US Forces in Somalia

Library image of an armed Reaper drone, December 2019 (US Air Force/ Senior Sergeant Haley Stevens)

start date
end date
145 Results
sort by:

Published

October 11, 2016

Written by

Jessica Purkiss
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
US Special Forces AC-130 gunships have been the primary platform for attacks in Somalia

Somali officials have claimed that the US killed 22 local soldiers and civilians in a drone strike that hit the north-central city of Galkayo late last month.

The US has confirmed it conducted a strike in the area on the same date, but claims all those killed were members of the Islamist militant group al Shabaab.

According to a press release from US Africa command, Somali forces were disrupting a bomb-making network when they were attacked by a group of al Shabaab fighters. The US intervened to “neutralize the threat”.

Officials in the semi-autonomous region of Galmudug dispute this, saying that the strike actually hit their forces. They have accused officials in the rival region Puntland of requesting US air support to attack the men on the pretext they were al Shabaab members.

The US has been carrying out covert operations against al Qaeda and its allies in Somalia since 2001. It has been using airstrikes to target alleged terrorist leaders and their henchmen since 2007, initially using gunships and cruise missiles, and more recently using drones.

The frequency of US strikes has increased considerably in the past two years. The US carried out 15 strikes from 2007-2014, according to the Bureau’s data. Seven of these were drone strikes and eight strikes were conducted using other weapons.

In 2015 alone there were 11 strikes and in the first nine months of 2016 there have already been 15 strikes.

The latest strike has been one of the most controversial.

In apparent support of the Galmudug officials’ claims, al Shabaab told BBC World’s Mary Harper that none of its fighters were targeted or killed by an air strike. The group also said that it has no fighters or bases in the area that was hit.

The situation on the ground in Somalia has meant details about drone strikes, including specifically who is killed, are often hard to come by.

There has been plenty of confused and at times contradictory reporting about this latest attack, not least because Galmudug and Puntland have clashed on a number of occasions.

Somalia’s government has taken an unusual step of asking the US to explain what happened during the attack.

At first the US brushed aside allegations of civilian casualties, telling the Bureau they believed the reports of non-combatant deaths were incorrect. However the US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the next day that the Pentagon would investigate the incident.

Follow the Bureau’s drone updates on Twitter: @latest_strike

Photo via Lockheed Martin/Flickr

 

Published

July 1, 2016

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.

Chris Woods set up the Bureau’s award-winning Drones Project in 2011, and is the author of Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars. He now runs Airwars, which monitors international airstrikes and civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.

Targeted killings or assassinations beyond the battlefield remain a highly charged subject. Most controversial of all is the number of civilians killed in US covert and clandestine drone strikes since 2002.

The new White House data relates only to Obama’s first seven years in office – during which it says 473 covert and clandestine airstrikes and drone attacks were carried out in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

The US claims that between 64 and 116 civilians died in these actions – around one non-combatant killed for every seven or so strikes. That official estimate suggests civilians are significantly more likely to die in a JSOC or CIA drone attack than in conventional US airstrikes. United Nations data for Afghanistan indicates that one civilian was killed for every 11 international airstrikes in 2014, for example.

But for Obama’s secret wars, the public record suggests a far worse reality. According to Bureau monitoring, between 2009 and 2015 an estimated 256 civilians have died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. A further 124 civilians are likely to have been slain in Yemen, with less than 10 non-combatants estimated killed in Somalia strikes. Similar tallies are reported by the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal.

So why have civilians been at greater risk from these covert and clandestine US airstrikes? Part of the answer lies in who the US kills. Many of those pursued are high value targets – senior or middle ranking terrorist or militant group commanders. Bluntly put, the higher the value of the target – and the greater the threat they represent to you – the more the laws of war allow you to put civilians in harm’s way.

The CIA also frequently missed those same high-value targets. A 2014 study by legal charity Reprieve suggested that US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan had killed as many as 1,147 unknown people in failed attempts to kill 41 named targets.

It’s also clear the CIA has been using a very different rule book. In an effort to lower civilian deaths in Afghanistan, international airstrikes on buildings and urban locations were mostly banned from 2008. Yet in Pakistan, more than 60% of CIA strikes have targeted domestic buildings (or “militant compounds”) according to Bureau research.

When President Obama apologised for the accidental 2015 killing of US aid worker Warren Weinstein, he revealed that the US had kept the target building under surveillance for “hundreds of hours” – yet had never known there were civilians inside. Many of the women and children credibly reported killed by the CIA in Pakistan have died in similar circumstances – though few of their deaths have ever been conceded.

Then there have been the more shocking tactics employed by the CIA. There was the deliberate targeting of funerals and rescuers, again first revealed by the Bureau. And the widespread use of so-called signature strikes during the Obama years – the targeting of suspects based not on their known identities, but on their behavioural patterns.

In the most notorious such incident, at least 35 civilians died when the CIA targeted a tribal meeting in 2011 – an action which significantly damaged US-Pakistani relations. None of those deaths appear have been included in the White House’s casualty estimates. Missing too are the 41 civilians – including 22 children – slain in a JSOC cruise missile strike on Yemen in 2009. These two events alone indicate more civilian deaths than all of those now admitted across seven years.

The CIA has long played down the number of civilians killed in its drone strikes. It was the Bureau which first challenged John Brennan after he claimed there had been no civilian deaths from CIA strikes for 15 months. The public record showed otherwise. Even leaked CIA documents demonstrated Brennan’s economy with the truth.

US Special Forces have also long hidden the true effect of their actions. Leaked cables obtained by Wikileaks revealed that under Obama, Centcom conspired with Yemen’s then-president to cover up US involvement in the deaths of civilians. And four years later, JSOC’s bombing of a Yemen wedding convoy led (anonymous) CIA officials to criticise the elite unit – even as the Pentagon publicly denied any civilian deaths.

Today’s official White House estimates should be read in the context of these continued evasions and untruths. Though welcome as a general step towards improved transparency – and with new rules which may reduce the risk to civilians – they do little to reconcile the continuing gulf between public estimates and official claims.

Image via USAF

Published

July 1, 2016

Written by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphic by Dean Vipond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibi Mamana

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: BBC

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

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

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

Evaluating the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber

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

Picture credit: Private

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling numbers of civilian casualties

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

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

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

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

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

Tariq Khan

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

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

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

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

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

Some reports suggested Wahid was 12 years old.

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

Unnamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published

March 7, 2016

Written by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download our complete Somalia data here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published

December 1, 2015

Written by

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

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

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

Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Yemen

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

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

There were no US drone strikes reported in Yemen in November, the second calendar month this year without a reported attack.

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

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

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

Somalia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Published

November 2, 2015

Written by

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

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

 

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

 

Pakistan

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Afghanistan

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

 

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

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

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

with at least one weapon release

328
Total CAS 3,372
Total weapons released 629

 

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

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

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

 

Yemen

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

 

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

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

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

— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) October 29, 2015

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

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

 

Somalia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Published

October 15, 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.

Former US drone operator Brandon Bryant (photo: Democracy Now!/You Tube)

As a parliamentary inquiry in Berlin explores Germany’s role in America’s drone wars, former drone operator Brandon Bryant tells the Bureau about what he saw of it during his time with the Air Force.

Bryant, who himself gave testimony to the inquiry today, said that drone operators in the US would interact with Ramstein Air Force base in Germany throughout the mission.

“It was a constant communication, before every mission after every mission and every time signal strength was weak or we might lose signal strength we’d always have to call Ramstein Air Force Base for troubleshooting,” he told the Bureau.

“They were the ones that handled all of our…feeds, and they were the ones that assigned us specific codes where we would connect to the relay.”

Ramstein is a well-known US base, but until recently little was known about its role in supporting drone operations. Earlier this year, the Intercept and Spiegel reported on the existence of classified documents adding further weight to allegations that Ramstein plays a vital role in relaying the satellite signal from the machines flying over the Middle East to pilots and analysts in the US. In May, three Yemeni plaintiffs who lost relatives in a drone strike brought a court case against the German government, though the judge dismissed it.

The Bundestag committee’s inquiry was originally set up in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of US surveillance activities worldwide, including in Germany.

As Bryant sees it, the stakes for the German government are high.

“Ramstein is enabling us to fly in countries where there is no declared warzone as well as declared warzones,” he said. “What does that it mean for us as a country, what does it mean for the German people as a country? Because if they accept the fact that we have used drones in illegal warzones and that’s ok then that makes them complicit in all the strikes we’ve messed up.”

Listen to the full podcast here

Follow Owen Bennett-Jones and Abigail Fielding-Smith on Twitter 

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

Published

October 5, 2015

Written by

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

A US Air Force Reaper in Afghanistan (Photo: US Air Force)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

i. Key points:

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

ii. The Bureau’s numbers:

Recorded US drone strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)

Yemen

(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia

(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan

(Jan 2015 to date)

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

 

Recorded US air and cruise missile strikes to date

Pakistan(June 2004 to date)**

Yemen(Nov 2002 to date)*

Somalia(Jan 2007 to date)*

Afghanistan(Jan 2015 to date)

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

 

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

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

 

iii. Bureau analysis for September 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONTHLY REPORT BY COUNTRY

 

1. Pakistan

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

 

Download our full Pakistan data set here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Afghanistan

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

 

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

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

with at least one weapon release

282
Total weapons released 523

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Yemen

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

 

Download our full Yemen data set here.

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

There were two confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen last month, and two possible US attacks in addition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Somalia

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

 

Download our full Somalia data set here.

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

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

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

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.