Monthly Updates on the Covert War

February 2013 Update: US covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

John Brennan Confirmation Hearing

John Brennan – leading proponent of the drone programme
and the CIA’s director-designate (C-Span).

CIA drones kill two alleged al Qaeda commanders in two strikes on Pakistan.

US operations drop to zero in Yemen a year after President Saleh was ousted from power.

No operations reported in Somalia.

Pakistan

February 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in February: 2
Total killed in strikes in February: 9-14, of whom 0-2 were reportedly civilians


All actions 2004 – February 28 2013

Total Obama strikes: 312
Total US strikes since 2004: 364
Total reported killed: 2,534-3,573
Civilians reported killed: 411-884
Children reported killed: 168-197
Total reported injured: 1,172-1,463
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

Two CIA drone strikes hit Pakistan this month, killing at least nine people. This is a significant drop from January when six strikes reportedly killed 27-54 people.

On February 7 John Brennan, Barack Obama’s nominee for CIA director, went before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his confirmation hearing.

The two Pakistan strikes book-ended the Brennan hearing. The first hit the day beforehand, destroying a house and killing alleged Pakistan Taliban (TTP) militants. It coincided with a Pakistan Air Force raid on TTP positions in Orakzai Tribal Agency.

The second strike took place the day after the hearing finished – alleged TTP militants were reportedly targeted once again. A house was hit near the border between North and South Waziristan, killing at least six people. Abu Majid al Iraqi and Yemeni ‘bomb expert‘ Sheikh Abu Waqas (35), alleged al Qaeda commanders, were reportedly among the dead.

Not since 2009 have US drones so consistently targeted the TTP. On February 2, TTP militants targeted a Pakistan Army outpost, killing up to 35. A Taliban spokesman said the attack was ‘revenge’ on the Pakistani state which he accused of ‘co-operating with the US in its drone strikes that killed our two senior commanders, Faisal Khan (Ob306) and Toofani (aka Wali Mohammed Mehsud, Ob307)’.

Yemen

February 2013 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0
Further reported/possible US strike events: 0
Total reported killed in US operations: 0
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0
Children reported killed in US strikes: 0


All actions 2002 – February 28 2013*

Total confirmed US operations: 54-64
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 42-52
Possible additional US operations: 135-157
Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 77-93
Total reported killed: 374-1,112
Total civilians killed: 72-178
Children killed: 27-37
Click here for the full Yemen data.

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

There were no reported drone strikes or any other US covert actions in Yemen this month – in marked contrast to January, when up to eight US strikes killed as many as 38 people.

This is the first month without a reported US strike since early 2012. In fact the Bureau’s data shows that no US drone or airstrike has ever been reported in the month of February.

2012-2013 Feb updateUS operations peaked in spring last year but halted during protests
and political upheaval in February 2012 and 2013.

February also marked the first anniversary of the ousting of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The deal that lead to Saleh being replaced by his deputy Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi followed months of brutally repressed protests. Anniversary demonstrations were again met with violence by security services, especially in southern Yemen, and at least three people were killed in clashes.

Also in February, the New York Times finally reported that CIA drones fly over Yemen from a base in Saudi Arabia. It emerged that the paper, among other leading US media outlets, had suppressed this detail at the request of the White House, even though it was first reported by The Times of London in 2011.


Al Jazeera’s Listening Post on the CIA’s once-secret Saudi base.

A Russian-made Yemen Air Force fighter-bomber crashed in a central Sanaa neighbourhood on February 19. Buildings were set on fire and 12 people died, including two children. It was described as an incident of ‘heartrending absurdity‘ that reinforced how decrepit and unfit for purpose much of the Yemen Air Force remains.

Somalia

February 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0


All actions 2007 – February 28 2013

Total US operations: 10-23
Total US drone strikes: 3-9
Total reported killed: 58-170
Civilians reported killed: 11-57
Children reported killed: 1-3
Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia
.

Once again there were no reported US operations in Somalia – the sixth consecutive month without an apparent strike. It remains extremely difficult to obtain credible information regarding military actions in the country, even for intelligence agencies.

This month saw al Shabaab return to Twitter after falling foul of the website’s terms of use. New profiles replace English and Arabic predecessors that were blocked after they were used to broadcast images of dead French commandos and threats to kill Kenyan hostages.

Other news

US military expansion in Africa continues with President Obama sending 100 soldiers to Niger. The Sahel state is host to the US’ latest drone base, a response to growing militancy in the region and ongoing hostility in Mali.

John Brennan went before the Senate Intelligence Committee as the President’s nominee for director of the CIA. Brennan promised to bring greater transparency to the drone programme, saying drone strikes are ‘a last resort to save lives, when there’s no other alternative.’

Oversight and transparency of the drone programme remain prominent concerns. This has led some, including chair of the Senate Intelligence committee Dianne Feinstein and former US defence secretary Robert Gates, to suggest a secret court be formed to provide some oversight to the targeted killing programme. And officials have told reporters the administration is considering moving control of some drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon. However strikes in Pakistan would remain under the Agency’s control.

Bureau changes

It is now two years since the Bureau began compiling data on US covert drone strikes in Pakistan. Our work has expanded significantly to cover the conflicts in Yemen and Somalia, with more than 500 incidents now recorded across many data sets. As the Bureau embarks on its new project, Naming the Dead, we have recently completed an audit of our Pakistan drone strike data to ensure consistency across all of our work. This has led to a small fall in our minimum number of reported civilian casualties, mostly a result of our reclassifying some strikes to better reflect our sources.

We have also made more overt the sourcing for all reports of civilian casualties, and have introduced yearly tables into the data. Our Methodology also now spells out more clearly our processes when handling reports of civilian deaths.

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In February and March, support the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project, identifying those killed in drone strikes, through the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Click here to donate.