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November 9, 2011

Written by

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

On Monday October 31, 16-year-old Tariq Aziz was killed in a US drone strike near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Three days earlier, Bureau reporter Pratap Chatterjee met the teenager at a conference in Islamabad, where local people came together to discuss the impact of U.S. drone strikes in their communities.

Related article: Bureau reporter meets 16-year-old three days before US drone kills him.

In this interview, Chatterjee speaks to independent non-profit US program Democracy Now about how he came to meet Aziz, and the Bureau’s major investigation into the CIA-led US covert drone war.


The interview transcript follows:

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to look at the secret U.S. drone war in Pakistan. Late last month, a group of Pakistanis met in Islamabad to discuss the impact of U.S. drone strikes in their communities. One of the attendees was a boy named Tariq Aziz, who had volunteered to learn photography to begin documenting drone strikes near his home. Within 72 hours of the meeting, Tariq Aziz himself was killed in a U.S. drone strike. He was 16 years old. His 12-year-old cousin was also killed.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Pratap Chatterjee, a reporter for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, director of CorpWatch. He was in Pakistan this month and went to the news conference, where Tariq Aziz was just days before he was killed. Pratap is back now in London.

Pratap, tell us what took place in Islamabad, how you came to meet Tariq Aziz, and then what happened.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Amy, a group here in London called Reprieve, which is a legal charity, and a group in Islamabad by the name of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights worked with Waziristan elders to create a Waziristan Grand Jirga, in which they brought together elders and families of those that had been killed in the drone strikes over the last five years in northern Pakistan. So they met at the Margala Hotel, and this jirga was held on Friday the 28th.

And there were probably 35 people, who were families, relatives of people who were killed, including—among them was Tariq Aziz, whom I met briefly, who was 16. And he had lost his cousin 18 months ago. His cousin’s name is Aswar Ullah, who was killed when he was riding a motorbike near their home village of Norak.

So, at that meeting, the elders, as is typical in a jirga, met to discuss what had happened. They adopted a resolution condemning the strikes and then went to a rally organized by Imran Khan. And Tariq Aziz traveled with all of us to the rally. There were lawyers. There were reporters. It was an open meeting, an open rally in front of the parliament in Islamabad.

After that, Tariq Aziz and the other attendees returned to their homes. And 72 hours later, when Tariq was traveling with his 12-year-old cousin to go pick up his aunt on Monday morning, he was killed in a drone strike.

AMY GOODMAN: He had expressed concern, at the news conference, of going home?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, Amy, he was not at the news conference, but at the jirga. I think every one of the people there were very aware of the situation that they were in, because in every village around Mir Ali, Miranshah, there are drones, often 24 hours a day. So people were aware of the threat to them. Yet they volunteered—Tariq, in particular, because he, at his age in that remote community, was familiar with computers, was excited about the idea of being able to document the civilian casualties. There’s a photographer who’s been doing that for three years—Noor Behram is his name—and he’s been doing a lot of documentation. Tariq was one of the young men who had volunteered to help him out and to be able to document, you know, the devastation that had happened in their own family.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Pratap, he is now one of about 175 children that have been killed in these drone strikes in recent years in Pakistan? And what about the rest of civilian casualties?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Exactly, Juan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, where I work, has created a database of everybody that has been killed since these drone strikes began a number of years ago under Bush. Eighty-five percent of them have taken place under Barack Obama. And we have used the most conservative counting methodology that we can. We only record a death if it is confirmed by multiple sources. So if it’s reported by AP and then re-reported by the New York Times, we don’t count it. It has to be reported by multiple sources. And using that methodology, we have counted over 2,300 people that have been killed, and as many as 3,000. And when we have found an individual below the age of 18—a child, in other words—we have identified them separately. And we have documented at least 175 children, together with the number of women that have been killed in these strikes, that have been casualties of this secret war in Afghanistan. So, Waheed Khan, age 12, and Tariq Aziz, age 16, were the 174th and 175th documented child casualties in this war.

One of the things that John Brennan and many people in the administration are fond of saying is, “These are all militants.” Well, I question how a 12-year-old could be a militant in this war. But more than that, the very fact that I personally was able to meet them in an open, public meeting in Islamabad, I question as to whether the CIA is really attempting to identify people before they kill them, because if this person was a militant, they could well have met them in Islamabad, as did hundreds of other people. And at the press conference, there were—I counted 23 cameras. At the jirga, there were a dozen cameras. There are thousands of people in the streets of Islamabad. It would have been so easy for the CIA, the ISI, to come question these kids, to have taken them aside, even put them in jail or interrogated them, send them to Guantánamo. But instead they chose to kill them. This, to my mind, suggests that these—their information is erroneous, that there is collateral damage. And these are children that they are killing.

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap, I’m looking at Clive Stafford Smith’s piece, who heads up Reprieve, that gathered that group together. He said, “I told the elders [that] the only way to convince the American people of their suffering was to accumulate physical proof that civilians had been killed… Tariq stepped forward. He volunteered to gather proof if it would help to protect his family from future harm. We told him to think about it some more before moving forward.” I ask about the importance of documenting evidence. That was Clive Stafford Smith talking about the 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, who then went home to do that documentation and was killed with his 12-year-old cousin.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Amy, one of the problems here is that because Waziristan is inaccessible to Western reporters, and indeed even Pakistani reporters from the cities, when the CIA or the Pakistani government, Pakistani military, says they have killed militants, high-level targets, there is no way to prove otherwise. So the only way that’s possible is to gather physical evidence. At last week in Islamabad, in fact continuing as we speak, there is an exhibit of seven fragments of Hellfire missiles that I have seen and photographed myself, with serial numbers on them, that local villagers have picked up and can date to the dates of these attacks. So there’s physical evidence that those missiles, with those serial numbers, have hit communities in Waziristan.

They have—Noor Behram has been very meticulous in taking photographs, as soon as a drone strike takes place, of individuals that have been killed. But these strikes take place over a very large area. And the only way to be able to prove that the CIA is killing innocent people is to muster as many people as possible, give them cameras, and try and arrange to prove that the CIA is wrong. And that is what Tariq Aziz was trying to do, that is what a number of people have been trying to do, because nobody believes people from Waziristan. All they believe, all the information they get, is from the CIA. And that information is clearly wrong, as I have experienced myself.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Pratap, what is the reaction, if any, of the Pakistani government to these continued killings of civilians in their country?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Well, the Pakistani government speaks, like the U.S. government, with many voices. By and large, they are silent. They sometimes claim that the U.S. government is doing this without their own permission. But there are also military officials in Pakistan who have claimed that every person that has been killed has been a militant. And this is part of the problem, is that even though, you know, the government supposedly is not involved in this, there is a nod and wink going on, where they are working with the CIA, they are working with the White House, in order to be able to ensure that, you know, there is no culpability.

Here’s the thing. In Pakistan, if somebody is killed, just as in the U.S., we would—the state would intervene and investigate the murder. In Pakistan, the family can sue. A blood money can be paid. And in fact, the U.S. government, in many countries, has done this. It’s called solatia payments. In Afghanistan, in Iraq, the U.S. has compensated people that they have killed by accident. In Pakistan, that does not take place. The Pakistani government, the U.S. government, the local courts have not intervened.

And so, Shahzad Akbar, who’s a lawyer with the Foundation for Fundamental Rights in Pakistan, is trying to bring justice to these communities. He has worked with a journalist by the name of Kareem Khan—and Kareem, in fact, has lost his son and his brother in drone strikes—and he brought a lawsuit last December against the CIA. He named Jonathan Banks, the head of the CIA, who then fled the country. Today Shahzad is working to try and bring these kinds of lawsuits against the Pakistani government, against the CIA, to try and get compensation for these communities, because the Pakistani government is not stepping up to the plate. There is one politician today, Imran Khan, who is trying to change this. And he has said that he is going to, if he is elected, to try and bring justice and to deny the U.S. government permission to kill innocent people in Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: He is the famous cricketer who conceivably will run for president, is that right, of Pakistan? And people can go to our website at to see the different interviews that we’ve done with him as he has come to the United States. Pratap?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Imran Khan is running for the 2013 elections. Until recently, he was actually considered kind of a marginal player. But interestingly, the day the rally that Tariq Aziz attended, perhaps 2,000 people went to that Imran Khan rally. Nawaz Sharif had 35,000 people. But the following day in Lahore, Imran Khan had over 100,000 people, some believe as many as 500,000 people, attending. This is very significant. People are fed up with the drone strikes. They’re fed up with the corruption in Pakistan. And the young people are rallying behind Imran Khan, because they see him as somebody who’s not part of the establishment. Whether or not he can change what the U.S. government does in Pakistan is a question we will only be able to answer if he is elected. But there is certainly widespread dissatisfaction among the young communities. There is a tremendous surge of support for Imran Khan in Waziristan, where, you know, people are fed up with the politicians that they have elected and have sent to Islamabad.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Pratap, for being with us. Pratap Chatterjee, a reporter for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and director of CorpWatch, an NGO that tracks corporate malfeasance. Pratap Chatterjee, speaking to us from London.


October 28, 2011

Written by

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

Al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia

The Bureau Recommends an article in the Washington Post, which reveals that the US Air Force has been secretly flying armed Reaper drones from a remote airbase in Ethiopia.

According to the report, millions of dollars have been spent on upgrading the airfield in Arba Minch, which now houses a fleet of drones that can be equipped with deadly Hellfire missiles. The base is located 300 miles south of Addis Ababa and 600 miles east of the border with Somalia.

Details of this Ethiopian base follow revelations by the Washington Post last month that the US is building a ‘constellation of secret drone bases’ in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is understood that the Reapers began flying missions over Somalia earlier this year, targeting the al-Shabaab militant group who are linked to al-Qaeda.

Related article: Analysis: Has CIA changed its strategy in Pakistan drone war?

Confirming the operations from Arba Minch, Master Sgt. James Fisher of the 17th Air Force said on Thursday  that the aim was ‘to provide operation and technical support for our security assistance programs’ and that drone flights ‘will continue as long as the government of Ethiopia welcomes our cooperation on the varied security programs’.

To read the article in full click here.

The Bureau is conducting an ongoing investigation into all CIA drone activity. Click here to read the Covert Drone War study. For regular updates on drones and all our other stories, sign up to our newsletter, here. 


August 10, 2011

Written by

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

In a recent edition of The Times a correspondent writes: ‘In a war in which information and perception play as important a role as tanks and jets, the images of wooden coffins on the shoulders of grieving men will make uncomfortable viewing in London and Paris.’

The journalist, Deborah Haynes, is reporting from a frontline town in Libya. But she could, if you ignore the comment about wooden coffins, be writing about any recent war the West has embroiled itself in. Bosnia, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan. All subject to fierce media scrutiny.

This scrutiny is a problem for any developed nation pursuing war. Keeping the public on the government’s side is as important, in many respects, as supplying the troops on the ground. To this end, governments maintain powerful PR operations during wartime and beyond.

Wars today are won and lost as much in the battle for information as they are in numbers killed. The drone war is largely secretive and our study shows that there are some serious questions to be asked. Numbers have to be collated in such an age.

Journalists are embedded and vetted. Press conferences carefully regulated. There are very few photos of US body bags coming home. War is presented, where possible, as one where the enemy is quickly routed and ‘our’ troops are kept alive, healthy and well-fed.

So ideal is this image that warfare itself is being molded to adhere to it. And drone warfare has rapidly become the poster child for this type of fighting.

Drone strikes are largely not televised, as they happen in areas no film crew given western ‘credibility’ operates. No US soldiers are killed. It is ‘clean, precise and targeted’. And, compared to having actual soldiers on the ground, it is comparatively cheap too. Ideal, really.

So ideal that the President of the US can even use drones in a joke about defending the honour of his daughter.

But it is too easy to accept this idealised image. The Bureau’s research, the result of many months of persistent analysis, lays bare the reality of the drone war.

Drone strikes are not discriminating. They kill children. They injure civilians. And they are on the increase.

White House correspondent’s dinner 2010/Flickr-US State Department 

This warfare is not clean. It is not precise. 

Naturally, the evidence we have gathered will attract criticism as well as coverage. The PR machine of government might dismiss it or ignore it completely. When detractors engage, they will likely say one of three things. That our facts are reported elsewhere; they aren’t ‘new’. That our methodology is flawed. And that we act as biased apologists for militants in Pakistan.

In one sense, this data is not new. It is taken from a wide range of credible and existing sources. What is new is that we have taken it from a much wider range than some of the existing organisations that seek to cover this area. And we have done it with considerable resources.  We have followed up stories to see if figures rise or fall over time. We have recorded also civilians amongst the numbers.  And we have listed the numbers of injured. The other two major organisations that look at drone attacks have failed to do these things.

No US soldiers are killed. It is ‘clean, precise and targeted’. And, compared to having actual soldiers on the ground, it is comparatively cheap too. Ideal, really.

Our transparent methodological approach, open to peer review, is based on the same used by the widely-quoted organization Iraq Body Count. To dismiss ours is to dismiss the approach of many others.

Finally, any criticism that we are somehow working ‘for the other side’ does not bear up to scrutiny. On occasion we have been more conservative on the number of civilian dead in single attacks, despite the international press reporting otherwise. We have also identified individuals previously reported as being civilians as actually having been militants.  And we have offered an open invitation to the US security forces to engage with us if they see something significantly wrong in our study. If they satisfactorily prove their case, we will amend our data.

Pakistani villagers at funeral of drone victim – December 29 2010- AP

Most of all, though, we may well get the quotidian response – ‘Didn’t we know this already?’

This sort of reaction to our story is dangerous. Wars today are won and lost as much in the battle for information as they are in numbers killed. The drone war is largely secretive and our study shows unequivocally that there are some serious questions to be asked. Numbers have to be collated in such an age.

Clearly civilians and children are being killed. As such, one has to ask whether these drone attacks are radicalising those who have lost loved ones as much as they are ‘taking out’ militants.

We show that they are not discriminating. As such, those forces involved in their use may well be in breach of the Geneva Conventions.

And, importantly, we are providing an unbiased, independent and journalistic examination of a war.  A war that has hitherto been manipulated by governments, spun by thinktanks and often ignored by a media that– without pictures – finds it hard to report on the horrors of what is really unfolding in Pakistan.

Addendum: Since publishing our data, an online survey found that 100% of those who responded said that the drone war in Pakistan by the CIA is not working. 

If you would like to be kept informed on this issue click here to sign up to our newsletter.


June 30, 2011

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.

US Special Forces can call on Navy assets in the region. Photo,US Department of Defense

A military drone operated by elite US Special Forces has targeted al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, killing several people. The attack marks the first confirmed hostile use of drones in the east African country.

Bureau research suggests unmanned surveillance craft have been used over Somalia for some time as part of a broader military campaign. In October 2009 a US drone was reportedly shot down over the south of the country. On previous occasions the US has allegedly flown combat missions against Somali targets from a base in eastern Ethiopia.

According to the Washington Post a drone has struck at two leaders of the al-Shabab militant group, declared a terrorist organisation by the US and others. The 23 June attack in Kismayo, southern Somalia – originally reported as a helicopter strike – also killed ‘many’ foreign fighters.

The unnamed leaders are said to have ‘direct ties’ to US-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Now based in Yemen, Awlaki has been linked to that country’s al Qaeda movement and to a number of terrorist plots against the US and its allies.

Recent US military actions in Somalia*

January 7 2007 – US gunship attacks militant convoy killing 10

January 22 2007 – Reported JSOC airstrike against militants

June 1 2007 – US cruise missile strike kills up to 10 alleged militants, including reportedly from Eritrea, Yemen, UK, Sweden and US

March 3 2008 – Cruise missile attack from US ships. Six die, though not apparent target.

May 2008 – US naval-launched cruise missiles kill Aden Hashi Ayro, head of Al Shabab

September 14 2009 – US Special Forces launch helicopter raid into Somalia, killing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, wanted in connection with Mombassa attacks

October 19 2009 – US drone reported shot down over southern Somalia

April 6 2011 – Airstrike kills an al-Shabab commander

June 23 2011 – Drone strike kills “many”, wounds two al-Shabab leaders

* The Bureau’s analysis is based on credible reports. However, given the covert nature of US operations this should be viewed as a partial list.

JSOC campaign extends to Somalia

As in Yemen, US military operations against al-Shabab and other militant groups in Somalia are carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC is made up of ultra-elite, so-called Tier One Special Forces units that were also responsible for the recent killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

JSOC has its own helicopter and drone fleets. It also has access to US Navy assets in the region. Analysis by the Bureau shows that in recent years JSOC has employed cruise missiles, AC-130 gunships and helicopter assaults in Somalia against al-Qaeda linked targets.

In September 2009, for example, a helicopter-borne JSOC raid reportedly killed a senior militant. After a lull of 18 months JSOC activity appears again to be on the rise. In April an airstrike reportedly killed a local al-Shabab commander.

Last week’s strike is further indicator of a significant escalation in US actions in the region. The Bureau recently reported on a major surge in JSOC drone strikes against militants in Yemen. Somalia becomes the sixth recorded nation to be at the receiving end of US drone strikes – after Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya.