Monthly Updates on the Covert War

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

After taxiing in an MQ-9 Reaper, Airman 1st Class Jon Mann walks under a Reaper's wing to place wheel chocks to prevent accidental movement April 24, 2013, at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The crew chiefs are responsible for taxiing incoming aircrafts and performing post-flight checks that include fluid checks, looking over the aircraft for damage and cleaning the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Lee)

CIA drone strikes rocket in Pakistan while the casualty rate is relatively low (US Air Force/Sr Airman Andrew Lee)

Obama drone strikes in Pakistan reach 350.

US drones kill at least four in Yemen.

Al Shabaab lose ground in Somalia but remain a threat.

Seven names added to the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project.


October 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in October: 9
Total killed in strikes in October: 29-49

All actions 2004 – October 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 350
Total US strikes since 2004: 401
Total reported killed: 2,383-3,858
Civilians reported killed: 416-957
Children reported killed: 168-202
Total reported injured: 1,125-1,695
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

A barrage of drone strikes this month took the total attacks under Obama in Pakistan past 350. There have now been more than 400 drone strikes since June 2004.

These milestones were reached this month as the CIA went on the offensive. It hit the country nine times, the most strikes in a month since October 2011. This doubled the number of strikes recorded this year, taking the total to 18.

Despite the intensity of the attacks, on average 3.2 people died per strike. This is a relatively low monthly casualty rate in the 10 year campaign.

Four strikes this month hit the Shawal valley – a heavily wooded and mountainous area that straddles the border between North and South Waziristan, and abuts the Afghan border. It is favoured as a base of operations for various armed groups because the geography makes it easily defensible.

The CIA attacks come as the Pakistan military continues its offensive against armed groups in the tribal areas. The Shawal has been hit by Pakistan Air Force strikes as well as by drone attacks since the offensive began in June. It will be one of the most challenging areas encountered by the Pakistan Army ground forces in this operation.

One strike this month, on October 11, killed 4-6 in Khyber tribal agency. The strike hit the Tirah valley, a region where the Pakistani military has opened a new front in its ongoing efforts to clear the tribal areas of terrorist organisations.

CIA drones have also hit targets in Datta Khel, North Waziristan, striking three times in four days. Datta Khel is a notorious hub for armed groups operating in the tribal areas. It has been the target of eight US drone strikes this year and numerous Pakistani air strikes.

One strike this month targeted and killed several members of the Haqqani Network near Wana, the capital of South Waziristan. South Waziristan has largely been spared from the Pakistani armed forces’ airstrikes and ground operations in the current counter-terrorist offensive.


October 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 1
Further reported/possible US strike events: 2
Total reported killed: 4-34
Civilians reported killed: 0-20

All actions 2002 – October 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 67-79
Total reported killed: 347-503
Civilians reported killed: 64-83
Children reported killed: 7
Reported injured: 78-196

Possible extra US drone strikes: 101-120
Total reported killed: 345-553
Civilians reported killed: 26-68
Children reported killed: 6-11
Reported injured: 90-123

All other US covert operations: 14-79
Total reported killed: 150-386
Civilians reported killed: 60-89
Children reported killed: 25-27
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 we have recorded in US drone strikes and covert operations reflects this.

The US killed four alleged members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in a drone strike on October 15.

The men died while travelling in a pick-up truck in the southern province of Shabwa. Local sources and the Yemeni defence ministry identified one of the four as local leader Mahdi Badas, also known as Abu Hussein. Freelance reporter Iona Craig identified three further casualties: Musab al Wawari, Fares Azunjubari and Hudhaifah al Azdi, from Saudi Arabia.

As well as this confirmed strike, two further attacks were reported which may have included US drones.  These left 15-30 people dead, according to media reports, including 2-20 civilians. Both strikes hit the central province of al Bayda. The attacks hit near ongoing battles between AQAP, Sunni militias and the Shiite Houthi group. Because of this, it is not clear from the reporting around the attacks whether the US, the Yemeni military or the Houthis were responsible for the casualties.

The first attack, on October 24, killed 3-10 people. It was not clear if the dead were AQAP fighters or members of Sunni militias engaged in a sectarian fight with the Houthis.

The second was on October 26 and killed between 12 and 20 people, though there may have been many more casualties.  US drones and conventional jets and the Yemeni Air Force were all reported to have been involved.

There were also reports the Yemeni army used indiscriminate artillery weapons in the attacks as well. The full extent of the strikes remains unclear, and it has not been possible as yet to disaggregate which belligerent was responsible.

Yemen’s security situation deteriorated yet further this month as fighters from the Shiite Houthi group pushed in to new territory following their seizure of Sanaa, the capital, in late September. The group clashed with Sunni fighters including al Qaeda in different parts of the country amid growing fears of an all-out sectarian conflict.

On November 1, Yemen’s main political factions gave president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi a mandate to form a new government in an attempt to defuse tensions. However the country was thrown back in to turmoil the next day when unknown gunmen assassinated liberal politician Mohamed Abdelmalik al Motawakal.


October 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0

All actions 2007 – October 31 2014

US drone strikes: 6-9
Total reported killed: 16-30
Civilians reported killed: 0-1
Children reported killed: 0
Reported injured: 2-3

All other US covert operations: 8-11
Total reported killed: 40-141
Civilians reported killed: 7-47
Children reported killed: 0-2
Reported injured: 11-21
Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

There were no reported US operations in Somalia this month. The last reported US attack, on September 1, killed al Shabaab’s leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

That strike hit Barawe, a port south of Mogadishu. Earlier this month, African Union peacekeeprs and Somali soldiers forced al Shabaab from the town. It had been a key point for al Shabaab to bring weapons into the country and illegally export charcoal – an important source of income for the group.

However the loss of both Barawe and Godane does not seem to have subdued al Shabaab’s violent ambitions. On October 15 the US embassy in Ethiopia warned of an impending al Shabaab terrorist attack in the capital Adis Ababa. On October 30 the US State Department issued a travel warning for Burundi, reporting al Shabaab “has threatened to conduct terror attacks” in the country and US interests could be targeted.

Both Ethiopia and Burundi have soldiers stationed in Somalia fighting al Shabaab. Uganda remains one of the largest contributors to the African Union peacekeeping force in the country – Amisom. Uganda is sending a fresh consignment of soldiers to the country. The detachment has had several weeks of specialised training from French and US troops, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The 2,700 new troops will reinforce security in and around the airport and presidential compound in Mogadishu. The area is nominally the most secure in Somalia, yet al Shabaab has been able to launch bloody attacks in this diplomatic and government quarter, seemingly at will.

Naming the Dead

Seven of the 29-49 people killed by drones in Pakistan this month have been named in media reports this month – all allegedly militants. Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqu (aka Haji Sheikh Waliullah), a senior figure in the newly formed Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, was killed in a strike in Khyber on October 11. The same day, in North Waziristan, drones killed Mohammad Mustafa, reportedly “a local leader” in the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group.

Five victims were named in an October 30 strike in South Waziristan. Abdullah Haqqani appears to be an important hit for the US as it pulls out of Afghanistan. Abdullah was reportedly a senior member of the Haqqani Network “responsible for sending suicide bombers to Afghanistan”. Also killed were four people identified as Arabs by unnamed sources in media reports. The names given were: Adil, a Yemeni; Abu Dawooduddin, from Sudan; and Umar and Amadi, from Saudi Arabia.

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