News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

October 1, 2012

Written by

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 drone on the tarmac at Creech, Nevada – achesonblog/Flickr

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes pause for a short period as Muslims protest around the world against a US-made video. A senior al Qaeda leader is killed in resumed strikes.

Yemen: Eleven named civilians die in a strike in central Yemen, the worst civilian tally since May. The US declines to say if its drones are responsible.

Somalia: As Kenyan and Somali forces attack Kismayo, al Shabaab’s last stronghold, the Bureau is told that foreign armies ‘have a licence to ignore international law’ in Somalia,

Pakistan

September 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in September: 3

Total killed in strikes in September: 12-18, of whom 0-3 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – September 30 2012

Total Obama strikes: 294

Total US strikes since 2004: 346

Total reported killed: 2,570-3,337

Civilians reported killed: 474-884

Children reported killed: 176

Total reported injured: 1,232-1,366For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

After seven strikes in August – the most in a single month since October 2011 – September saw a pause in the bombing which lasted 20 days. The respite coincided with many and sometimes violent anti-US protests around the world. Muslims were inflamed by a blasphemous film, produced in the US and posted online. Up to 17 people died in riots across Pakistan as public outrage at drone strikes reportedly added to the violence.

On September 24 two named al Qaeda militants were killed by the CIA. Saleh al Turki ‘was not on the FBI’s bounty list, but was a mid level AQ guy’. However Abu Kahsha al Iraqi was described as ‘a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban’ and ‘long a target of Western counterterrorism agencies.’

The Bureau’s work on drone activity in Pakistan was praised by a report produced by Stanford and New York University law schools. The 165-page study found that  the Bureau’s Covert War project provided the ‘best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes’.

Academics from Stanford and New York universities interviewed over 130 survivors, witnesses and experts, which led them to conclude that the ‘dominant narrative’ in the US – that the surgical precision of drones means they are operated in Pakistan with ‘minimal downsides or collateral impacts’ – is ‘false’. Testimony from a number of eyewitnesses also corroborated the Bureau’s own findings – that the CIA deliberately targets rescuers.

Another report by Columbia University focused on policymakers in Washington, raising concerns about transparency and accountability in the decade-old programme of US targeted killings by drone.

Yemen

September 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0 Further reported/possible US strike events: 4-5 Total reported killed in US operations: 0-40Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-12

All actions 2002 – September 30 2012*

Total confirmed US operations: 52-62

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 40-50

Possible additional US operations: 117-133

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 61-71

Total reported killed: 357-1,026

Total civilians killed: 60-163

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

US and Yemeni officials were unusually reticent in September in attributing air strikes to United States air assets, including drones. That may have been due to the deaths of eleven named civilians in a botched airstrike in Radaa in central Yemen, the worst loss of civilian life since at least 12 civilians were killed in May. Victims of the strike were buried 18 days later in Dhamar with police pallbearers.

Abdulraouf al Dahab was the supposed target of the strike. But it missed the alleged militant leader’s car and hit civilian vehicles. A ten-year-old girl Daolah Nasser was killed with her parents. Two boys – Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari (13) and AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout (12) – were also among those killed.

Some reports said US drones carried out the strike. The Yemen Air Force publicly claimed responsibility for the attack but it lacks the technical capability to strike a moving target.

That fact was confirmed by President Hadi on a visit to Washington, where he also claimed to approve every US strike carried out in Yemen, and downplayed civilian deaths.

Minimum confirmed and possible strike events in Yemen, January to September 30 2012.

A suspected US drone killed at least six people, eight days after the Radaa strike. Said al Shehri was initially reported among the dead. But subsequent reports say the former Guantanamo inmate and al Qaeda’s number two in Yemen survived the attack.

* 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

September 2012 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – September 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 combat operations were reported for September, although a former UN official told the Bureau that as much as 50% of secret actions by various forces operating in Somalia go unreported. Two previously unrecorded operations have been added to the Bureau’s data. These relate to possible US strikes on al Shabaab bases in Puntland in August, and in Kismayo in October 2011.

Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) troops finally struck al Shabaab’s last stronghold, Kismayo, in Operations Sledge Hammer alongside soldiers of the Somalia National Army. The KDF is fighting in Somalia as a part of the Amisom peacekeeping force and attacked Kismayo from the land and sea before dawn on September 28. Initial reports said they met with some resistance from al Shabaab but had taken control of the city’s port. It is possible that US forces assisted the operation.

A Somali diplomat told the Bureau that the outgoing Transitional Federal Government opened its doors to the US and others to fight al Shabaab, and in doing so allowed them ‘a licence to completely ignore any local or international law.’ US Special Forces and CIA are operating across Somalia. And the US is supporting proxy forces with training and weapons.

Follow Chris Woods and Jack Serle on Twitter.

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

Published

September 30, 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.

Obama ‘in thrall to the technological potential of drones’ says Columbia Law School author

(Photo: spirit of America/Shutterstock).

President Obama’s personal involvement in selecting the targets of covert drone strikes means he risks effectively handing a ‘loaded gun’ to Mitt Romney come November, says the co-author of a new report aimed at US policymakers.

‘If Obama leaves, he’s leaving a loaded gun: he’s set up a programme where the greatest constraint is his personal prerogative. There’s no legal oversight, no courtroom that can make [the drone programme] stop. A President Romney could vastly accelerate it,’ said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at the Columbia Law School.

The president ‘personally approves every military target’ in Yemen and Somalia and around a third of targets in Pakistan, the report says. The remainder of strikes in Pakistan are decided by the CIA, so are even further from formal decision-making processes and public scrutiny.

‘We are asking President Obama to put something in writing, to disclose more, because he needs to set up the limitations of the programme before someone else takes control,’ Shah told the Bureau.

In The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions, experts from Columbia Law School and the Center for Civilians in Conflict examine the impact of the US ‘war on terror’ on the lives of civilian Pakistanis, Yemenis and Somalis caught in the crossfire. The report’s publication marks the anniversary of the assassination of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone in Yemen.

We are asking President Obama to put something in writing, to disclose more, because he needs to set up the limitations of the programme before someone else takes control.’

Naureen Shah, Columbia Law School

The report, which Shah said is ‘aimed squarely at policymakers’, calls on the Obama administration to justify its drone campaigns and their targets under international law. It also calls for a task force to examine what measures are in place to protect civilians.

‘The perception is that civilian casualties are not a problem. If you say otherwise, you’re accused of being naïve and being a pawn of al Qaeda… There’s an instinctual dismissal of reporting that shows there’s a casualty problem,’ said Shah.

Deep impact

The report examines how drone strikes have prompted retaliatory attacks from militants on those they believe are US spies, and stirred anti-US sentiment and violence among civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.

In the Waziristan region of Pakistan, the near-constant presence of drones exerts a terrible psychological toll on the civilian population, while the destruction of homes and other property is often catastrophic for Pakistani and Yemeni families.

In Somalia, many have been ‘forced to flee’ their homes in areas where al Qaeda-linked militants al Shabaab have their strongholds, to avoid drone and other air attacks.

The perception is that civilian casualties are not a problem. If you say otherwise, you’re accused of being naïve and being a pawn of al Qaeda, and not having your facts straight.

Naureen Shah

And while the US claims only tiny numbers of civilians are killed by drones, establishing the truth of these claims is difficult. The report compares the Bureau’s estimates of drone deaths in Pakistan to similar projects by the Long War Journal, the New America Foundation and the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, noting that they ‘consistently point to significantly higher civilian casualties than those suggested by the US government’s statements’.

But deciding who is a militant and who is a civilian is fraught with difficulty – the very terms ‘civilian’ and ‘militant’ are ‘ambiguous, controversial, and susceptible to manipulation,’ the report says.

The US’s criteria for who is a civilian are ‘deeply problematic’, it adds. In May, a New York Times investigation revealed that all ‘military-aged males’ are held to be militants.

Spy agency turned covert military force

The CIA decides on the targets of Pakistan strikes – but next to nothing is known about its procedures for monitoring whether strikes kill civilians. To this day, the CIA has never officially acknowledged its campaign.

‘We know the US military has set up procedures for tracking and responding to civilian deaths because there’s so much public scrutiny… The CIA has no institutional history of complying with international law or setting up procedures for civilian deaths,’ said Shah. ‘It was a covert spy agency; it wasn’t set up for this. We don’t know how prepared they are to monitor civilian deaths or how concerned they are.’

The CIA is supposed to be accountable to Congress – but lawmakers are failing to scrutinise the impact of the CIA’s drone campaign on civilians, Shah said. Its watchdog role is compromised by the fact that the CIA has been ‘really careful to get political buy-in’, having come under intense criticism from Congress over allegations of torture under President Bush.

‘The strange thing about Congress is they think they are very well informed through briefings from the CIA… The CIA has got them to buy into the drone programme, so there’s no incentive for them to criticise it. If they were to admit there was a problem, Congress would be on the hook as well,’ she continued.

The CIA has no institutional history of complying with international law or setting up procedures for civilian deaths. It was a covert spy agency; it wasn’t set up for this.

Naureen Shah

Lawmakers should look beyond government sources for information on the impact of drone strikes, and scrutinise whether the CIA’s processes for protecting civilians and investigating the aftermath of strikes are up to the task, the report says.

The Obama administration is so in thrall to drones’ technological potential that alternatives are barely considered, Shah said.

‘For policymakers there’s a false sense of limited options: [there’s] a drones-only approach in the situation room… drones are becoming the only game in town and the other tools are being taken off the table. And there’s no thought that a non-lethal approach might have less impact on the community,’ she explained.

‘The focus is so much on the extent to which drones protect American lives that the impact on Pakistani or Somali lives is displaced. There’s so much trust placed in the technology that policymakers especially are failing to consider whether drone strikes are wreaking havoc on these communities.’

Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute will publish an additional detailed study of reporting of drone strikes – including an evaluation of the Bureau’s drone data in comparison to similar studies – in the next few weeks.

Published

September 21, 2012

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.

Appeals court judges scrutinised the US government’s secrecy bid. (www.shutterstock.com)

Three federal appeal court judges greeted US government efforts to block the release of information on the CIA’s targeted killings programme with skepticism on Thursday, as they grilled the administration’s lawyers for double the scheduled time.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging the Obama administration to reveal records of the CIA’s drone programme, including the legal basis and policy decisions that allow the intelligence agency to target and kill alleged militants in foreign countries.

But the government refuses even to confirm or deny whether the records exist. Judge Merrick Garland responded by saying that the government was asking the court to say ‘the emperor has clothes, even when the emperor’s boss’ says the emperor does not have clothes’, according to AP.

Sitting in the Washington DC circuit appeals court, Judge Garland put it to the government legal team that a speech by John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counter terrorism adviser, amounted to an official acknowledgment of the CIA drone programme.

Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy director, who gave evidence to the court, later told the Bureau: ‘All three judges questioned the government aggressively about the disconnect between its position in court…and the many statements it has made publicly about the programme.’

But Department of Justice lawyers stuck to their position that the government has not officially acknowledged the CIA’s use of drones.

‘Hardly secret’

Yesterday’s hearing was the latest installment of a two-and-half year legal battle between the ACLU and the US government.

The human rights group is also suing the government to reveal information about the killing of Anwar al Awlaki in a US drone strike in Yemen last year, and a cruise missile strike in Yemen in 2009 that killed 22 children. The ACLU is also helping al Awlaki’s family to bring cases against former CIA director and current Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, and President Obama.

The Bureau is one of a number of bodies that has filed an amicus brief with the Washington DC court in support of the ACLU’s argument, saying: ‘The existence of the CIA’s targeted killing programme… is so widely acknowledged and heavily reported upon that it can hardly be called a secret anymore.’

The government’s justification for refusing to give up information about its drone strikes is only applicable if the government has not officially acknowledged the CIA is using the unmanned aerial vehicles in Pakistan. Last year a district court decided in the government’s favour.

The ACLU is now appealing that decision, saying that senior members of the Obama administration, including Obama and Panetta, have openly discussed the programme in speeches and interviews.

The ACLU believes this equates to official acknowledgement of an eight-year campaign that has seen the CIA launch 344 drone strikes, killing between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan. At least 474 of those killed were civilians and 176 children, according to data collected by the Bureau.

‘I continue to feel that anyone who reads these statements can’t possibly come away with the impression that the CIA has done anything except acknowledge that it uses drones to carry out targeted killings,’ said Jaffer.

Published

September 21, 2012

Written by

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

Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama at the White House. (Photo: UK Government)

David Cameron has called for those carrying out covert drone strikes ‘to act in accordance with international law’ and to take ‘all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties.’

However the British prime minister has carefully avoided any direct criticism of the US, Britain’s closest military ally.

Cameron’s comments feature in a letter to David Mepham, UK director of Human Rights Watch, dated August 29 and just released.

Mepham had previously urged Cameron to explain ‘your government’s position on the Obama administration’s policy and practice of targeted killings.’ He asked the prime minister:

Do you agree that their approach is legal and appropriate? … If you disagree with US administration policy on targeted killings, have you or will you be raising your concerns with President Obama and others in the administration?

Perhaps most sensitively, Mepham had called on Cameron to ‘clarify your government’s policy on the sharing of intelligence with the US on terrorism suspects, which might then be used to carry out drone attacks?’

High Court case

That last question is a potential tinderbox for the British government. An ongoing High Court case alleges that UK security services have provided intelligence to the United States which has been used in targeted killings in Pakistan and elsewhere.  Such killings – by drone or otherwise – are understood to be illegal under British and European law.

Earlier this week the UK’s former Director of Public Prosecutions (Lord) Ken MacDonald told the London Times that ‘the evidence is pretty compelling that we are providing that kind of information to the Americans.’

The Times also reported claims that UK intelligence is often pooled with that of other countries and held on a common database, possibly allowing the UK government to claim that it had no control over how such information was used.

After the deaths of a number of its own citizens at the hands of the CIA, Germany’s intelligence services halted the sharing of information with US spy agencies if that data might be used in a drone strike. The UK operates no such policy.

Chris Cole, a critic of drone militarization who runs the website Drone Wars UK, told the Bureau: ‘The British government’s argument appears to be that it is not responsible for what is done with its intelligence once shared with the US. That’s like handing bullets to an armed robber whose gun is empty, but denying you’re responsible for what happens.’

In his letter David Cameron refused to say whether US and UK intelligence services have co-operated in covert drone killings, saying only that ‘as I am sure you will understand our long-standing position is that we do not comment on intelligence matters.’

‘All feasible precautions’

The prime minister also refused to be drawn into criticising the US, Britain’s closest military and political ally. Instead Cameron noted that ‘the UK government’s position is that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against terrorist targets is a matter for the States involved.’

The prime minister did note, however, that the British government ‘expect all concerned to act in accordance with international law including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting military operations.’

Research by the Bureau has consistently shown that US claims of ‘zero civilian casualties’ in Pakistan are untrue. Although reported deaths of women and children have declined sharply since August 2010, any civilian males killed by the CIA in the tribal areas are considered to be terrorists, according to a New York Times investigation.

Bureau monitoring of US civilian casualty estimates supports this claim, indicating that no military aged males (aged 18-65) are being reclassified as civilian by the CIA, even when their non-combatant status is posthumously revealed.

Tom Watson MP told the Bureau that it was ‘simply not acceptable’ that Cameron had failed to clarify the UK’s position on targeted killing by drone strike, as Human Rights Watch had called for.

The senior Labour backbencher added that ‘considering the UK’s domestic and international human rights commitments, one would have expected the government to confirm the illegality of the use of such methods and approaches outside the conventional battlefield.’

Follow @chrisjwoods on Twitter.

Published

September 6, 2012

Written by

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

President Obama takes a phone call aboard Air Force One, July 2012 (Photo Official White House/ Pete Souza)

In his most comprehensive public comments yet on the US covert drone war, President Barack Obama has laid out the five rules he says the United States uses to target and kill alleged terrorists – including US citizens.

The president has also warned of the need to avoid a ‘slippery slope’ when fighting terrorism, ‘in which you end up bending rules, thinking that the ends always justify the means.’

Obama’s comments were made in an on-camera interview with CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin. Only once before has the president publicly discussed the US covert drone policy, when he spoke briefly about strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Now Obama says there are five rules that need to be followed in covert US drone attacks. In his own words:

1   ‘It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws.’

2   ‘It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.’

3   ‘It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.’

4   ‘We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.’

5   ‘That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots… they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.’

‘Misreporting’

Obama twice referred to what he claims has been ‘misreporting’ by the media of his drones policy.

Apparently responding to recent allegations that his administration prefers to kill rather than capture suspects, the president said that ‘our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence’ but that it’s sometimes ‘very difficult to capture them.’

CNN’s Yellin did not bring up the issue of civilian casualties – despite CNN itself reporting multiple civilian deaths in a suspected Yemen drone strike just hours earlier. However Obama insisted that ‘we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties, and in fact there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think there’s going to be civilian casualties involved.’

Obama also took on the contentious targeted killing of US citizens – the subject of a number of high profile legal cases. Insisting that there was ‘legal justification’ for such killings, the president conceded that ‘as an American citizen, they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.’

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is presently trying to block publication of administration legal opinions which allegedly provided the justification for the killing of US citizen Anwar al Awlaki and others.

In a recent court submission the DoJ insisted that Obama’s January comments on the covert drone war could not be taken as an admission that it was taking place: ‘Plaintiffs speculate that the president must have been speaking about CIA involvement in lethal operations…. This is insufficient to support a claim of official disclosure.’

With Obama now publicly laying out the ground rules for the covert drone war, the DoJ’s position appears further damaged.

‘Slippery slope’

The president also discussed in some detail his moral concerns regarding the campaign, admitting that he ‘struggle[s] with issues of war and peace and fighting terrorism.’

Our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence.’

US President Barack Obama

He said that he and his national security team needed to ‘continually ask questions about “Are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by the rule of law? Are we abiding by due process?”‘

If that failed to happen, the president warned, there was the risk of a ‘slippery slope… in which you end up bending rules, thinking that the ends always justify the means.’

The continuing deaths of civilians – and CIA tactics such as the deliberate targeting of rescuers – have led some to argue that the US is already bending or even breaking those rules.

Full transcript of President Obama’s comments to CNN

Jessica Yellin: On April 30 your homeland security adviser John Brennan acknowledged for the first time that the US uses armed drones to attack terrorists. My question to you is, do you personally decide who is targeted and what are your criteria if you do for the use of lethal force?

Obama: I’ve got to be careful here. There are classified issues, and a lot of what you read in the press that purports to be accurate isn’t always accurate. What is absolutely true is that my first job, my most sacred duty as president and commander in chief, is to keep the American people safe. And what that means is we brought a whole bunch of tools to bear to go after al Qaeda and those who would attack Americans.

Drones are one tool that we use, and our criteria for using them is very tight and very strict. It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws; that has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.

It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States. And this is an example of where I think there has been some misreporting. Our preference has always been to capture when we can because we can gather intelligence. But a lot of terrorist networks that target the United States, the most dangerous ones operate in very remote regions and it’s very difficult to capture them.

And we’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties, and in fact there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think there’s going to be civilian casualties involved.

So we have an extensive process with a lot of checks, a lot of eyes looking at it. Obviously as president I’m ultimately responsible for decisions that are made by the administration. But I think what the American people need to know is the seriousness with which we take both the responsibility to keep them safe, but also the seriousness with which we take the need for us to abide by our traditions of rule of law and due process.

Yellin: Sir, do you personally approve the targets?

Obama: You know, I can’t get too deeply into how these things work, but as I said as commander in chief ultimately I’m responsible for the process that we’ve set up to make sure that folks who are out to kill Americans, that we are able to disable them before they carry out their plans.

Yellin: Are the standards different when the target is an American?

Obama: I think there’s no doubt that when an American has made the decision to affiliate himself with al Qaeda and target fellow Americans, that there is a legal justification for us to try and stop them from carrying out plots. What is also true though is that as an American citizen, they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.

Yellin: Finally on this topic even Brennan said that some governments struggle with this. Do you struggle with this policy?

Obama: Absolutely. Look, I think that – A president who doesn’t struggle with issues of war and peace and fighting terrorism, and the difficulties of dealing with an opponent who has no rules, that’s something that you have to struggle with. Because if you don’t it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules, thinking that the ends always justify the means. And that’s not been our tradition, that’s not who we are as a country.

Our most powerful tool over the long term to reduce the terrorist threat is to live up to our values and to be able to shape public opinion not just here but around the world, that senseless violence is not a way to resolve political differences.

And so it’s very important for the president and the entire culture of our national security team to continually ask questions about ‘Are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by the rule of law? Are we abiding by due process?’ And then set up structures and institutional checks so that you avoid any kind of slippery slope into a place where we’re not being true to who we are.

Follow Chris Woods on Twitter.

Published

September 3, 2012

Written by

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.

Somalia’s parliamentarians meet for the first time in for two decades on August 20 2012. (AU-UN IST / Stuart Price)

Pakistan: August sees the highest number of CIA strikes in Pakistan since October 2011. A number of senior militants are killed along with at least two named civilians.

Yemen: At least 26 people are killed in five confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen. This is still less than the May peak. Civilian casualties are confirmed for the first time since May.

Somalia: For the fourth month no US military actions are reported in Somalia. In related news, three Ugandan helicopters crash-land prior to an anticipated assault on militant-held Kismayo.

Pakistan

July 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in August: 7

Total killed in strikes in August: 29-65, of whom at least 2 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – August 31 2012

Total Obama strikes: 291

Total US strikes since 2004: 343

Total reported killed: 2,558-3,319

Civilians reported killed: 474-881

Children reported killed: 176

Total reported injured: 1,226-1,359For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

 

The CIA launched seven drone strikes in August, the highest recorded in any month since October 2011. The rate of strikes has continued to rise through the year.

Total CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, per month of 2012.

All seven attacks happened after Ramadan. Neither the CIA nor the Taliban seem to change their tactics in the month of fasting and the festival of Eid al Fitr. The Bureau’s data shows that since President Obama came to office there has been no let-up in the tempo of strikes during Ramadan and Eid. A CIA drone strike has never taken place on either Christmas or Easter Day.

The August barrage of strikes culminated with three coordinated attacks on August 24 that killed 13-18 people including several named militants, according to the Bureau’s field researchers. Four named Turkistani militants died along with three named members of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).

For the first time in some months there were confirmed reports of civilian casualties in Pakistan. On August 18 the wife of Ahsan Aziz, a Kashmiri militant, died in a strike alongside her husband. Thirteen-year-old Osama Haqqani also reportedly died on August 21.  As many as 25 others died with the teenager, including his father Badruddin Haqqani, the third-in-command of the Haqqani Network. These were the first known names of civilians reported killed since October 31 2001, although other civilians have been reported killed in this period.

Pakistan responded to the onslaught of strikes by continuing with its vocal protests, calling in a senior US diplomat for an official reprimand. Washington in turn insisted that Islamabad pressure the Haqqani Network to stop cross-border attacks on Isaf and Afghan forces.

Yemen

August 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 5

Further reported/possible US strike events: 1

Total reported killed in US operations: 26-33Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 2

All actions 2002 – August 31 2012*

Total confirmed US operations: 52-62

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 40-50

Possible additional US operations: 113-128

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 57-66

Total reported killed: 347-990

Total civilians killed: 60-151

Children killed: 24-31Click here for the full Yemen data.

 

Five of the six strikes in August were confirmed as US attacks by a variety of Yemeni officials.

The focus of US attacks has now moved to Hadramout in the eastern part of Yemen. Five strikes hit targets in the arid province, bearing out reports that al Qaeda has taken refuge there. This is a shift from Abyan province where most of the attacks occurred in July. Yemeni security forces and local militia drove the militants from their ‘Islamic Emirate’ in Abyan earlier this year.

The first named civilian casualties were reported since Red Cross worker Hussein Saleh was killed on June 20 in a possible US airstrike. Policeman Walid Abdullah Bin Ali Jaber and Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, a mosque imam, were killed in a house in the eastern Hadramout province when a nearby car carrying alleged militants was destroyed.

While drone strikes seem to have plateaued, al Qaeda and its ally Ansar al Sharia have continued with their bloody insurgency against the government. In the most deadly attack this month, a suicide bomber targeted a funeral wake in Jaar where more than 150 people had gathered to mourn a local sheikh. His militia had first fought alongside al Qaeda in Abyan before siding with the government. At least 50 people were killed by shrapnel from the blast.

* 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

August 2012 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – August 31 2012

Total US operations: 10-21

Total US drone strikes: 3-9Total reported killed: 58-169Civilians reported killed: 11-57

Children reported killed: 1-3

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

 

August was the fourth consecutive month in which there have been no reports of US strikes. Concerns remain that covert operations continue in the country, in support of African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeepers fighting al Shabaab.

In related news, in the build-up to Amisom’s long-touted advance on militant-held Kismayo, the UN allowed Uganda to dispatch air support for the assaulting troops. Catastrophically all but one of four helicopters sent by Kampala crashed into a Kenyan mountain. The losses cast doubt on the military capacity of African nations engaged in Somalia, and their ability to have carried out any of the 10 strikes recorded by the Bureau since 2007 that are not confirmed as US operations.

Kismayo is the last deep-water port in al Shabaab’s hands. Its fall could prove decisive in the battle with the militants in the south. The assault was intended to start before August 20, the day of long-awaited parliamentary elections. However those elections dragged on into the final week of August when a parliamentary speaker was finally voted in. This has cleared the way for parliament to choose a president and for the eight year life of the Transitional Federal Government to end.

Other conflicts: Israel and Egypt

The US and Israel are the only countries known to have carried out targeted killings with drones, with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) reported to have carried out a strike as early as 2004. Until now all known Israeli strikes have been within Gaza.  On August 26 Ibrahim Owida Nasser Madan was killed in an explosion as he rode his motorbike through Egypt’s Sinai desert. It was later reported by Israeli media that Madan had died in an Israeli drone strike up to 15km inside Egypt. Both the IDF and Egyptian military denied the claims.

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Published

August 30, 2012

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.

This is what it could have looked like…

An app that uses the Bureau’s covert war data to alert people to the far reaches of the US government’s secret wars has been blocked from Apple’s app store.

Drones+, the creation of NYU student Josh Begley, was meant to be a simple way of notifying users whenever US drones struck somewhere in the world.

But Apple decided this was not acceptable for its customers. After rejecting the app on the grounds of its design and functionality, the US tech giant finally took exception to its content.

In correspondence seen by the Bureau, the US tech giant told Begley that apps that ‘present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected.’

The company added: ‘We found that your app contains content that many audiences would find objectionable.’

‘We found that your app contains content that many audiences would find objectionable.’ Apple correspondence

Apple’s decision did not come as a surprise to Begley. ‘I think their position is often just they don’t want to let anything through that could be seen by anyone at any particular table that could be seen as controversial,’ he said.

But how its content could have been objectionable or crude for a user is difficult to fathom.

A basic app, Drones+ was simply a news feed summarising each entry from the Bureau’s databases and a map of the drone strikes. Each time a drone hits a village in Waziristan, a message would ping straight to the user’s handset to let them know.

Inane nudges

The project began with a simple question about what smartphone users like to be notified about.

Begley wondered if US smartphone users would want to be told about something more challenging than ‘the sort of inane nudges you get when it’s your turn to play Words With Friends.’

He presumed not. But Apple, who could not be reached for comment on this story before publication, has made sure he will never know.

Following their latest rejection Begley is abandoning the Apple app idea. He is thinking about producing a version for the rival Android system instead.

But iphone users were of specific interest to Begley. Having schooled himself on the extent of the US drone programme, he says he wanted to push the drone debate ‘into corners where it hasn’t been discussed.’

Smartphone users more interested in the nuts and bolts of technology may go for an Android phone, he explains. Apple’s products appeal to a different crowd.

‘I think people who use iphones like them because “they just work,”’ he says. ‘Part of the reason they just work is because Apple is either very vigilant or diligent…to shape and control every aspect of the experience.’

Thanks to a handful of high profile leaks, US drones are getting some attention. But Begley believes there is a limit to how much people understand, himself included. Before starting to make the app, ‘I had a general sense of hidden drone wars but never actually had a granular understanding,’ he says.

From the start of the project one line of the drones debate grabbed his attention. ‘When I started thinking about the app I actually didn’t know about the Bureau’s data sets,’ he explains. ‘I was considering using New America Foundation’s data.’

But as the accuracy of New America Foundation’s data was challenged in the media, Begley turned to the Bureau. ‘In light of recent questions of their under reporting, and their potentially severe under reporting, it just made sense to use the best data set around.’

Unfortunately, it just isn’t coming soon to an Apple Store near you.

Published

August 1, 2012

Written by

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 Predator drone flying at sunset – Charles McCain/Flickr

The Bureau’s covert war investigation tracks drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Here we summarise our key work and findings for July 2012.

Pakistan: CIA drones kill more people in July than any month so far this year after Pakistan reopens its border to Nato supply convoys.

Yemen: The US restarts Yemen’s $112m [£72m] military aid programme as al Qaeda appears to return to more familiar terror tactics.

Somalia: Three al Shabaab militants are executed for ‘spying’ for western agencies, as the UN claims that more than 60 unknown air sorties took place over Somalia in the past year.

Pakistan

July 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in July: 4

Total killed in strikes in July: 38-53, of whom 0-20 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – 2012

Total Obama strikes: 285

Total US strikes since 2004: 337

Total reported killed: 2,524-3,247

Civilians reported killed: 482-852

Children reported killed: 175

Total reported injured: 1,204-1,330For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

 

The CIA launched four drone strikes in July, two fewer than in June. An average of four strikes a month so far this year contrasts with over six a month in 2011 and nearly 11 a month in 2010.

After Hillary Clinton apologised to Pakistan for accidentally killing Pakistani soldiers in a US strike on November 2011, Islamabad lifted its border blockade of NATO supply trucks. Three days later US drones killed 17-24 people in Datta Khel, North Waziristan. Other strikes took place on July 1 and 23.

While there were fewer strikes than in June, more people died. CIA drones killed 38-53 people in July, up from 22-46 in June and the highest in any month so far this year.

Although there were no confirmed civilian casualties in July, some reports indicated up to 20 may have been killed in the month’s strikes.

The last strike of the month on July 29 was initially reported to have killed up to seven ‘Uzbek militants’. However Pakistani media later named three locals buried after the strike. Their status remains unclear.

Two days earlier, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman declared: ‘We will seek an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that.’ She added: ‘I am not saying drones have not assisted in the war against terror, but they have [a] diminishing rate of returns.’

Yemen

July 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0

Further reported/possible US strike events: 4

Alleged militants reported killed in US operations: 0-23Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0

All actions 2002 – 2012*

Total confirmed US operations: 46-56

Total confirmed US drone strikes: 35-45

Possible additional US operations: 113-128

Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 57-66

Total reported killed: 329-962

Total civilians killed: 58-149

Children killed: 24-31Click here for the full Yemen data.

 

Of the four air strikes reported in July, none were confirmed to be the work of the US, despite some evidence to suggest involvement by US drones or aircraft. This continues the decline in US military operations in the Gulf nation from a peak in May, when US forces aided Yemen’s defeat of al Qaeda and its allies.

The Pentagon is restarting its military aid programme to Yemen. The programme stalled briefly in 2011 during the Arab Spring, but in 2010 Yemen was the largest recipient of US counterterrorism-specific military aid ahead of Pakistan.

Of the $112m aid, $75m is earmarked for kit including small, unarmed surveillance Raven drones, radios and vehicles. A further $23.4m is for ‘fixed-wing aircraft.’ The Yemenis will also receive rifles, pistols and more than a million rounds of ammunition.

Total confirmed and possible US strike events in Yemen, January to July 2012

Reports of strikes are abating, but security remains a significant concern. There is strong evidence that al Qaeda and its allies have returned to the guerrilla tactics more commonly associated with the group. July has been marked by suicide bombings, kidnappings and assassination attempts.

The political situation remains brittle with Houthi secessionists still active in the north, and the Southern Movement clashing with security forces in the key port city of Aden. The old regime continues to cause problems in the capital. One hundred armed men loyal to former President Saleh stormed the Interior Ministry, demanding jobs in the police force.

* 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

June 2012 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

 

All actions 2007 – 2012

Total US operations: 10-21

Total US drone strikes: 3-9Total reported killed: 58-169Civilians reported killed: 11-57

Children reported killed: 1-3

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

 

July is the third consecutive month without a reported US strike in 2012.

However the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group submitted a detailed report to the Security Council claiming more than 60 unauthorised drone, helicopter and aircraft flights over Somalia in the past year – far more than had previously been reported. UN officials also reported that US drones operating over the country may be violating the Security Council’s arms embargo imposed on the country in 1992.

On July 22 al Shabaab announced it had executed three of its members charged with spying for the US and Britain. Ishaq Omar Hassan and Yasin Osman Ahmed, both 22, and Mukhtar Ibrahim Sheikh Ahmed, 33, were allegedly responsible for the death of a Lebanese-British militant. They were claimed to have attached a tracking device to Bilal al Berjawi’s car, enabling US drones to kill him on January 21. If true, this would indicate direct British involvement in a US drone strike.

Other conflicts: the Philippines

An article in the New York Times appeared to offer the first confirmation of US drone strikes in the Philippines. Three US officials reportedly told Mark Mazzetti that in 2006 a US Predator drone had fired ‘a barrage of Hellfire missiles’ in a failed attempt to kill militant leader Umar Patek.

However this was fiercely denied by the former head of US Special Forces in the country.

Earlier this year there were reports that US drones carried out a lethal strike in the Philippines. The leaders of militant groups Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf were killed in a February airstrike that was officially carried out by a Philippines Air Force jet carrying US precision guided weapons. The issue remains contentious as direct military action by the US would contravene a bilateral agreement between the two nations.

Follow Chris Woods and Jack Serle on Twitter.

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