Monthly Updates on the Covert War

January 2014 Update: US covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

comment
Noor Khan (left) holds up a picture of his father who was killed in a CIA drone strike (Reprieve)

Noor Khan’s legal challenge to drones in the English courts was rejected this month (Photo: Reprieve).

January was the first month in two years without a drone strike in Pakistan.

The first civilian casualty of the year was reported in a possible drone strike in Yemen.

A rare drone strike – the second in three months – hit Somalia.

Pakistan

January 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in January: 0
Total killed in strikes in January: 0


All actions 2004 – January 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 330
Total US strikes since 2004: 381
Total reported killed: 2,537-3,646
Civilians reported killed: 416-951
Children reported killed: 168-200
Total reported injured: 1,128-1,557
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

January was the first calendar month without a strike since December 2011, when US-Pakistan relations hit a nadir.

At the end of 2011 the CIA stopped strikes in Pakistan amid a diplomatic crisis caused by a series of incidents. The year had seen the arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore, the secret US raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and the death of 24 Pakistani border guards in a botched Nato airstrike in November. At that point strikes paused for 55 days.

This month, the Bureau published a leaked Pakistani document showing details of more than 300 CIA attacks between 2006 and late 2013. It is the most complete official record of the covert campaign to be placed in the public domain. Although overall casualties closely match independent estimates such as the Bureau’s, the routine recording of civilian casualties stops suddenly at the start of 2009. And several entries in the document appear to contradict the rare public statements on individual strikes released by the US.

January 23 marked five years since the first drone strike of the Obama presidency. A Bureau analysis shows that under Obama the US has launched over 390 drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing 2,400 – six times more than his predecessor President Bush. However the number of people killed on average in each strike has fallen during Obama’s two terms.

The Pakistan Taliban (TTP) carried out a series of attacks in January. The bombing of a military convoy killed more than 20 soldiers – the bloodiest single Taliban attack on the army, according to the Financial Times. Three polio workers were killed in Karachi. And a suicide bomber killed 13 people in a market near the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The Pakistan military has carried out strikes around Miranshah and Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Pakistan Air Force attacks have reportedly killed dozens of alleged militants, including three Germans and 33 Uzbeks in one incident. There have been reports of civilian casualties and thousands more fled the region.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif dispatched a team to negotiate with the Taliban, despite having indicated earlier in the month that he was ready to take the fight to the militants. To date, the Pakistan military has not launched an all-out assault in North Waziristan like the 2009 attacks on Swat and South Waziristan.

Imran Khan’s opposition party PTI continues to block a key supply line into Afghanistan, despite warnings from US defence secretary Chuck Hagel in December that Pakistan could lose billions of dollars in military aid if the blockade continues.

Also this month, the Court of Appeal in London stopped a Pakistani citizen’s legal challenge to discover if UK officials are complicit in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. For two years, Noor Khan has been trying to get English courts to examine whether UK officials at GCHQ share information about targets in Pakistan with the CIA, and whether this could therefore make British spies complicit in murder or war crimes.

Yemen

January 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0
Further reported/possible US strike events: 4
Total reported killed in US operations: 0-7
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-1


All actions 2002 – January 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 59-69
Total reported killed: 287-423
Civilians reported killed: 24-71
Children reported killed: 6
Reported injured: 74-185

Possible extra US drone strikes: 87-106
Total reported killed: 306-486
Civilians reported killed: 24-47
Children reported killed: 6-8
Reported injured: 79-110

All other US covert operations: 12-77
Total reported killed: 144-377
Civilians reported killed: 59-88
Children reported killed: 24-26
Reported injured: 22-115
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.

At least four possible US drone strikes hit Yemen in January, all in the first half of the month. An unnamed farmer was reportedly among the 6-7 killed in these attacks.

Several media sources reported that the farmer was walking home early on the morning of January 15 when US drones targeted a vehicle carrying alleged members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Although the car’s passengers were injured, the farmer – or bystander – was reportedly the only person killed. This account was later contradicted by a ‘well-informed source’ who told al Hayat the strike killed alleged al Qaeda member Abdel Majid al Shahry – a Saudi national.

Two men injured in the first reported US strike of January were civilians, according to their parents. The wounded men were identified as Adnan Saleh al Taysi and Ibrahim Hussein al Aarif. As many as 10 members of the al Taysi family reportedly died in a drone strike that hit a wedding convoy in December. Up to 15 civilians were killed in this US attack on December 12. This month US officials confirmed an investigation into the claims of civilian deaths is underway.

The final reported strike this month, also on January 15, killed 3-4 people in Wadi Abeeda. Mohammed Saeed Jardan, an alleged militant and local to the area, was reportedly among the dead.

Also this month, three peers from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats tabled amendments to the Defence Reform Bill that would increase scrutiny of US forces based in the UK. The draft reforms include establishing scrutiny groups to ensure US operations in Britain comply with domestic law. The proposed changes were prompted by reports that bases in the UK are part of the US drone war in Yemen and Somalia.

Somalia

January 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 1
Total killed in strikes in January: 2-9

All actions 2007 – January 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-11
Total reported killed: 11-39
Civilians reported killed: 0-16
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.

The US military launched its first drone strike of the year in Somalia, killing 2-9 people. It was the first reported US action in the country since October 2013.

The attack targeted al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, according to anonymous US officials. But a source in the African Union peacekeeping force said Godane survived the attack. Several sources said Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior al Shabaab figure, was killed. He may have been meeting Godane ‘right before the attack‘.

Unnamed US officials told CNN the US had targeted Godane in the strike. One of them said he posed a threat to US interests in the region. As Sarah Knuckey reported, this appeared to contradict a restriction on drone attacks set out in a summary of President Obama’s new rules, released in May 2013. The summary read: ‘The United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to US persons.’

Also this month, the UN-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) announced more than 4,000 Ethiopian soldiers had become part of the peacekeeping force. Ethiopia unilaterally invaded Somalia in 2007, and remained in the country for two years, nominally supporting the central government against the Islamic Courts Union, a loose affiliation of clans and groups that governed most of the country. Al Shabaab was a peripheral member of the ICU at the time.

During Ethiopia’s presence in the country, its troops were accused of war crimes, notably by Amnesty International. The addition of Ethiopian troops to Amisom ‘will not be popular in Somalia’, EJ Hogendoorn, a Somalia expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Bureau.

Hogendoorn said: ‘Al Shabaab was able to use the Ethiopian “occupation” for recruiting and fundraising. They received a lot of support from the diaspora not because of their ideology but because they were seen as the most effective force fighting “Ethiopian colonisation”. They will seek to do the same thing this time around.’

Naming the Dead

It emerged that US drones killed a German last year. The man, whose name has been anonymised as Patrick K, came from was from Hesse, near Hamburg and was reportedly killed in a strike on February 16 2012.

Previous reporting on the strike only mentioned unnamed Uzbeks dying. But a video purportedly produced by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed Patrick died alongside Uzbek fighters. He was reportedly approached to become a source for German intelligence before leaving for Pakistan.

Follow Alice Ross and Jack Serle on Twitter.

To sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project click here.