Monthly Updates on the Covert War

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

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Students gather at the site of a suspected U.S. drone strike on an Islamic seminary in Hangu district

CIA drones destroyed part of a madrassa in Hangu district – the first strike outside Pakistan’s tribal areas. (Reuters/Syed Shah)

CIA drones kill one of the most senior militants in Pakistan.

The first reported airstrikes in Yemen in three months kill alleged foreign fighters.

More African peacekeepers will go to Somalia as al Shabaab remains a threat to security.

Eighteen people killed by CIA drones are added to Naming the Dead.

Pakistan

November 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in November: 3
Total killed in strikes in November: 11-19, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians


All actions 2004 – November 30 2013

Total Obama strikes: 329
Total US strikes since 2004: 380
Total reported killed: 2,534-3,642
Civilians reported killed: 416-951
Children reported killed: 168-200
Total reported injured: 1,127-1,556
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

Three CIA drone strikes hit Pakistan, killing at least 11 people including the leader of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and several alleged senior Haqqani Network members. The attacks sparked popular protests and condemnation from the government and political parties.

On November 1 (Ob327) the US killed Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). Islamabad said it had started peace talks with the TTP and this strike had snuffed out any chance of a negotiated settlement. However an official TTP spokesman denied the group had had any contact with the government.

Mullah Fazlullah was elected to lead the TTP after Mehsud’s death. As the leader of the Swat Taliban, he ordered the shooting of schoolgirl activist Malala Yousfuzai. He is nicknamed Mullah Radio, for his diatribes broadcast on illegal FM radio, and the Butcher of Swat, for the uncompromising way his forces dealt with dissent when his group occupied the region between 2007 and 2009. The group promised to avenge Mehsud’s death with a wave of attacks on the Pakisani state and security forces.

A second strike 20 days later (Ob328) killed at least six including Ahmad Jan – an alleged senior Haqqani Network commander – in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. It is believed to be the first time a strike has taken place in Pakistan’s ‘settled’ areas as all previous strikes have hit either Pakistan’s tribal regions or the frontier regions that act as a buffer zone between tribal and settled areas.

The opposition politician Imran Khan called on the government to block Nato supply routes in and out of Pakistan in protest. Khan’s party the PTI filed a First Incident Report at the local police station in Hangu. It claimed civilians were killed and injured in the attack – including four children. Six days after the strike it named two men as responsible for their ‘murder’: CIA director John Brennan and a man PTI said is the CIA station chief in Islamabad. A previous CIA station chief was forced to return to Washington in 2010 after being named in another legal complaint over drone strikes.

The CIA struck again on November 29 (Ob329) around a day after the PTI said it had outed Washington’s top spy in Pakistan. It killed 1-3 people and injured up to two more. Reports suggested the dead were members of the Punjabi Taliban. The News reported an alleged militant named Aslam (aka Yaseen) was injured in the attack. Aslam is allegedly connected to attacks on Pakistani military installations in Rawalpindi and Afghanistan.

November also saw the six-month anniversary of a major policy speech given by President Barack Obama in Washington on May 23. An analysis by the Bureau shows that there were fewer drone strikes in Pakistan in the six months after the speech compared to the previous six months – 13 between May and November 23, compared with 18 in the previous six months. But each strike killed more people on average.

This went against the trend of the last three years: the average number of people killed in each strike has been falling since 2009 when on average over 11 people were killed in every strike. In the six months before the speech, an average of 3.5 people were killed in each strike. Since the speech this has risen to almost five.

Yemen

November 2013 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0
Further reported/possible US strike events: 2-3
Total reported killed in US operations: 15-17
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0


All actions 2002 – November 30 2013*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 55-65
Total reported killed: 269-389
Civilians reported killed: 21-56
Children reported killed: 5
Reported injured: 67-150

Possible extra US drone strikes: 83-102
Total reported killed: 302-481
Civilians reported killed: 23-48
Children reported killed: 6-9
Reported injured: 81-108

All other US covert operations: 12-77
Total reported killed: 148-377
Civilians reported killed: 60-88
Children reported killed: 25-26
Reported injured: 22-114
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.

After a three-month pause, up to three possible drone attacks occurred in Yemen, but none can as yet be confirmed as US operations.

The first attack, on November 19, killed five alleged al Qaeda militants who were named as Abu Habib al Yemen, Yemeni; Abu Salma al Russi, Russian; Abu Suhaib al Australi, Australian; Wadhah al Hadhrami from Hadramout in Yemen; and Hamam al Masri, Egyptian. A Yemeni journalist told the Bureau these were nom de guerre, explaining that al Qaeda fighters take their names from the first name of their eldest son and their birthplace.

A single source reported a possible strike on November 20 in the same province, Hadramout. And the final strike of the month, on November 26, killed 12 alleged al Qaeda militants travelling in a car through the southern province of Abyan. Yemen’s government claimed responsibility for the strike. However as the Bureau has previously reported, the Yemen Air Force is incapable of a precision strike on a moving vehicle.

It emerged that the CIA knew it had killed a civilian in a strike in June, and the Agency had secretly briefed Congress on the death. The CIA destroyed a car on June 7; it later emerged that a child aged 6-13 was in the car. An investigation by McClatchy at the time of the attack had identified the child as Abdulaziz, the 10-year old brother of Hassan al-Saleh Huraydan, an alleged militant.

Abdulaziz was one of at least six civilian casualties in the six months since President Obama gave his set-piece speech in May. The President said the US only takes lethal action when it is almost certain there will be no civilians killed or injured.

A man whose civilian relatives were killed in a 2012 drone strike visited Washington. Faisal Ahmed bin Ali Jaber spoke at a Congressional briefing about a drone strike that killed his nephew Waleed Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, a policeman, and Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, his brother-in-law an imam and outspoken critic of al Qaeda.

He said he had travelled to the US capital ‘to find out who was responsible for the deaths of Salem and Waleed, and I want to know if someone will be held accountable for their deaths’. Salem and Waleed were killed on August 29 2012. Three al Qaeda members had travelled to their village to remonstrate with Salem over an anti-al Qaeda sermon he had given. The five were talking when drones fired several missiles, killing them all.

Somalia

November 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 0


All actions 2007 – November 30 2013

US drone strikes: 4-10
Total reported killed: 9-30
Civilians reported killed: 0-15
Children reported killed: 0
Reported injured: 2-24

All other US covert operations: 8-15
Total reported killed: 48-150
Civilians reported killed: 7-42
Children reported killed: 1-3
Reported injured: 13-21
Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

No US operations were reported in Somalia.

However there were reports of al Shabaab attacks. The militant group assaulted a police station near Mogadishu killing and wounding at least 23 people. Six Somali policemen and four Djiboutian peacekeepers were among the dead.

The Guardian reported that after a turbulent period of infighting the militant group is rebuilding its strength, while unnamed officials told the paper the African Union peacekeeping operation is stalling.

The UN and African Union have agreed to send in more troops to bolster the peacekeeping force, Amisom, by over 4,000 in the new year. More than 17,500 African Union troops are already on the ground fighting alongside the Somali security forces. A spokesman from the peacekeepers told the Bureau in December the force will review and renew its overall strategy, or Concept of Operations (ConOps), in Somalia.

There has been speculation that troops from neighbouring Ethiopia will be part of this surge. Ethiopia has had a sizeable force in Somalia off and on since 2007. However the two countries have a fractious history. The Amisom spokesman said during the ConOps review the countries already contributing troops – Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Sierra Leone and Kenya – would be asked to send in more soldiers. If they do not contribute more men then the numbers will be made up by other African Union members. However the spokesman did not know which other countries would be approached.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau has added 18 more names to the Naming the Dead database this month. Fifteen of these emerged in press and think tank reports of the three drone strikes in the month. The Bureau gained a further three names during a research trip to Pakistan in October 2013 (Ob113).

New case studies include those of five civilian chromite miners, and a profile of Ibne Amin, a commander in the Swat Taliban and former right-hand man of the TTP’s new leader, Mullah Fazlullah.

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