – 2012

Total US operations: 10-23

Total US drone strikes: 3-9Total reported killed: 58-170Civilians reported killed: 11-57

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

Incident Code

USYEM139-B

Incident date

December 29, 2012

Location

سائلة الجرّاح, Saila valley/Sa'ilat al Jarrah, Al Bayda, Yemen

Geolocation

14.568993, 44.751559 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Alleged US missiles hit a 2006 saloon Land Cruiser traveling on the outskirts of al-Manaseh village on December 29, 2012, near Radda, in the fourth strike in a week. At least three alleged al Qaeda members died and two others were injured. There are currently no known reports of civilian harm.

The three victims reportedly included Saleh Mohammed al Ameri, 33 years old and described by unnamed local officials as a senior Al Qaeda operative. The two other alleged  Al Qaeda members killed include Salem Ali Abdullah Al-Ameri, 18 years old, and Abdul Wahid Matlab Al-Ameri, 22 years old

“Their bodies were charred and the car was completely obliterated,” a tribesman told Reuters. “Their bodies were not recognizable, but the government says they’re from Al Qaeda.”

AFP reported two other alleged Al Qaeda members were injured, yet their identities are not disclosed.

Local outlet Yemen Observer reported four Al Qaeda members were killed, two of whom came from Abyan province and one of whom came from Marib. The Yemen Observer added that the Al Qaeda militants were seen earlier in Khabza area in a car driving towards al-Manasih village.

AP added that “Dozens of local al-Qaida-linked fighters protested the drone strikes after traditional Islamic Friday prayers.”

The majority of sources attributed the incident to a US drone, while at least one source specified that the attack was carried out by a CIA drone.

The incident occured in the evening.

Geolocation notes (2) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a vehicle in the Al Sailah valley, between the villages Khabza/Khubza (خبزة) (coordinates: 14.563782, 44.797021) and Al Manaseh (المناسح) (coordinates: 14.579762, 44.750219), near the town Rada’a (رداع) (coordinates: 14.415088, 44.840937). This most likely refers to the area around the village Sa’ilat al Jarrah (سائلة الجرّاح), for which the coordinates are: 14.568993, 44.751559. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the precise location of the strike.

  • Sa'ilat al Jarrah (سائلة الجرّاح) between Manaseh (المناسح) and Khabza/Khubza (خبزة)

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

  • Sa'ilat al Jarrah (سائلة الجرّاح) between Manaseh (المناسح) and Khabza/Khubza (خبزة), near the town Rada’a (رداع)

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3–4
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2

Sources (30) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3–4
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2

Sources (30) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEM138-C

Incident date

December 28, 2012

Location

شحير, Near the hospital in Shoheer, Hadramaut, Yemen

Geolocation

14.686050, 49.395009 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

On the evening of December 28, 2012, an alleged US drone strike fired missiles at a moving motorcycle killed between two to four alleged AQAP militants near the town of Shaher, near the site of a strike four days earlier. An investigation by an NGO revealed that a 10 year old child was also wounded.

A child, Mawz Hassan Abdullah Hassan, 9/10 years old, was wounded in the arm and hand by the attack which hit in a residential area, Alkarama reported. His mother, Um Hassan, aged 37 stated that her son did not know exactly where his injury came from, yet the bomb fragment was identified in the hospital later. She told Alkarma “It was a Friday; we were sitting in front of our tent before lunch. My son was playing 50 m away when we heard a loud explosion without knowing where it had occurred. I went out to call my son Hassan, who ran off in the opposite direction to our home. We caught him and brought him back. His hand was bleeding profusely. We asked him what had happened and he fell. He did not know where the injury came from. We took him to the hospital where the doctor warned us that bomb fragment had hit the bone of his forearm and he needed surgery to remove the fragment…We had to pay ourselves, while we have 10 children and we are very poor. And now, two months later, Hassan complains of pain in the hand that was hit by the explosion.”In addition, a demonstration took place later in Shoheer to denounce the alleged US raid. According to news on Twitter from @hadhramoutnet, thousands of residents of the Shoheer town took part in the march against further drone strikes from the US.

There were conflicting reports of the details and deathtoll for the attack. Xinhua reported the strike took place near a hospital in Shoheer while local press reported the targeted men had been riding separate motorbikes and had been targeted in “separate attacks”.  “Two members of Al Qaeda on a motorcycle died on the spot when targeted by a missile fired by a US drone,” an unnamed local official told AFP. The identities of the two killed are not disclosed yet there are reports that the alleged members were foreigners. A delegation from Swiss-based NGO Alkarma investigated the strike, reporting in July 2013 that Shoheer resident Hassan Ibrahim Suleiman told them as many as three missiles hit two motorcycles. “The three bodies were shredded. We collected the remains without knowing who they were,” he said.

The majority of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the strikes to the US, with some sources identifying airstrikes while others refer to drone strikes.

The incident occured around midday.

The victims were named as:

10 years old male Reportedly "wounded in the arm and hand" injured

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted two motorcycles near the hospital in the coastal town Shoheer (شحير). The coordinates for the hospital are: 14.686050, 49.395009. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the precise location of the strike.

  • Location of the hospital in Shoheer (شحير), and the stadium where the strike earlier that week took place

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–4

Sources (34) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (12) [ collapse]

  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of a victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of a victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of a victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • Damage from an alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by Yemen Post)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by Yemen Post)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by Yemen Post)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by Yemen Post)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by Yemen Post)
  • Damage from an alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by Yemen Post)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of a victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of a victim of alleged US strikes on December 28, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–4

Sources (34) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEM136-B

Incident date

December 24, 2012

Location

المناسح, Manaseh, Al Bayda, Yemen

Geolocation

14.579762, 44.750219 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Two suspected Al Qaeda militants were killed and three were injured in an alleged US drone strike which hit a vehicle in Manaseh in al-Bayda province on December 24th, 2012 at 5pm. No civilian harm has been reported.

According to Reuters, AFP, and AP, two Al Qaeda militants were killed when a drone strike hit their vehicle. There were mixed reports about the identity of both victims. The first person killed was Abdel-Raoud Naseeb, a mid-level Al Qaeda operative who narrowly escaped the first recorded American drone strike in Yemen on November 3rd, 2002. His death was confirmed by his family to Reuters and AP. Naseeb had fled southern Lawdar wherein a US-backed military offensive was taking place earlier in 2012. However, AFP claimed the the militant was Abdullah Hussein al-Waeli, an Al Qaeda member from the province of Marib, who escaped prison two years prior.

Locals speaking to Reuters reported that the second victim was Jordanian. Xinhua reported that he was a Syrian national. @ali_alshami on Twitter claimed that his name was Nasser al-Sanea but no other sources corroborated this. Overall, tribal sources and news outlets reported three militants were injured in the strike with no further details.

The drone strike was allegedly an American Predator drone according to the Long War Journal. It was the first recorded US drone strike in seven weeks.

The incident occured at approximately 5:00 pm local time.

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a vehicle near or in the village of Manaseh (المناسح) near the town Radda/Rada’a (رداع), in the Bayda’ province. The coordinates for the village of Manaseh (المناسح) are: 14.579762, 44.750219. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

  • The village of Manaseh (المناسح) near the town Radda/Rada’a (رداع) with roads marked in yellow

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2
  • Belligerents reported injured
    3

Sources (22) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2
  • Belligerents reported injured
    3

Sources (22) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEM137-C

Incident date

December 24, 2012

Location

ملعب نادي وحدة شحير, Wahid Shoheer Club stadium, Hadramaut, Yemen

Geolocation

14.684176, 49.399389 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Three missiles hit motorbikes killing three to five Al Qaeda militants and injuring between one and 15 people including 14 civilians. The alleged US drone strike occurred in Shehr in Hadramout province in the evening on December 24th, 2012.

The number of people injured in the strike varies greatly from one to two militants reported injured by Reuters to 14 civilians injured as reported by Marib Press who were informed by medical workers at the local hospital. No further information was reported about those injured.

The drone strike led to the later death of one teenager, Hamza Hussein Said Ben Dahman, who passed away in March 2014 from PTSD. Hamza initially ran out of the stadium which the missiles hit against and went into a state of shock when he saw the bodies of the militants killed in the strike according to Al Karama.  “His body was paralyzed; he lost consciousness and his condition worsened day by day.” His family attempted to seek medical attention in Yemen, Egypt, and Jordan but Hamza’s condition continued to deteriorate until his passing in March 2014 according to Gulf News. Large demonstrations followed for four consecutive days protesting American drone strikes.

The evidence presented to the Senate hearing said a group of children were playing on the other side of the field. One, Hamzah Hussayn bin Dahman, 16, was so traumatised by the strike that he continued to suffer mentally and physically after the event. Hamzah’s father told the investigators: “When he returned home, Hamza was shaking with fear. He spoke with difficulty and said he saw people dismembered and bleeding, and then fainted.”

Bin Dahman died in March 2014 “after experiencing a sharp drop of blood pressure and glucose,” his relatives said. He had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the strike. He was “haunted by the bodies of those people who were killed,” his father said.

Omar Abdullah al Najjar, Bin Dahman’s friend, also witnessed the strike. “Out of the blue, Hamza shrieked in terror when he saw the bodies. My brother snuggled him and I recited some verses of Quran on his head and immediately sent him home. The next day, I heard that he became sick,” he said

Mustafa, Bin Dahman’s elder brother, told Gulf News his brother began talking gibberish when he came home after the strike, adding: “He said to me, ‘my throat would fall into my stomach’. He used to be glued to the mirror and stay in the bathroom for hours. Sometimes he fell down when he walked.” Bin Dahman’s health deteriorated and his father took him to first Egypt then Jordan to find treatment. However the doctors in both countries could not halt Bin Dahman’s decline.

One of the men killed was named as Nabil Al-Kaladi. There are mixed reports of the location where he was when he was killed. Al-Kaladi’s family reported to Al Karama that he was in the stadium when the missiles hit but AQAP reported that he was on the motorbike with the other militants at the moment of his death. Al-Kaladi’s case was being followed by Al Karama, a human rights group based in Switzerland, as he was arrested without warrant on October 21st, 2007, and held in detention for five years, including three years without charges. He later escaped from prison with 62 other militants in June 2011. He was 38 years old at the time of his death. Abdullah Bawazir, a ‘chief architect behind a mass prison break in 2011’ was also amongst the victims of the drone strike. Based on the eulogy by AQAP obtained by SITE Intelligence Group, Bawazir also fought with ISIS in Iraq.

Local government officials told the Global Times that “the deadly air bombing occurred in an area that is widely believed to be the main operating base of al-Qaeda members in Hadramout”. It occurred in Shehr near the Wahid Shoheer Club where children and teenagers were playing. Reports vary in terms of the location. Some reports noted that the strike occurred on the pitch of the football stadium but most of the accounts reported that the missiles struck the motorbikes and simultaneously hit the outside of the stadium. @almasdaroline tweeted that the strike occurred at 5pm whereas Al Karama reported that it occurred at 6:30pm. Furthermore, as children were playing on the pitch, Airwars deduced that the strike took place in the early evening.

Between three and five Al Qaeda militants who were riding the motorbikes and carrying pistols were also killed in the incident. Reuters provided the lowest estimate with three killed, while  Long War Journal, citing AFP, claimed that four were killed. Xinhua, and Global Times claimed that five killed. Gulf News reported that there was a five additional deaths, bringing the death toll to eight.  The information is unclear as Gulf News reported that one militant was injured on the scene and later passed away at the hospital whereas Xinhua reported that all five died on the scene. “The bodies of the dead were charred, and some of them were torn into pieces” which indicated that there could have been confusion as to the identities of those killed. A local official speaking to Gulf News was quoted saying “Four of the people died at the scene and the fifth suffered heavy injuries and died later on in hospital. We do not know whether they are members of Al Qaeda or not. Shiher residents suspect that there are outsiders,” said the official who asked not to be named”.

The drone strike was allegedly an American unmanned aircraft which shot three missiles according to AFP which may have been Hellfire missiles.

The incident occured in the evening.

Geolocation notes (2) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention that the strike took place in a stadium/on a public sports pitch in the outskirts of the coastal town Shoheer/Shehr (شحير). The coordinates for the only stadium in the town (the Wahid Shoheer Club stadium/ملعب نادي وحدة شحير) are: 14.684176, 49.399389.

  • The Wahid Shoheer Club stadium (ملعب نادي وحدة شحير) in the outskirts of the coastal town Shoheer/Shehr (شحير)

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

  • The Wahid Shoheer Club stadium (ملعب نادي وحدة شحير) on the first available satellite image after the strike (15 February 2013)

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • (0–1 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–14
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3–5
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1–2

Sources (31) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (6) [ collapse]

  • A victim of alleged US drone strikes on December 24, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Very graphic image of a victim of alleged US drone strikes on December 24, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A victim of alleged US drone strikes on December 24, 2012. (Image posted by @9fang3)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Very graphic image of a victim of alleged US drone strikes on December 24, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A victim of alleged US drone strikes on December 24, 2012. (Image posted by @9fang3)
  • Damage from alleged US drone strikes on December 24, 2012. (Image posted by @majalis_hadrmut)

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0
  • (0–1 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–14
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3–5
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1–2

Sources (31) [ collapse]

Published

December 6, 2012

Written by

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

A Reaper drone at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan (Photo: Ministry of Defence)

The British parliament will examine the use of drones as part of an overarching inquiry into the future of the UK’s armed forces.

The defence select committee – a panel of 12 politicians led by James Arbuthnot MP – has published its programme of inquiries for the remainder of this parliament. This includes an investigation that will touch on, among other areas, ‘the effect of changes in the interpretation of the law on the prosecution of operations, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft [drones]’.

Alongside this, the select committee will examine broad strategic issues such as the legitimate use of force, and the balance between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power. No further details or schedule have yet been published.

Reflecting the rising parliamentary interest in unmanned aircraft, a briefing paper on drones was added to the parliamentary library yesterday.

Related story – Revealed: US and British drones launched 1,200 strikes in recent wars

The increasingly important role played by British drones in Afghanistan was highlighted earlier this week, when the Bureau published research showing that UK-piloted drones fire a high proportion of all drone-fired missiles in the conflict. The UK had a fleet of just five drones in Afghanistan last year, but 38% of all missiles released in the conflict last year were fired by British pilots. This year to date the proportion is over a quarter.

A defence spokesman pointed out to the Bureau that the ratio of missiles fired to hours flown had actually fallen since its 2008 peak, and the increased number of missiles being fired reflects the increasingly important role played by drones.

The UK also flew US-owned drones in Libya, the Ministry of Defence revealed earlier this year.

The role of drones in modern wars and counter-terrorism operations is coming under increasing scrutiny. In October, MPs and peers led by Labour MP Tom Watson and Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith launched an all-party parliamentary group to examine issues surrounding drones.

The UN recently announced it will set up a special unit to examine claims of civilian deaths in US drone strikes, led by special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC.

While in the US, in recent months academic studies – including two by Columbia Law School and one by Stanford University and New York University – examined the impact of the US’s drone campaigns on civilians, and the legal structures for overseeing drone strikes.

Published

December 4, 2012

Written by

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

An MQ-9 Reaper returns to Kandahar from an Afghan mission. (USAF/Tech Sgt Chad Chisholm)

Recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq have seen almost 1,200 drone strikes over the past five years, according to new data released to the Bureau.

The information, much of it classified until now, shows that US Air Force drones carried out most of the 1,168 attacks. However British crews are also responsible for a significant portion of the strikes in Afghanistan.

The Bureau has obtained data from the US armed forces, Nato and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. It reveals, for example, that more than a quarter of all armed Coalition air sorties in Afghanistan are now carried out by drones.

While only a fraction of those missions result in strikes, drone strikes in Afghanistan are now taking place on average five times each week.

Afghanistan – the US’s most intense conflictThe US’s secret drone campaign in Pakistan and elsewhere is now in its eleventh year and is attracting increasing scrutiny, including academic studies, court cases and, soon, a UN investigation. Ironically, less is known about the use of drones in conventional theatres of war.

The US military and its allies have carried out almost 1,200 drone strikes since 2008 in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. 

Click here to visit the Bureau’s Covert Drone War project

When the Bureau first approached the US military in August seeking drone data for recent conflicts, we were told the information was classified. Central Command (Centcom) later relented after the Bureau argued there was a strong public interest in releasing the information.

Centcom now says it is committed to publishing statistics on the number of missiles fired by drones in Afghanistan, as part of its monthly reports.

The newly declassified figures provided to the Bureau show armed drones flown by the Coalition have carried out 1,015 drone strikes in Afghanistan since 2008. This is three times more than the 338 attacks the CIA has carried out in neighbouring Pakistan over the same period.

Of more than 7,600 armed drone missions flown by Coalition forces between January and October 2012, ‘kinetic events’ – drone strikes – occurred 245 times, a ratio of about one strike for every 30 missions flown. In Iraq, however, only one in every 130 armed drone missions in 2008 resulted in a strike.

For context, there were an additional 1,145 attacks by conventional aircraft in Afghanistan during that period, official figures show. The proportion of airstrikes carried out by drones has risen steeply to 18%, up from 11% in 2009.

While no British drones went to Libya, the MoD has revealed British pilots had flown US drones in the campaign.

While Coalition drones fly thousands of armed sorties in Afghanistan, drone strikes are ‘the exception, not the norm’, a Centcom spokeswoman told the Bureau.

The number of strikes has increased steadily year-on-year – but there is ambiguity over who is carrying them out. The majority are by the US Air Force, with the remainder by the British military and – possibly – US Special Forces. Here there is some confusion.

A senior US Army spokesman said: ‘Of the thousands of UAS [unmanned aerial systems] we have, only a very small number (well less than 100) are armed.’

But another senior US military official, speaking on background terms, said: ‘The Army doesn’t have UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] in service that carry munitions… Any UAVs that can carry munitions are/were under the charge of the Air Force in Afghanistan and Iraq.’

Military officials were unable to explain the discrepancy between the two statements. The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has its own classified fleet of Reaper drones, however, which may account for the apparently contradictory statements.

In Afghanistan drone strikes are ‘the exception, not the norm’US Central Command spokeswoman

Britain’s small, active fleet

The UK’s drone fleet in Afghanistan is small compared with that of the US – Britain will shortly double its number of Reapers from five to ten aircraft. 

Yet British-piloted aircraft launched a high proportion of the total missiles fired from drones.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has released new data on the number of missiles fired in each of the past five years. In 2011, almost four missiles of every ten fired by drones in Afghanistan were the work of UK forces, the new figures indicate. In 2010 and 2012 the proportion was over a quarter. An MoD spokesman pointed out that the rate of missiles released in comparison to total hours flown had fallen significantly from its peak in 2008.

The MoD refused to reveal the number of strikes it had carried out, and indicated it would be inaccurate for the Bureau to infer a number of attacks by comparing British data with Centcom’s more complete numbers, ‘because of differing rules of engagement’.

‘Protecting civilians is the cornerstone of our mission. The use of all Afcent weapons and methods are tightly restricted, carefully supervised, and applied by only qualified and authorised personnel.’US Air Force spokeswoman

The missing numbers

The US has so far refused to release casualty data for its drone campaigns, although an Air Force spokeswoman insisted that ‘protecting civilians is the cornerstone of our mission’. She added: ‘The use of all Afcent weapons and methods are tightly restricted, carefully supervised, and applied by only qualified and authorised personnel.’

Only Britain has issued estimates of the non-combatants it has killed. According to officials at the Ministry of Defence, four civilians have died in UK-piloted drone strikes in Afghanistan – although campaigners such as Drone Wars UK have questioned this figure.

David Cameron visits troops in Afghanistan, December 2010 (Corporal Mark Webster/MoD)

A ministry spokesman said: ‘Every effort, which includes in some circumstances deciding not to release weapons, is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage, including civilian casualties, is minimised.’

Although Britain has not officially estimated the number of militants killed, prime minister David Cameron told reporters in December 2010 that by that point UK drones ‘killed more than 124 insurgents’. More than 200 missiles have been fired by British drones since that date.

Libya: a short, bloody campaign

In contrast to the long-running Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, figures supplied by Nato and the Pentagon on last year’s Libyan air campaign give an insight into the brutal intensity of that short conflict.

Nato provided the Bureau with figures for the operation, first published in a letter to the head of the UN’s investigation into Libya in January 2012. Differences in how data is recorded makes it difficult to draw a comparison  between Libya and other recent campaigns. What is clear is that armed drones played a small yet significant role.

Prime minister David Cameron in December 2010 said UK drones ‘killed more than 124 insurgents’. Since then more than 200 missiles have been fired by British drones.

In April 2011, the US announced it was sending Reaper and Predator drones to Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector. ‘They are uniquely suited for urban areas,’ Marine General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a press conference at the time.

While no British drones went to Libya, the MoD later revealed British pilots had flown US drones in the campaign.

Nato aircraft – piloted by the US, France and UK – flew around 18,000 armed sorties during the brief campaign, firing 7,600 missiles. 

A tiny proportion of these armed missions – 250 in total – were flown by drones. US Predators flew 145 strike sorties, according to a Department of Defense briefing published in October 2011. A Nato spokesman explained ‘strike sorties’ is the term used for ‘identifying and engaging targets’, while armed sorties could also be for surveillance, and carrying weapons for self-defence.

The Pentagon confirmed to the Bureau that US-piloted drones carried out 105 strikes between the start of April and September 2, 2011. This figure does not reflect the full campaign, which continued until October 31. However, it does indicate a very high ratio of strikes to armed sorties – more than one in three total armed missions led to a strike – reflecting the intensity of the Libyan conflict compared to the more drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where drones often fly armed missions without firing weapons.

Following the end of the campaign, in November 2011 Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed: ‘We conducted our operations in Libya in a very careful manner, so we have no confirmed civilian casualties caused by Nato.’

But the following month, a New York Times investigation reported 40-70 civilians died in Nato bombings. The findings were supported by an Amnesty International investigation published in March 2012, which named 55 civilians including 16 children and 14 women – all killed in strikes on urban areas, including in Tripoli, Zlitan, Majer and Sirte.

‘We conducted our operations in Libya in a very careful manner, so we have no confirmed civilian casualties caused by Nato.’Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen 

But it is not clear how many – if any – of these deaths were caused by drones.

Iraq: a rapid wind-downThe Bureau has also obtained previously classified details of US drone strikes in Iraq for the final years of the conflict.

These demonstrate how swiftly the US Air Force scaled down its drone strikes as withdrawal approached.

The number of armed drone sorties dropped steadily between 2008 and December 2011, when US forces finally withdrew.

Actual drone strikes – or ‘kinetic events’ – collapsed by more than 90% between 2008 and 2009, Obama’s first year in office, from 43 strikes to four. In comparison, the CIA carried out 55 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009.

There were no US Air Force drone strikes in Iraq in 2010, and just one in 2011. All US military drone sorties in the country have now ceased.

Follow @chrisjwoods and @aliceross_ on Twitter

Published

December 3, 2012

Written by

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

A US Reaper taxis at Kandahar Airbase, Afghanistan (ChuckHolton/Flickr).

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes return to Pakistan after a 36 day pause, as Washington sets out to codify its covert drone strikes policy.

Yemen: A strike nine miles from Sanaa targets a Yemen army colonel and alleged militant. But his family and others question why he was not arrested.

Somalia: Once again no operations are reported in Somalia.

Pakistan

November 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in November: 1

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

All actions 2004 – November 30 2012

Total Obama strikes: 299

Total US strikes since 2004: 351

Total reported killed: 2,586-3,379

Civilians reported killed: 472-885

Children reported killed: 176

Total reported injured: 1,255-1,405For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

A CIA drone strike killed up to four on November 29, ending a 36 day pause between attacks. This is the longest break between strikes since the 54 day hiatus from November 17 2011 to January 10 2012.

Pauses between strikes are often a consequence of external events. The unusual length of this pause – and reports of US officials trying to develop a drone strike rule book – might indicate that the CIA paused strikes while the drone programme was reviewed.

In November CIA drone strikes in Pakistan dropped to their lowest since April as the Agency paused operations for 36 days.

The break in drone operations also followed a controversial strike on October 24. Mamana Khan, a 67-year-old woman, was one of up to five killed. Her six grandchildren were reported injured in the strike.

The pause was not for a lack of targets, according to a US intelligence official. ‘Pakistan is a target-rich environment,’ the official told the Long War Journal. ‘We’re only scratching at the surface, hitting them in the tribal areas, while the country remains infested with al Qaeda and their allies.’

The November 29 strike hit its target 20km outside Wana, capital of South Waziristan, where a few hours earlier Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir was injured by a suicide bomber. It was the first drone strike in South Waziristan since June 3.

Yemen

November 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0

Further reported/possible US strike events: 1

Total reported killed in US operations: 0-3

Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – November 30 2012*

Total confirmed US operations: 53-63

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 42-52

Possible additional US operations: 122-141

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 66-79

Total reported killed: 362-1,052

Total civilians killed: 60-163

Children killed: 24-34Click here for the full Yemen data.

A possible US drone strike killed up to three people driving through Beit al Ahan, ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s home town. However allegations that the targets were militants are disputed.

On November 7 an explosion targeted Adnan al Qathi, a colonel in the Yemen Army and a relative of prominent general Ali Mohsen al Ahmar. It destroyed al Qathi’s vehicle less than 24 hours after President Obama’s re-election.

While al Qathi’s family acknowledges he supported al Qaeda’s cause, they dispute claims he was a militant. Yemeni journalist and analyst Abdulrazzaq Jamal told McClatchy Newspapers: ‘There were connections [with al Qaeda], but there wasn’t perceptible tangible support.’

Al Qathi had been arrested once before, in 2008 after an attack on the US embassy in Sanaa. And as he lived in the ‘hometown of much of the top leadership of the Yemeni armed forces,’ according to analyst Abdulghani al Iryani ‘it is nearly inconceivable to imagine that he could not have been taken into custody alive.’

Also in November, the Saudi Arabian assistant military attache was gunned down while driving through Sanaa’s diplomatic quarter. He was assassinated by gunmen dressed in Yemen security service uniforms. It is the latest in a series of high-profile assassinations on the streets of the capital.

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

Somalia

November 2012 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – November 30 2012

Total US operations: 10-23

Total US drone strikes: 3-9Total reported killed: 58-170Civilians reported killed: 11-57

Children reported killed: 1-3

Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

 

Once again no US operations were recorded in Somalia in October, as al Shabaab continue to exercise control in rural parts of the country.

The militant group is reportedly moving away from its bases in the south and centre of the country and shifting further north, according to the president of Puntland, the autonomous northern region. While African Union peacekeepers (Amisom) have forced al Shabaab out of the cities the group remains a threat. The group has launched bomb attacks on targets in Mogadishu and Nairobi.

In related news, the UN Security Council extended Amisom’s mandate to March 7 2013. However the future of the multilateral force is in doubt after Uganda threatened to withdraw its contingent of soldiers. Kamapala is the largest troop contributor to Amisom and issued the threat after a UN report alleged the Ugandan government is arming the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Follow Chris Woods, Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

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