Monthly Updates on the Covert War

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

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An MQ-9 Reaper sits on a ramp in Afghanistan - US Air Force

An armed Reaper waits on the ramp in Afghanistan (US Air Force).

Two strikes hit Pakistan, ending a month-long pause between attacks.

There were no reported US drone strikes in Yemen in March, marking the longest pause between covert attacks in three years.

No strikes were again recorded in Somalia.

Pakistan

March 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in March: 2
Total killed in strikes in March: 2-7, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians


All actions 2004 – March 31 2013

Total Obama strikes: 314
Total US strikes since 2004: 366
Total reported killed: 2,537-3,581
Civilians reported killed: 411-884
Children reported killed: 168-197
Total reported injured: 1,174-1,465
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

 

Two CIA drone strikes killed at least two people in March. All those reported killed were unidentified and there were no credible reports of civilian casualties.

The first strike of the month hit on March 10 (Ob313), ending a 29 day pause. It hit the day before UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson arrived in Islamabad on a three-day visit. The second strike (Ob314) hit 11 days after the first, killing 1-4.

There were conflicting reports of both strikes. The March 10 strike killed alleged militants who were either riding a motorbike or a horse. The horse was killed. Other reports claimed a house was destroyed. The March 21 strike was reported by some as destroying a house. Others claimed a vehicle in a bazaar was hit.

The New York Times also cast some doubt on two strikes that occurred in the previous month, claiming that three ‘American officials’ had told the paper ‘they were not ours’. The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio challenged this claim, later reporting that ‘US intelligence officials involved with the drone programme in Pakistan’ had said that the two strikes in February ‘were indeed US operations’.

Ben Emmerson QC met with government and tribal officials, and victim groups, as a part of his investigation into the legality and casualties of drone strikes. Pakistani officials told the UN investigator that US drones have so far killed a minimum of 2,200 people, including at least 400 civilians.

The civilian government in Islamabad also stated that 40,000 people have been killed in terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil since September 11 2001. However nearly two weeks later Pakistan’s spy agency the ISI told the Supreme Court that 49,000 had died – more than 25,000 of them in the post-2008 military offensives in the tribal regions.

Also in March, John Brennan was confirmed as CIA director. During his confirmation hearing, Brennan told the Senate he believes ‘the CIA should not be doing traditional military activities and operations’. So his appointment could be a prelude to the Agency ultimately surrendering control of drone strikes to the Pentagon. It is not clear if this will lead to greater transparency, as some believe. The US military’s established drone campaign in Afghanistan became less transparent, when it emerged that Isaf had stopped publishing drone strike data and had stripped all drone statistics out of each preceding release of its data.

Yemen

March 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


All actions 2002 – March 31 2013*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 43-53
Total reported killed: 228-325
Civilians reported killed: 12-45
Children reported killed: 2
Reported injured: 62-144

Possible extra US drone strikes: 77-95
Total reported killed: 277-443
Civilians reported killed: 23-49
Children reported killed: 9-10
Reported injured: 73-94

All other US covert operations: 12-76
Total reported killed: 148-366
Civilians reported killed: 60-87
Children reported killed: 25
Reported injured: 22-111
Click here for the full Yemen data.


There were no reported US operations in Yemen – confirmed or otherwise. There has not been a reported strike in Yemen for over two months, after nine attacks in January left 22-34 people dead, including up to 10 civilians.

This was the longest halt between strikes recorded by the Bureau since May 24 2010 when US jets mistakenly killed Jaber al-Shabwani, deputy governor of Marib province. He was travelling to meet his brother, a local al Qaeda leader, to attempt a reconciliation. Tribesmen loyal to al Shabwani rose up – enraged by his killing they destroyed a vital oil pipeline. There were no strikes for 12 months after that botched attack.

Yemen’s long awaited National Dialogue Conference started on March 18. The talks are aiming to reach a new draft constitution. This will set the stage for elections in February 2014.

Hundreds of representatives from political parties and civil society are attending. However southern Yemen secessionists and state security forces continue to clash and there remain fears that there will be further fighting.

Also in March, 31 academics, journalists and former US diplomats wrote to Barack Obama. Under the auspices of the Atlantic Council and the Project on Middle East Democracy, they urged US caution as it pursues its own security agenda in Yemen.

‘The chronic and pervasive perception both here and in Yemen [is] that the United States pursues its security interests with little regard to the strategy’s impact on Yemen itself,’ the authors noted. Signatories included Barbara Bodine, Washington’s former ambassador to Yemen.

The open letter described current US policy in Yemen as ‘counterproductive and in need of urgent re-evaluation’. This echoed the sentiment of General James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The retired General said that US covert drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts to battle extremism.

Cartwright was the not only former national security adviser this month to express concerns over US drone strategy. General Stanley McChrystal told Foreign Affairs magazine: ‘If we were to use our technological capabilities carelessly … then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park.’

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

Somalia

March 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0


All actions 2007 – March 31 2013

US drone strikes: 3-9
Total reported killed: 7-27
Civilians reported killed: 0-15
Children reported killed: 0
Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 7-14
Total reported killed: 51-143
Civilians reported killed: 11-42
Children reported killed: 1-3
Reported injured: 15-20
Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

 

Once again no US strikes were reported in Somalia – the seventh month in a row. However security remains fragile, even in the capital. An al Shabaab bomber penetrated the most secure district of the city, targeting Mogadishu’s security chief and killing 10.

Government forces reportedly retook Hudur, capital of Bakool, from al Shabaab fighters. The militants had occupied the town near the Ethiopian border, northwest of Mogadishu, after Ethiopian troops had vacated the area. Militants reportedly ‘arrested’ 10 people and killed three, including beheading a 75-year-old Imam.

US operations in Africa could be set to expand further, after the establishment of another drone base on the continent last month in Niger. The State Department also added Mali-based militant group Ansar Dine to its list of ‘terrorist organisations’. A US military adviser said this could be the precursor for US intelligence-gathering operations to evolve into direct action.

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