News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

August 3, 2015

Written by

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

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

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

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

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)*

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

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

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

 

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

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

iii. Bureau analysis for July 2015:

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

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

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

1. Pakistan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Yemen

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

4. Somalia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published

July 1, 2015

Written by

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

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

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

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

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

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

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

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

 

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

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

iii. Bureau analysis for the first half of 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Yemen

(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Afghanistan

(Jan 1 2015 to date)

Somalia

(Jan 1 2015 to date)

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

 

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

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

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

US government

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

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

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

Country Reports

1. Pakistan

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

 

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

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

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

Six month analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Yemen

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Somalia

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

 

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

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

— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) June 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published

June 19, 2015

Written by

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

Rammstein in Germany is a key hub for US drone operations, including those that killed German citizens (Flickr/US Army Corps of Engineers)

US drones have killed at least 38 Westerners since 2002 – most from some of America’s closest allies, raising serious questions for those governments about how much they knew and how much they helped with the assassination of their citizens, the Bureau’s latest podcast debates.

Of the 38 dead Westerners, 10 were US citizens, eight were Britons, seven were Germans and four were Australians. They were identified during an analysis of the Bureau’s data. It was part of a broader investigation done in collaboration with investigative journalist Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone War.

At least 34 of the Westerners killed were high profile terror suspects like Spaniard Amer Aziz who was connected to the 2004 Madrid bombing or Briton Abdul Jabbar who was linked to various plots in the UK. One, Buenyamin Erdogan, was under surveillance by German intelligence in the period immediately before his death, raising question about complicity in his death.

Woods told Owen Bennett-Jones in the Bureau’s latest Done News podcast: “There are major question marks over whether German intelligence was sharing potentially lethal intelligence with the CIA for example, which of course under German law, according to German MPs, is unlawful.

Related story: Could German court halt White House’s ‘illegal’ drone war?

“I don’t believe for a moment by the way that Australia [or] the United Kingdom were not consulted before the killing of their citizens, even if it was just to tell them that these killings were going to take place. The risk of a diplomatic incident between the US and the UK – why would the Brits not be informed given the closeness of intelligence sharing?”

Woods was interviewed for the podcast on May 21. On June 13, The Times of London reported the UK’s surveillance agency GCHQ “used its powers to gather bulk data from the internet” to locate Rashid Rauf after “other intelligence sources had gone cold”. Rauf was one of six UK citizens killed by US drones in Pakistan. Two more were killed in Somalia.

Related story: Counting the cost of US drones: Local wars killing local people

The attack that killed Buenyamin Erdogan, on October 4 2010, also raises serious questions about “the drones being judge, jury and executioner”. The attack killed two German citizens, Buenyamin and Shahab Dashti. A third German survived, Emrah Erdogan, Buenyamin’s brother.

He managed to make his way back to Germany where he is serving a seven year prison sentence for terrorist related offensives.

Related story: Hostage deaths mean 38 Westerners killed by US drone strikes

The successful prosecution of Emrah shows criminal proceedings can work. “To suggest the only option we have is to target and kill – I don’t think that’s actually right,” Woods said. Not least because “there is this assumption of guilt but actually sometimes when these folk get put on trial they’re not guilty,” Woods continued, pointing to the example of the very first drone strike outside Afghanistan.

In November 2002 US drones killed six men in a car in Yemen. But there was a survivor. “One man crawled away from the wreckage of that vehicle,” Woods said. “He was put on trial in a Yemen military court, which owed him no favours. He was actually found not guilty.”

The most recent Westerners killed by drones were three Americans and an Italian. They died in January 2015. Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, one of the Americans and the Italian, were aid workers who had been taken hostage by al Qaeda and were killed by accident.

Follow our drones team Owen Bennett-Jones, Abigail Fielding-Smith and Jack Serle on Twitter.

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

Published

June 5, 2015

Written by

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

John Brennan, the Director of the CIA since March 2013

Transferring control of the US drone programme away from the CIA could paradoxically result in less accountability, author and investigative journalist Chris Woods told this week’s Drone News.

Since President Barack Obama announced in April that a CIA drone strike on an al Qaeda compound in Pakistan had accidentally killed two Western hostages, calls for the drone programme to be transferred to the Pentagon have been amplified.

Woods said however that former senior US intelligence officials he interviewed for his new book, ‘Sudden Justice’, told him that the CIA was bound by more stringent congressional reporting requirements than the Department of Defense’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which has its own drone programme.  “That was a surprise to me,” said Woods, formerly a reporter at the Bureau.

“What my sources told me was ‘if you think you’ve got it bad now, if this goes to JSOC we may never know anything.’”

The CIA is legally obliged to declare its actions to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Woods said, whereas there is no such obligation to the Armed Services Committee, which oversees the military.

During research for his book, he was also surprised how high a proportion of drone strikes have been conducted on conventional battlefields, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said: “If 80% of drone strikes are happening on the regular battlefield under full military control and the laws of war, which they are, then that really maybe changes the way we think about drones….in terms of the threat they represent towards civilians.”

“One of the conclusions I reached for the book was that drones can – if used properly – significantly reduce the risk to civilians on the battlefield. But there’s got to be the political will there, and time after time where we’ve found problems with civilian deaths in places like Pakistan or Yemen it’s because there hasn’t been the political will to control those deaths.”

Download the Podcast here

When asked by Jack Serle why it was so hard to obtain information about the US’s use of drones in conventional battlegrounds, Woods said it was likely due to different drone programmes being “bundled tightly together”.

He said: “You have special forces drones, CIA drones and regular drones all flown by the regular Air Force and in fact owned by Air Combat Command. What happened over time was that they realised that if they started to allow information about one aspect of the war to come out, the whole thing risked unbundling, so what they’ve actually done is classify all drone operations including on the regular battlefield.”

Follow our drones team Owen Bennett-Jones, Abigail Fielding-Smith and Jack Serle on Twitter.

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

Published

June 2, 2015

Written by

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

A US helicopter ferrying military advisers over Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, where US aircraft killed at least 34 this month (USAF)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

    A Pew Research Center poll finds strong support in the US for drone strikes Three US strikes kill at least 34 in Afghanistan The US continues to bomb Yemen in the midst of a brutal civil war British drones flew 301 missions over Iraq from September to the end of March

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

US drone strikes 417 97-117 9-13 5
Total reported killed 2,456-3,962 453-673 23-105 49-55
Civilians reported killed 423-962 65-97 0-5 0
Children reported killed 172-207 8-9 0 0
Reported injured 1,148-1,727 88-217 2-7 1

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

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

 

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

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

iii. Bureau analysis for May 2015:

A new poll this month shows the American drone campaign continues to enjoy popular support in the US as seven strikes reportedly kill 48-56 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.

According to the Pew Research Center poll, 58% of respondents approve of “US drone strikes to target extremists” with 35% who disapprove. Nearly half, 48%, are very concerned US drone attacks endanger the lives of innocent civilians.

The research was carried out over seven days from May 12, 19 days after President Obama told the nation drones had killed Warren Weinstein, a US civilian, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian civilian.

It is not clear how intense media coverage of the deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto, and the drone war in general, affected what respondents said. However support for drones appears to have grown slightly since Pew last polled on the matter, up from 56% in February 2013.

In fact concern about civilian casualties seems to have fallen – 53% of the 2013 poll respondents said they were very concerned drones “endanger civilian lives”. It is not a direct comparison: Pew polled fewer people in February 2013 than in May 2015, and did not poll Alaska or Hawaii.

Also in May, the British government released data on anti-Islamic State air operations showing the Royal Air Force flew 301 Reaper drone missions over Iraq between the start of UK operations against Isis last September and the end of March.

The numbers were obtained by the Drone Wars UK organisation, which showed the British Reaper drones fired 102 Hellfire missiles on 87 separate occasions.

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

1. Pakistan

The Bureau’s complete Pakistan data set is available to download as a spreadsheet.

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, May 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 2 9 417
Total reported killed 7-13 40-58 2,456-3,962
Civilians reported killed 0 2 423-962
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 0 15-21 1,148-1,727

 

CIA drone strikes continued in Pakistan. The first of two strikes killed 4-7 people on May 16, ending a 34 day pause. The attack hit a domestic compound reportedly being used by the Pakistan Taliban. There were no named dead though both Pakistanis and foreigners were killed, according to anonymous Pakistani officials.

The second strike hit on May 18, hours after the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the first attack. It released a statement repeating its “call for a cessation of such strikes,” describing them as counter-productive. The second attack reportedly killed 3-6 people, none of them identified, when it hit a domestic compound and possibly a vehicle.

The two strikes in May represent a slight increase from the solitary strikes that reportedly hit Pakistan in March and April. It is below the intense period in January when five attacks killed 26-38 people, the highest number of people killed per strike since August 2014.

Both attacks hit in the Shawal area – a forested region of steep valleys that straddles the North and South Waziristan as well as the Pakistan and Afghanistan border. Several armed groups reportedly have long established strongholds there because of its location and inhospitable terrain. Seven of the nine strikes so far this year have reportedly hit within the Shawal.

The Pakistan military was this month reportedly preparing to send troops into the Shawal, 11 months after it began its ongoing military operation in North Waziristan. The scale and progress of this push into the Shawal were unclear, Reuters reported. The area was said to be off limits to journalists with roads blocked and telephone cables cut.

2. Afghanistan

The Bureau has yet to publish its Afghanistan data in a downloadable form. The full timeline of strikes is available here.

Afghanistan: confirmed US drone and air strikes
All strikes, May 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date
All US strikes 3 9
Total reported killed 34 78-91
Civilians reported killed 0 0
Children reported killed 0 0
Total reported injured 1 1

 

Three confirmed US strikes killed 34 people in May – almost half the total number of people reported killed since January and the most in a single month this year, according to available reporting.

This increase in casualties came as Taliban attacks battered the Afghan army and police across the country. The insurgents continued to battle with Afghan forces around the capital of the northern Kunduz province, in Helmand in the south, and even in Kabul.

The confirmed US attacks all hit Nangarhar province and all reportedly killed named, alleged Taliban commanders.

The first killed 17 people on May 4. This was the highest reported death toll from a single strike since 18 were killed on January 3. The provincial police spokesman said: “A Taliban commander named Mullah Daoud is among the dead.”

A local resident told Afghan news service Pajhwok two strikes hit in quick succession. “Soon after the first attack, rebels came to collect bodies of their colleagues when [the rescuers] came under another attack,” he said. If true, this could demonstrate the continuation of a controversial tactic used by the CIA in Pakistan of deliberately targeting rescuers, first exposed by the Bureau in 2012.

The second confirmed US attack on May 9 killed 13 including Gul Agha, reportedly the Taliban’s shadow governor in the province. He had been put on a US government sanctions list in 2010, described as “the head of the Taliban’s financial commission and is part of a recently-created Taliban council that coordinates the collection of zakat [tithe] from Baluchistan Province, Pakistan.”

The third US attack killed four people on May 14 including Taliban commander Muslahuddin. A US military spokesman told the Bureau the US carried out the three Nangarhar strikes but said he was “not going to discuss the details of those strikes”.

Ten other air strikes that killed 37-75 people were reported in Afghanistan this month. All were described as US attacks but the Bureau has not yet been able to confirm that. The Bureau’s data provides only a part of the whole picture. The US military publishes summary data each month but will not release information on individual strikes.

The high number of confirmed and possible US attacks, and casualties, came as Taliban insurgents were reportedly fighting with Afghan forces in 10 provinces. “This is the worst fighting season in a decade,” according to analyst Attiqullah Amerkhil. “There is now fighting in every part of the country.”

3. Yemen

The Bureau’s complete Yemen data set is available to download as a spreadsheet.

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, April 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 3 9-10 96-116
Total reported killed 10-12 29-44 450-670
Civilians reported killed 0 1-3 65-97
Children reported killed 0 1-2 8-9
Total reported injured 2 2 88-217

 

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

There were five reported US strikes in Yemen this month. However the Bureau has only been able to confirm three were US operations.

The first confirmed US attack killed four men on May 11 in Mukalla, the capital of the eastern province of Hadramout. The strike killed four al Qaeda members, identified as: Maamoun Hatem, Abu Anwar al Kutheiri, Mohammed Saleh al Gharabi and Mabkhout Waqash al Sayeri. Hatem (below) was reportedly among the more prominent supporters in Yemen of the Islamic State group.

تم التأكد من خبر #استشهاد_الشيخ_مأمون_حاتم ان لله وإن اليه راجعون تقبلك الله في الفردوس pic.twitter.com/FGM1DEm3pr

— حساب معطل (@tunisfallouja) May 11, 2015

The US has continued targeting al Qaeda in Yemen as a brutal civil war rages. The fighting between a complex mix of competing militias and factions halted for a five-day humanitarian ceasefire at 11pm on May 12. The second US strike killed three people in Shabwa province. It hit on May 16, the day before the ceasefire ended.

The third US attack killed 3-5 in the southern province of Shabwa on May 22. Local officials, tribal sources and security officials said US drones destroyed a vehicle in the province, killing several al Qaeda members. The two further possible US strikes all reportedly hit in Shabwa province as well.

On May 27 Saudi air strikes across the border in northern Yemen and in Sanaa killed at least 80 people, the deadliest day of bombing since the strikes began in March, according to Reuters. Forty people were reportedly killed in strikes in the Hajjah province, most of them civilians according to local sources. Forty more were reportedly killed in strikes in Sanaa a few hours later.

The months of bombing, shelling and street battles mean Yemen’s key infrastructure has been smashed. Food is in short supply, airport runways have been bombed, and a fuel shortage has stopped many water pumps from working.

“The infrastructure, health, all the other vital services people need, they’re in a state of collapse,” according to the director of operations at the UN’s Organisation for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] has been describing the situation as catastrophic and I think that is about the best word to describe the plight of the Yemeni people right now.”

The UN estimates nearly 2,000 people have died since the conflict began. There are 1,037 civilians reportedly among the dead, including 234 children and 134 women.

Also this month, three Yemeni men brought an unprecedented case against the German government in a court in Cologne. The men, relatives of two men killed in an August 2012 drone strike, “called upon the German government to accept legal and political responsibility for the US drone war in Yemen and to prohibit the use of Ramstein,” according to their lawyers.

Ramstein is a US air base in Germany which is a key hub in the network controlling US drones over Asia and the Middle East. It acts as a relay station, sending information it receives in real time via undersea cables from the US, directly to satellites and on to the drones. Their first attempt was defeated, however the men were given leave to appeal the decision.

4. Somalia

The Bureau’s complete Somalia data set is available to download as a spreadsheet.

Somalia: all US drone strikes
All strikes, May 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2007 to date
All US strikes 0 2-3 9-13
Total reported killed 0 5-72 23-105
Civilians reported killed 0 0-4 0-5
Children reported killed 0 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0 2-7

 

There were no reported US strikes in Somalia for the second month running. However an al Shabaab commander died of natural causes this month having at least twice survived US attacks.

Ethiopian Hasan al Turki, 73, died after a long illness, al Shabaab reported. He met Osama Bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan and in Sudan, al Shabaab’s spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rageh said.

Al Turki (below) was added to the US Treasury Department al Qaeda sanctions list in 2001 and the UN Security Council’s al Qaeda list in 2004.

Sheikh Hassan Al-Turki was ex-military colonel in the army, ex-Al-Itihad and co-founder of Raskamboni & Hisbul Islam. pic.twitter.com/fuTN22lThR — Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) May 28, 2015

On January 23 2007 the US killed eight people, possibly including civilians, in an AC-130 gunship attack. It was meant to kill al Turki, then a deputy leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), as well as Ahmed Madobe a fellow ICU leader. The US reportedly missed al Turki again on March 3 2008 with a cruise missile fired from a US warship. Al Turki was then leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigades, an Islamist insurgent group in southern Somalia that merged with al Shabaab in 2010.

Also this month, al Shabaab continued to demonstrate it is a dangerous enemy for both the Somali and Kenyan governments.

John Kerry was the first US secretary of state to visit Somalia on May 5. He spent three hours in the highly fortified diplomatic enclave near Mogadishu’s airport before flying back into Kenya. The next day Abdifatah Barre, the deputy district commissioner of Mogadishu’s Wadajir district, was murdered by al Shabaab on the streets of the capital.

On May 23 fighting between al Shabaab and government forces reportedly left at least 24 people dead in southern Somalia. Four people were also shot dead in Mogadishu by al Shabaab, including a parliamentarian.

In Kenya, al Shabaab took control of a village on May 21 for several hours. The group forced the villagers to the mosque where they preached at them for two hours before leaving. It attacked a second village the next day, also in Garissa Count. Al Shabaab said it took control of Yumbis village for eight hours though the Kenyan interior ministry claimed its forces had successfully repelled the attack. A local resident told al Jazeera masked al Shabaab fighters had planted their black flag throughout the village.

The following week al Shabaab gunmen attacked two police patrols in Garissa, triggering a gun battle that the armed group claimed left 25 Kenyans dead. The police said one of its men had been killed. The instability in Garissa forced Medecin Sans Frontier (MSF) to evacuate a third of its staff from Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. It sits near the Somali border and is home to thousands of ethnic Somalis. MSF said it was forced to close two of its four health posts there and suspend its ante-natal work entirely.

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

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

Published

May 7, 2015

Written by

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

The funeral of Akram Shah, a government employee, killed with at least four other locals, all civilians, in June 2011 (THIS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Bureau revealed recently, the accidental killing of American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giorgio Lo Porto by the CIA in January now means at least 38 Westerners have been killed by covert US drones in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Yet, as a major analysis of the nationalities killed by such strikes shows, this figure is just 1.6% of the total dead who the Bureau has established their country or region of origin.

There have now been 515 US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2002, killing at least 2,887 people. Of those, the Bureau has been able to determine where 2,353 came from. They include Moroccans, Kenyans and Syrians – drawn from 34 countries in all.

The majority however came from the country they died in. More than 60% of those killed in Pakistan were reportedly from Pakistan. More than 80% of those killed in Yemen were reportedly Yemenis. For Somalia, information about the dead is more limited, but where the Bureau has been able to find details, 45% of those killed were Somali.

This data is not in itself surprising – experts have told the Bureau the majority of armed groups in these countries are made up of local people.

But how much the local populations have been in the drones’ firing line had hitherto not been quantified. The Bureau compiled this data in conjunction with Chris Woods for his new book Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone War.

This demonstrates the extent to which in Pakistan the US has been hitting the insurgents who have used the country’s tribal areas as a safe-haven from which to launch attacks on US and allied troops in Afghanistan. In Yemen, the US has been fighting with the government on one side of a complicated civil war.

The civilian toll from all CIA strikes in Pakistan also falls on the local population. Of the minimum 423 civilians reported killed, three have been clearly identified as coming from outside the Central Asian region. Lo Porto and Weinstein were Westerners, and Umm al Shaymah was the Egyptian wife of al Qaeda terrorist Mustafa Abu Yazid. Al Shaymah’s three daughters were also killed in the attack though it is not clear if they were born in Egypt or Pakistan.

Details on many of the dead are difficult to come by. For example, the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project has over two years painstakingly pieced together information on the dead in Pakistan – but it has only named 721 of at least 2,449 people killed.

The gaps in the CIA’s data could stem from its use of tactics like signature strikes.

The CIA itself also has an incomplete understanding of who has been killed in its strikes. Leaked Agency records of its attacks in Pakistan show nearly one in four strikes killed “other militants” whom the CIA could not identify either by name or group affiliation. The data also shows the CIA records estimates of casualties in ranges, reflecting uncertainty in the total number of people killed, not just the identity.

The gaps in the CIA’s data could stem from its use of tactics like signature strikes.

Signature strikes kill people not based on their identity but on a pattern of life analysis – an intelligence assessment built up over prolonged surveillance. There is considerable scope for error in these kinds of attacks. The January 15 attack that killed Lo Porto and Weinstein was a signature strike. After days of surveillance of the house they were held in, the CIA determined four unidentified al Qaeda members were inside. The CIA knew it had made a mistake when six bodies were removed from the structure.

Related story: Hostage deaths mean 38 Westerners killed by US drone strikes

Controversial Tactics

The high proportion of Pakistanis among the drone dead could be a consequence of other controversial CIA tactics.

The CIA’s targeting policies have taken their toll on the Pakistani population of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), even when the drones were not aiming at a local target. On October 30 2006 drones destroyed a madrassa in Bajaur agency. The target was reportedly Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy. The strike missed him but killed at least 79 Pakistani civilians, most of them children.

The high number of Pakistanis and people from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan reportedly killed by drones could also demonstrate how the US has expanded its range of drone targets in the country. The early strikes were intended for two groups: al Qaeda terrorists the CIA was gunning for, and Pakistani terrorists who Islamabad wanted dead.

According to the New York Times, Pakistan and the CIA came to an agreement before the drone campaign began. The US could take out its al Qaeda targets if it also killed Pakistan’s enemies.

Since 2004, the strikes appear to have taken their toll on the traditionally Arab membership of al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Bureau has recorded at least 107 people killed by drones in Pakistan who reportedly came from Middle Eastern, or north and east African countries such as Egypt, Libya and Sudan. A further 116 people were simply described as “Arabs”.

The first drone strike in June 2004 killed Nek Mohammed, a Pakistani militant who defied the Pakistani military and forced the army into a humiliating ceasefire two months before his death. The second strike, in May 2005, took out Haitham al Yemeni – an al Qaeda explosives expert from Yemen.

Documents reviewed by McClatchy news agency confirmed a secret deal between US and Pakistani officials ensured the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart the ISI worked together to kill both countries’ enemies.

The rate of strikes increased during the Obama administration as did the number of casualties and the number of Arabs among them. With the number of veteran al Qaeda fighters dwindling, a “deep bench” of terrorists from Pakistani and Central Asian terrorist groups stepped up to replace them, an unnamed US intelligence official told the Long War Journal in 2012.

Total killed, and their country or region of origin, from US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia
Pakistan 1,370 US 10 China 4 Morocco 2
Yemen 175 Libya 8 Jordan 4 Tunisia 1
Uzbekistan 138 UK 8 Syria 4 Sudan 1
“Pashtun” 136 Germany 7 “Africa” 3 Belgium or Swiss 1
“Arab” 119 Turkey 6 Tajikistan 3 Palestine 1
Afghanistan 90 Kuwait 6 Algeria 3 Lebanon 1
“Foreign” 86 Iraq 6 Australia 3 Russia (Chechen) 1
“Central Asia” 73 Somalia 6 Spain 2 Bahrain 1
Egypt 29 Kenya 5 Iran 2 Italy 1
Saudi Arabia 28 “Western” 4 Canada 2

The number of Arab fighters fell “dramatically” after around 2009 when US drone strikes and Pakistani military offensives took their toll on al Qaeda’s ranks, Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on armed groups in the Fata, told the Bureau

There was a significant population of Arabs in the Fata, Yusufzai continued. “But numbers have gone down drastically… I don’t think that there would be more than 200.”

Fewer young Arab men are following the traditional path to Pakistan to fight in Afghanistan, he said. “It is not easy [to] come here and stay here. There is better security, better controls at the airport [and] on the borders.”

This leaves the veterans “who are living here for years, who can’t go back, who are most wanted. So they are here moving back and forth across the border between [Afghanistan and Pakistan].”

According to US administration officials from President Obama down, Washington uses its drones to hunt “al Qaeda and associated forces”.

This vague phrasing is believed to include the various factions. These include those Pakistan as a haven while fighting with the insurgency in Afghanistan, such as the Haqqani Network and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and groups set against the Pakistani state, including the Pakistan Taliban and Lashkar e Jangvi.

The CIA’s own data demonstrates it has targeted a wider array of armed groups than just al Qaeda.

Pakistanis make up nearly two-thirds of those people killed by drones in Pakistan, according to Bureau research.

In 2013, the McClatchy news agency published a leaked section of the CIA’s internal drone strike record of attacks and casualties in a 12-month period leading up to September 2011. It shows that nearly half the strikes in that period “hit groups other than al Qaeda, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions.” It also shows “the CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.”

These organisations comprise Pakistanis, Afghans and Uzbeks. They are the largest groupings of fighters by nationality, according to Yousufzai, and it is unsurprising there are so many of them listed in the Bureau’s data.

Pakistanis make up nearly two-thirds of those people killed by drones in Pakistan, according to Bureau research. This figure rises to 72% when people from the wider region – those described as Uzbeks, Central Asian or Pashtun – are included.

The lower frequency of strikes in the early years of the drone war demonstrates some constraint on the campaign. However in 2008 President Bush gave the CIA greater freedom in its strikes in Pakistan – including giving them permission to specifically target westerners, as revealed by Woods.

A surge in CIA strikes

This leeway from the White House precipitated a surge in CIA strikes in the second half of 2008. This continued in 2009 before the CIA stepped up the intensity again in 2010.

In December 2009 the Pakistan Taliban and al Qaeda sent a suicide bomber to Camp Chapman, a CIA base in Khost province, Afghanistan. The attack left seven CIA personnel dead. After the bombing, the CIA’s “shackles were unleashed” according to an unnamed intelligence official. “The CIA went to war,” another official said, adding: “The White House stood back.”

Related story: Could German court halt White House’s ‘illegal’ drone war? An exclusive extract from Chris Woods’ new book Sudden Justice

The US carried out 128 drone strikes in Pakistan that year, 23 in September alone, the peak of the drone war. At least 755 people were killed, 89 of them reportedly civilians. At least 510 of the dead were said to be from Pakistan or elsewhere in Central Asia – at least 72 of them civilians.

In Yemen the US has hit proportionally more local people than in Pakistan. The Bureau however has only managed to determine place of origin for 179 of the minimum 436 people killed by drones there. This partial picture shows more than four fifths of them were Yemeni which fits with the established understanding of the make-up of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

It was formed in 2007 from an amalgamation of veterans from al Qaeda groups based in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It has largely retained this composition, Yemen expert and Buzzfeed’s writer-at-large Gregory Johnsen told the Bureau. “They have an international aspect but certainly the vast majority of the organisation continues to be Yemeni and then Saudi.”

Who exactly is a member of AQAP has always been hard to determine in Yemen, not least because AQAP has formed alliances of convenience with various Yemeni tribes. In the past, the tribes would side with al Qaeda in their fight against the central government in Sanaa. Now, the tribes have united with fellow Sunnis in AQAP against the Shia Houthi rebels who have swept through Yemen in the past six months, ousting the president into exile.

“Membership in this group, and particularly now given the fluid situation on the ground in Yemen, is really really hard to determine,” says Johnsen.

“I am not convinced that we what we are doing in Yemen makes sense either politically or even that we’re striking the right people… You get more of a sense that we may be involved in a local conflict more than a global conflict.”

– Former DOD official

“It is hard to determine who are fighters who are local fighters in Yemen who are joining and affiliating with al Qaeda only as a way to, say, combat the Houthis, and who are members who are joining with the organisation in a way that accepts wholeheartedly their ideology both the national and what al Qaeda would call the transnational Jihad.”

Throughout all, the US has supported the government in Sanaa which has strongly supported Washington’s counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen. As one US official said in April 2012, this has led the US into a complicated conflict: “I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.”

This was echoed by a former senior US Department of Defence official who told Woods: “I am not convinced that what we are doing in Yemen makes sense either politically or even that we’re striking the right people… You get more of a sense that we may be involved in a local conflict more than a global conflict.”

The US took sides in a civil war in Somalia when it backed an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, ostensibly aimed at crushing al Shabaab. The group had become the dominant force in the country. Since 2007 the US has provided air strikes and intelligence support to various African countries that have sent troops to the Horn of Africa to support the government in Mogadishu.

The Bureau’s data on drone strikes in Somalia is limited because of the difficulties in obtaining information in a country racked by decades of conflict. The Bureau has the nationality of 12 of at least 23 people killed with drones in Somalia.

Eight are from Somalia or Kenya which is generally consistent with the structure of the group, according to Dr Stig Jarle Hansen, associate professor of international relations at the Norwegian University of Life Science.

It is now 13 years since the US started its covert drone wars and it is clear its targets have expanded beyond al Qaeda. It is also clear that the local men who make up these other targeted entities have been hit more than anyone. The US still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and AQAP looks set to exploit the calamitous situation in Yemen. With CIA director John Brennan warning an audience in Washington the war on terror could continue indefinitely it is inevitable the death toll among local communities will rise.

Data for this investigation came in part from the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project which is supported by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Visualisation by Krystina Shveda

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

Published

May 1, 2015

Written by

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

Spanish citizen Raquel Burgos Garcia died in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan in 2005. (AP Photo/Nicolas Asfouri)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

    Drones have killed 38 Westerners since 2002 including two al Qaeda hostages killed in January. US air strikes continue in Afghanistan but the vacuum of information remains. Most drone strikes in Yemen in a month since November 2014 despite ongoing crisis.

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

US drone strikes 415 94-114 9-13 2
Total reported killed 2,449-3,949 444-661 23-105 15-21
Civilians reported killed 423-962 65-96 0-5 0
Children reported killed 172-207 8 0 0
Reported injured 1,144-1,722 86-215 2-7 0

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

US air & cruise missile strikes N/A 15-72 8-11 4
Total reported killed N/A 145-365 40-141 29-36
Civilians reported killed N/A 68-99 7-47 0
Children reported killed N/A 26-28 0-2 0
People reported injured N/A 15-102 11-21 0

 

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

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

iii. Bureau analysis for April 2015:

Despite the world’s attention been focused on the CIA’s drone programme in Pakistan, after President Obama officially apologised for killing two al Qaeda hostages including an American and an Italian in a drone strike in January, there has been very little activity in the covert war in Pakistan this month. Just one strike hit the country in April, the first for 25 days.

Strikes continue in Afghanistan. However there remains a considerable deficit between the number of strikes taking place according to aggregated figures produced by the US and the number of attacks reported in the media. US air and ground forces have had to come to the aid of the Afghan army and police as the Taliban has ramped up its attacks in the summer fighting season.

In Yemen Saudi jets and ships continued to pound cities and towns, as the country collapsed into chaos. More than 1,200 people have been killed already, according to the UN. Among this carnage, the US has carried out four drone strikes – this is more than any month since November 2014.

Once again there were no US strikes reported in Somalia. However, a massacre committed by al Shabaab in eastern Kenya spurred the Kenyan air force to strike southern Somalia. Al Shabaab murdered 147 students in Garissa university – Nairobi swiftly struck back and claimed to have killed hundreds of al Shabaab fighters.

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

1. Pakistan

The Bureau’s complete Pakistan data set is available to download as a spreadsheet.

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes
All strikes, April 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2004 to date
CIA drone strikes 1 7 415
Total reported killed 4 33-45 2,449-3,949
Civilians reported killed 0 2 423-962
Children reported killed 0 0 172-207
Total reported injured 2 11-16 1,144-1,722

 

An Italian and three US citizens were killed in two drone strikes in January, it emerged this month.

As the Bureau revealed this month, the four deaths mean 38 Westerners have been reported killed in the US covert drone war since 2002 – 30 of them in Pakistan.

Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein were both aid workers taken hostage by al Qaeda in 2012 and 2011 respectively. They were killed along with Ahmed Farouq, an American member of al Qaeda, in a January 15 strike according to Bureau analysis. Adam Gadahn, an American al Qaeda propagandist, was killed in a subsequent strike on January 19 or 28.

President Barack Obama acknowledged Lo Porto and Weinstein had been killed in a US drone strike. Apologising for the mistake, he promised an investigation into the attack that killed them.

The death of the hostages reignited two debates: whether the CIA should be carrying out the strikes and whether the current system of oversight was sufficient to ensure the campaign was prosecuted properly.

Eleven days before the announcement the CIA reportedly killed four people in the first drone strike in 25 days. There were limited details about who was killed though they reportedly belonged to a faction of the Pakistan Taliban.

The attack hit in the Shawl area, a region of steep valleys and thick woods that straddles the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as South and north Waziristan. It has long been a stronghold for various armed groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Five of the seven strikes in Pakistan this year have hit in the Shawal.

Also this month, the former Islamabad station chief has been appointed as a deputy chief of counter-intelligence at the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center – the entity that runs the CIA’s drone programme. Jonathan Bank, 47, had to flee Pakistan in 2010 after being named in a court case brought by the relatives of drone strike victims.

That same case has continued in Pakistan and this month the police in Islamabad transferred responsibility for the criminal investigation to the jurisdiction of the Fata Secretariat – the bureaucratic body that runs Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

2. Afghanistan

The Bureau has yet to publish its Afghanistan data in a downloadable form. The full timeline of strikes is available here.

Afghanistan: confirmed US drone and air strikes
All strikes, April 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date
All US strikes 0 6
Total reported killed 0 44-57
Civilians reported killed 0 0
Children reported killed 0 0
Total reported injured 0 0

 

Strikes continue in Afghanistan with three attacks reported separately by two named senior provincial police officers.

One of the three strikes, on April 17, was reported by a single media source that the Bureau has shown in the past to be unreliable. It is included in the timeline of strikes but awaits further investigation before being included in the casualty estimates or struck out altogether.

It continues to be a struggle to obtain information on individual strikes in Afghanistan. The three attacks recorded by the Bureau are a fraction of the air sorties believed to be hitting Taliban targets. The New York Times reported the US “is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending Special Operations troops directly into harms way”.

The winter snows have receded and Afghanistan’s so-called “fighting season” has started. Violence peaked last year in Afghanistan as the Nato coalition withdrew from the front line, leaving the Afghan army and police to tackle a resurgent Taliban.

The fighting in 2014 was particularly fierce in part because, without western air support, the insurgents were able to collect in greater numbers and carry out prolonged attacks on army and police positions. The ensuing firefights, involving allegedly indiscriminate use of explosive weapons like mortars, took their toll especially on the civilian population caught in the middle.

The Taliban has hit the northern province of Kunduz especially hard this year. Protracted attacks in and around the provincial capital have left the Afghan army scrambling. A counter-offensive reportedly involved considerable air support with jets from “the US-led coalition,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

3. Yemen

The Bureau’s complete Yemen data set is available to download as a spreadsheet.

Yemen: all confirmed US drone strikes
All strikes, April 2015 All strikes, 2015 to date All strikes, 2002 to date*
All US strikes 4-5 7-8 94-114
Total reported killed 13-22 23-35 444-661
Civilians reported killed 0 1-2 65-96
Children reported killed 0 1 8
Total reported injured 0 0 86-215

 

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

Four US drone strikes hit alleged al Qaeda targets in eastern Yemen in April while the Saudi air force hammered towns and cities in the western half of the country.

This is the most confirmed drone strikes in a month since November 2014. At least 13 people were killed – the highest death toll in a month since two drone strikes killed 20 people in December 2014.

At least three of the strikes appear to have been carried out by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, according to the Washington Post.

The attacks were focused in the eastern provinces of Hadramout and Shabwah. Two of the strikes hit in Mukalla, Hadramout’s capital. The first killed Ibrahim al Rubaish, a leading propagandist and preacher within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The other killed Muhannad Ghallab, AQAP’s 35 year old Egyptian spokesman. He was killed when drones targeted a group of men sat on the Corniche by the waterfront in Mukalla at about 1am on April 22. He had become a widely quoted, anonymous AQAP source in several Western media outlets – including the Bureau.

The other two strikes targeted vehicles in Shabwa, killing 5-8 people as they drove through the area at night.

The US has continued its strikes against al Qaeda while Yemen is caught in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe. Various militias battle it out on the ground while Saudi air strikes and naval bombardments continue. The strikes have hammered the second city of Aden where Houthi snipers and tanks have reportedly targeted civilians as well as combatants.

Al-Qatee’, a 500 years old neighborhood. What once was a historical icon of the city of #Aden is now no more. @UNESCO pic.twitter.com/7JOI3GWvSF

— Aden Relief (@AdenRelief) April 29, 2015

The World Health Organisation estimates between March 19 and April 27 the violence had “claimed 1,244 lives and left 5,044 others injured, according to health facility-based reports”.

According to the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), all but two Yemeni governorates are “conflict affected”, as of April 25. Violence has disrupted health services at two major hospitals. Food, drinking water,essential medical supplies and fuel are scarce. An ongoing air and sea blockade by the Saudi-led coalition, ostensibly an effort to prevent weapons and fighters entering the country, are being blamed for the shortages. The International Committee of the Red Cross says Yemen’s health system is struggling to cope and that “import restrictions have made the situation worse”.

The situation in Aden appears to be especially dire. Swathes of the city have been destroyed by fire and explosive ordinance. The European Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Baron tweeted on April 28: “As fighting continues, whole neighborhoods in Aden… have effectively run out of food and water. Unfathomably horrific.”

4. Somalia

The Bureau’s complete Somalia data set is available to download as a spreadsheet.

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

 

There were no reported US drone strikes in Somalia this month. However al Shabaab brutally demonstrated it remains a potent threat to Somalia and its neighbour Kenya.

At 5.30am on April 2, al Shabaab gunmen stormed university dormitories in the eastern Kenyan city of Garissa. As many as 500 people were reportedly trapped in the building while the masked terrorists went room to room murdering the terrified students. In all 147 people died in the atrocity.

The attack raised questions of the Kenyan security services. Nairobi was accused of ignoring warnings from foreign governments of evidence of an impending attack and had told their citizens to avoid Garissa in the preceding week.

The Kenyan police and paramilitary forces appeared ill prepared to respond to the attack. Elite counter-terrorism units were first stuck in traffic on their way to an airport to fly to the scene. Then some of the team had to travel to Garissa by road as there was not enough space on the fixed-wing planes to carry the troops and their equipment. The siege eventually took 12 hours to resolve.

Nairobi responded to the university attack by swiftly bombing several al Shabaab camps in southern Somalia. The Kenyan Defence Forces claimed they destroyed each base, killing hundreds of fighters – an unlikely outcome, according to the Jamestown Foundation, considering only 10 jets were employed and conditions were cloudy.

Al Shabaab remains a threat within Somalia as well, assassinating “two city council officials, a former parliamentarian and a senior prison officer in Mogadishu” this month.

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

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

Published

April 27, 2015

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.

The US Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, has played a key role in the CIA drone strikes that killed seven Germany citizens (Flickr/US Army)

The debate over America’s use of drones to kill its own citizens has never been as intense. Last week in an unprecedented announcement, President Barack Obama admitted that CIA drones had killed three Americans in Pakistan in January, including al Qaeda hostage and aid worker Warren Weinstein.

It is not just Americans who have been killed. As new research by the Bureau shows, Weinstein is one of at least 38 Westerners to have been killed in the US’s covert drone war on terror. Citizens of some of America’s closest allies – the UK, Germany, Australia and Canada among them – are among the dead.

The deaths of these Westerners represent a mere fraction of the total death toll for drones. Yet their killing pose troubling questions for the White House over the legality of the programme. There is also growing concern within allied countries.

On May 27 a Cologne court will begin hearing complaints from three Yemeni survivors of a US drone strike, in a case brought by Reprieve and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

Complaints centre on the use of Ramstein airbase by the US. The Intercept recently published leaked top secret documents showing that all drone satellite data from Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia transits through the German military base.

That means Ramstein will inevitably have helped facilitate the drone killing of seven or more German citizens by America, actions which may give further traction to the impending lawsuit. Kat Craig, from Reprieve, told the Bureau: “The time has come for Germany and the US’s other Western allies to face the facts: they are complicit in an illegal and immoral war – one which violates their own legal framework and should see them prosecuted.” 

Could the case succeed? The track record of Europe’s courts on earlier CIA progammes, including torture and rendition, is not encouraging. 

In this exclusive extract from Chris Woods’ new book Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars, the former Bureau reporter shows how Germany’s role in the CIA’s covert drone wars has been highly controversial for years.

In early 2011, an urgent order was issued by Germany’s Interior Ministry: intelligence agencies could no longer pass information to the United States if there was any risk this might be used to kill German citizens. Berlin’s ban was triggered by a CIA drone strike on October 4, 2010, which according to early reports had killed as many as eight German nationals (two had in fact died).

In the days prior to that bombing, there were claims of impending terror attacks against Berlin and other European cities: “Terrorists plotting to carry out a Mumbai-style mas­sacre in Western Europe have a list of high-profile targets in their sights ranging from the Eiffel Tower to a hotel near Berlin’s famed Brandenburg Gate,” ran one of many such stories, with Fox News reporting that the source was “a German-Pakistani national interrogated at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous US official told Reuters: “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that links between plots and those who are orchestrating them lead to decisive American action. The terrorists who are involved are, as everyone should expect, going to be targets. That’s the whole point of all of this.”

Shahab Dashti – IMU propaganda

Binyamin Erdogan was talking in the courtyard of his rented home with fellow-German Shahab Dashti and three Pakistanis when a Hellfire missile detonated among them at around 7pm local time.

Erdogan’s widow, his pregnant sister-in-law, and infant nephew were just meters away, though survived unscathed. His brother Emrah was in a nearby room: “My eyes were full of earth because the houses were made of mud,” he later recalled. Staggering outside, he found Dashti mortally injured and his brother Binyamin dead.

Testimony from Emrah’s wife has described how her one-year-old son had been playing with his uncle in the courtyard only minutes before a US missile struck. She has recalled the scene imme­diately after: “The bodies of the three strangers had been cut into pieces by the attack and we could hardly find anything of them. The body of my brother-in-law lay in the soil. He was already dead and the back of his head had been blown apart… Although our friend´s [Dashti’s] hand was still trembling he was dead already as well… The whole courtyard had been turned to rubble by the attack.”

Related story: Hostage deaths mean 38 Westerners killed by US drone strikes, Bureau investigation reveals

Scared that he still risked being killed, and now on the run, the surviving brother contacted Hans-Christian Ströbele, the German Green Party MP:

Emrah contacted me via mail, apparently from Pakistan and at first anonymously. He told me what he’d experienced, that he was present during the drone strike and was indeed unbelievably lucky to survive. He also sent me photos of his dead brother and asked for my help.

Ströbele helped arrange for the return of Emrah Erdogan and his wife to Germany, where the former was ultimately imprisoned for seven years on terrorism-related charges.

Hans-Christian Strobele – German Green Party parliamentarian (Stephan Röhl)

It was widely assumed in media reports that those Germans bombed by the CIA in Waziristan had been involved in the “imminent terror plots” described just days beforehand.

Yet Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maziere had insisted at the time that “there is no concrete imminent attack plan that we are aware of… We are looking at every­thing but there is no fever thermometer of danger”.

The strike on the Erdogan home again raised concerns about the extent to which Western intelligence agencies were colluding in lethal operations. Discomfort at the deaths of Germans—coupled with the later criminal trials of Emrah Erdogan and others–saw key aspects of the intelligence process exposed.

It emerged, for example, that Germany’s intelligence agencies had known of the Erdogans’ presence in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, for many weeks prior to the attack. Indeed, all phone calls made by the men were being recorded and analysed.

In a prophetic conversation in August 2010, for example, Emrah described his life in “dangerous Waziristan” to his fam­ily in Germany. Stern magazine, which obtained transcripts of the con­versations, described how Erdogan believed that “houses are marked so that airplanes can identify them and bomb them more accurately.” Only an American air raid would ever be able to reach them, he said. Other calls reportedly described a planned suicide mission in Afghanistan by Binyamin which was designed to kill “many dozens of people”.

With the Mir Ali house under direct surveillance by both US and German intelligence agencies, it is unclear why the United States had proceeded with a lethal strike when it did—particularly since women and children were in immediate proximity to the targets.

Modelling of the strike that killed Erdogan by Forensic Architecture.

Questioned by the Bundestag’s oversight committee, the German intel­ligence community admitted, according to Ströbele, that on occasion “they gave information to US [intelligence] services but explicitly not for killings or executions by Special Commando or drones, they would not do this. Then I asked, ‘Can you exclude the possibility?’ and they answered, ‘No.’” A government minister later insisted that while the intelligence ser­vices did share cellphone data with “other foreign secret services,” this was “not specific enough to pinpoint exact locations”.

“The only question for me was whether Germany’s intelligence services had the intention to kill Binyamin or oth­ers, or just gave the information and didn’t ask any questions.”

– Marc Lindemann

Critics complained that such data could still lead the CIA’s drones to the near vicinity of a German citizen, from where its own electronic eavesdropping technologies might easily locate them. Under pressure from MPs, in January 2011 prosecu­tors opened a criminal investigation into whether Germany’s intelligence agencies had been complicit in the killing of citizens.

Marc Lindemann, a former Military Intelligence officer who has made a study of the Erdogan case, believes it was “pretty likely” that Germany shared material with the Americans related to the strike: “The only question for me was whether Germany’s intelligence services had the intention to kill Binyamin or oth­ers, or just gave the information and didn’t ask any questions.”

Yet almost three years later, the inquiry concluded that there were no charges to answer, since Binyamin Erdogan had been a “civilian combatant” and was therefore “lawfully killed”. Questions relating to intelligence-sharing were sidestepped.

Even as federal investigators gathered their evidence, other Germans were still being killed by the CIA in Pakistan—regardless of any ban on intelligence sharing. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Mohammad al-Faateh, a 27-year-old Berliner and suspected militant, was killed by the Americans in North Waziristan along with an alleged local Haqqani Network official and a Saudi Al Qaeda operative.

Seven months later, Samir Hatour also died. According to a martyrdom video obtained by SITE, a for-profit organisation that tracks the online activity of various extremist groups, “on the morning of March 9 2012, which was a Friday, Abu Laith [Hatour] went to his family, and on the way with three other mujahidin, the car he was in was fired upon by an American drone and the brothers died as martyrs.”

Ahmed B – the “King of Setterich” (from a eulogy video)

In October 2012 Ahmad B was also killed, a 24-year-old man of Moroccan origin who had been born in the town of Setterich in the German state of Aachen. Announcing his death, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (which took in many European radicals), pronounced in a 13-minute German-language video: “Dear brothers and sisters, the King of Setterich is now a martyr.”

As the longest-serving member of the Bundestag oversight commit­tee for Germany’s intelligence community, Ströbele was deeply con­cerned at the issues raised by the killing of Binyamin Erdogan and other nationals: “Our intelligence agencies always deny any involvement with surveillance and the use of drones, because they know that it is a very delicate issue here. First they would be liable to prosecution and sec­ond they would be violating the constitution.”

Sitting in a Berlin office stacked from floor to ceiling with box files of investigations he has con­ducted, Ströbele admitted to being disheartened at how little true over­sight politicians in Germany, Britain, and the United States now had over their respective intelligence services: “Too often we are dependent on good investigative journalists to get hold of certain facts, which then give us the chance to follow up with the intelligence services. Without the work of Spiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung and others, our work would be far less worthy or of no worth at all.”

It was a disturbing admission from a politician whose role was to help hold to democratic account the intelligence world.

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