The August update on the US covert war on terror.
A US Predator drone flying at sunset – Charles McCain/Flickr
The Bureau’s covert war investigation tracks drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Here we summarise our key work and findings for July 2012.
Pakistan: CIA drones kill more people in July than any month so far this year after Pakistan reopens its border to Nato supply convoys.
Yemen: The US restarts Yemen’s $112m [£72m] military aid programme as al Qaeda appears to return to more familiar terror tactics.
Somalia: Three al Shabaab militants are executed for ‘spying’ for western agencies, as the UN claims that more than 60 unknown air sorties took place over Somalia in the past year.
July 2012 actions
Total CIA strikes in July: 4
Total killed in strikes in July: 38-53, of whom 0-20 were reportedly civilians
All actions 2004 – 2012
Total Obama strikes: 285
Total US strikes since 2004: 337
Total reported killed: 2,524-3,247
Civilians reported killed: 482-852
Children reported killed: 175
Total reported injured: 1,204-1,330
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.
The CIA launched four drone strikes in July, two fewer than in June. An average of four strikes a month so far this year contrasts with over six a month in 2011 and nearly 11 a month in 2010.
After Hillary Clinton apologised to Pakistan for accidentally killing Pakistani soldiers in a US strike on November 2011, Islamabad lifted its border blockade of NATO supply trucks. Three days later US drones killed 17-24 people in Datta Khel, North Waziristan. Other strikes took place on July 1 and 23.
While there were fewer strikes than in June, more people died. CIA drones killed 38-53 people in July, up from 22-46 in June and the highest in any month so far this year.
Although there were no confirmed civilian casualties in July, some reports indicated up to 20 may have been killed in the month’s strikes.
The last strike of the month on July 29 was initially reported to have killed up to seven ‘Uzbek militants’. However Pakistani media later named three locals buried after the strike. Their status remains unclear.
Two days earlier, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman declared: ‘We will seek an end to drone strikes and there will be no compromise on that.’ She added: ‘I am not saying drones have not assisted in the war against terror, but they have [a] diminishing rate of returns.’
July 2012 actions
All actions 2002 – 2012*
Total confirmed US operations: 46-56
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 35-45
Possible additional US operations: 113-128
Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 57-66
Total reported killed: 329-962
Total civilians killed: 58-149
Children killed: 24-31
Click here for the full Yemen data.
Of the four air strikes reported in July, none were confirmed to be the work of the US, despite some evidence to suggest involvement by US drones or aircraft. This continues the decline in US military operations in the Gulf nation from a peak in May, when US forces aided Yemen’s defeat of al Qaeda and its allies.
The Pentagon is restarting its military aid programme to Yemen. The programme stalled briefly in 2011 during the Arab Spring, but in 2010 Yemen was the largest recipient of US counterterrorism-specific military aid ahead of Pakistan.
Of the $112m aid, $75m is earmarked for kit including small, unarmed surveillance Raven drones, radios and vehicles. A further $23.4m is for ‘fixed-wing aircraft.’ The Yemenis will also receive rifles, pistols and more than a million rounds of ammunition.
Reports of strikes are abating, but security remains a significant concern. There is strong evidence that al Qaeda and its allies have returned to the guerrilla tactics more commonly associated with the group. July has been marked by suicide bombings, kidnappings and assassination attempts.
The political situation remains brittle with Houthi secessionists still active in the north, and the Southern Movement clashing with security forces in the key port city of Aden. The old regime continues to cause problems in the capital. One hundred armed men loyal to former President Saleh stormed the Interior Ministry, demanding jobs in the police force.
* 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.
June 2012 actions
Total reported US operations: 0
All actions 2007 – 2012
July is the third consecutive month without a reported US strike in 2012.
However the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group submitted a detailed report to the Security Council claiming more than 60 unauthorised drone, helicopter and aircraft flights over Somalia in the past year – far more than had previously been reported. UN officials also reported that US drones operating over the country may be violating the Security Council’s arms embargo imposed on the country in 1992.
On July 22 al Shabaab announced it had executed three of its members charged with spying for the US and Britain. Ishaq Omar Hassan and Yasin Osman Ahmed, both 22, and Mukhtar Ibrahim Sheikh Ahmed, 33, were allegedly responsible for the death of a Lebanese-British militant. They were claimed to have attached a tracking device to Bilal al Berjawi’s car, enabling US drones to kill him on January 21. If true, this would indicate direct British involvement in a US drone strike.
Other conflicts: the Philippines
An article in the New York Times appeared to offer the first confirmation of US drone strikes in the Philippines. Three US officials reportedly told Mark Mazzetti that in 2006 a US Predator drone had fired ‘a barrage of Hellfire missiles’ in a failed attempt to kill militant leader Umar Patek.
However this was fiercely denied by the former head of US Special Forces in the country.
Earlier this year there were reports that US drones carried out a lethal strike in the Philippines. The leaders of militant groups Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf were killed in a February airstrike that was officially carried out by a Philippines Air Force jet carrying US precision guided weapons. The issue remains contentious as direct military action by the US would contravene a bilateral agreement between the two nations.
To sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project click here.
The August update on the US covert war on terror.
US strikes continued in July in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia – but not Pakistan.
Six month update: at least 207 people killed in US counter-terrorism strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.