Monthly Updates on the Covert War

September 2012 update: US covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

Reaper - achesonblog/Flickr

A US Reaper drone on the tarmac at Creech, Nevada – achesonblog/Flickr

Pakistan: CIA drone strikes pause for a short period as Muslims protest around the world against a US-made video. A senior al Qaeda leader is killed in resumed strikes.

Yemen: Eleven named civilians die in a strike in central Yemen, the worst civilian tally since May. The US declines to say if its drones are responsible.

Somalia: As Kenyan and Somali forces attack Kismayo, al Shabaab’s last stronghold, the Bureau is told that foreign armies ‘have a licence to ignore international law’ in Somalia,


September 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in September: 3
Total killed in strikes in September: 12-18, of whom 0-3 were reportedly civilians

All actions 2004 – September 30 2012

Total Obama strikes: 294
Total US strikes since 2004: 346
Total reported killed: 2,570-3,337
Civilians reported killed: 474-884
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,232-1,366
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

After seven strikes in August – the most in a single month since October 2011 – September saw a pause in the bombing which lasted 20 days. The respite coincided with many and sometimes violent anti-US protests around the world. Muslims were inflamed by a blasphemous film, produced in the US and posted online. Up to 17 people died in riots across Pakistan as public outrage at drone strikes reportedly added to the violence.

On September 24 two named al Qaeda militants were killed by the CIA. Saleh al Turki ‘was not on the FBI’s bounty list, but was a mid level AQ guy’. However Abu Kahsha al Iraqi was described as ‘a liaison between al Qaeda and the Taliban’ and ‘long a target of Western counterterrorism agencies.’

The Bureau’s work on drone activity in Pakistan was praised by a report produced by Stanford and New York University law schools. The 165-page study found that  the Bureau’s Covert War project provided the ‘best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes’.

Academics from Stanford and New York universities interviewed over 130 survivors, witnesses and experts, which led them to conclude that the ‘dominant narrative’ in the US – that the surgical precision of drones means they are operated in Pakistan with ‘minimal downsides or collateral impacts’ – is ‘false’. Testimony from a number of eyewitnesses also corroborated the Bureau’s own findings – that the CIA deliberately targets rescuers.

Another report by Columbia University focused on policymakers in Washington, raising concerns about transparency and accountability in the decade-old programme of US targeted killings by drone.


September 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 0
Further reported/possible US strike events: 4-5
Total reported killed in US operations: 0-40
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-12

All actions 2002 – September 30 2012*

Total confirmed US operations: 52-62
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 40-50
Possible additional US operations: 117-133
Of which possible additional US drone strikes: 61-71
Total reported killed: 357-1,026
Total civilians killed: 60-163
Children killed: 24-34
Click here for the full Yemen data.

US and Yemeni officials were unusually reticent in September in attributing air strikes to United States air assets, including drones. That may have been due to the deaths of eleven named civilians in a botched airstrike in Radaa in central Yemen, the worst loss of civilian life since at least 12 civilians were killed in May. Victims of the strike were buried 18 days later in Dhamar with police pallbearers.

Abdulraouf al Dahab was the supposed target of the strike. But it missed the alleged militant leader’s car and hit civilian vehicles. A ten-year-old girl Daolah Nasser was killed with her parents. Two boys – Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari (13) and AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout (12) – were also among those killed.

Some reports said US drones carried out the strike. The Yemen Air Force publicly claimed responsibility for the attack but it lacks the technical capability to strike a moving target.

That fact was confirmed by President Hadi on a visit to Washington, where he also claimed to approve every US strike carried out in Yemen, and downplayed civilian deaths.

Minimum confirmed and possible strike events in Yemen, January to September 30 2012.

A suspected US drone killed at least six people, eight days after the Radaa strike. Said al Shehri was initially reported among the dead. But subsequent reports say the former Guantanamo inmate and al Qaeda’s number two in Yemen survived the attack.

* 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.


September 2012 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – September 30 2012

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 no US combat operations were reported for September, although a former UN official told the Bureau that as much as 50% of secret actions by various forces operating in Somalia go unreported. Two previously unrecorded operations have been added to the Bureau’s data. These relate to possible US strikes on al Shabaab bases in Puntland in August, and in Kismayo in October 2011.

Kenyan Defence Force (KDF) troops finally struck al Shabaab’s last stronghold, Kismayo, in Operations Sledge Hammer alongside soldiers of the Somalia National Army. The KDF is fighting in Somalia as a part of the Amisom peacekeeping force and attacked Kismayo from the land and sea before dawn on September 28. Initial reports said they met with some resistance from al Shabaab but had taken control of the city’s port. It is possible that US forces assisted the operation.

A Somali diplomat told the Bureau that the outgoing Transitional Federal Government opened its doors to the US and others to fight al Shabaab, and in doing so allowed them ‘a licence to completely ignore any local or international law.’ US Special Forces and CIA are operating across Somalia. And the US is supporting proxy forces with training and weapons.

Follow Chris Woods and Jack Serle on Twitter.

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