CIA ‘revives attacks on rescuers’ in Pakistan

A US military Reaper drone at Kandahar, Afghanistan

CIA drones are reportedly reviving the use of highly-controversial tactics that target rescuers and funeral-goers.

On Monday US drones attacked rescuers in Waziristan in western Pakistan minutes after an initial strike, killing 16 people in total according to the BBC. On May 28, drones were also reported to have returned to the attack in Khassokhel near Mir Ali.

And on Sunday, a CIA drone strike targeted people gathered for funeral prayers of militant victims killed in an earlier attack. The intended Taliban targets appear to have survived, although up to ten people died. A mosque was also struck last week – possibly accidentally – killing at least three civilian worshippers.

The tactics may not be confined to Pakistan. In the Yemeni city of Jaar on May 15, a possible return US drone strike killed between 8 and 26 civilians, according to a USA Today report.

The deliberate targeting of rescuers and mourners by CIA drones was first exposed by the Bureau in February 2012, in a major joint investigation with the Sunday Times. On more than a dozen occasions between 2009 and June 2011, the CIA attacked rescuers as they tried to retrieve the dead and injured. Although Taliban members were killed on almost every occasion, so too were civilians – many of whom the Bureau’s field investigators were able to name. The investigation also reported that on at least three occasions the CIA had struck funeral-goers.

The UN Special Rapporteur called for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings at the time, with some international lawyers questioning the legality of the tactics.

Deteriorating relations
The last reported attack on rescuers in Pakistan was on July 12 2011. Their cessation coincided with the departure of CIA Director Leon Panetta.

The revival of the tactics – at a time of outspoken public attacks on the US drones campaign by the Pakistan government – appears to indicate a further deterioration of relations between the two countries.

The US had recently eased off on its drone strikes in Pakistan, as the two countries negotiated the possible resumption of NATO supply deliveries to Afghanistan via Pakistan territory.

However, the absence of a deal – and public US anger at a Pakistan court’s imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who aided the CIA’s killing of Osama bin Laden – has seen a shift in strategy.

The Bureau’s data shows that since May 23 the US has launched eight CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, which have killed at least 48 people. Civilians have been reported killed in a number of those strikes.

The last occasion on which US strikes were at such an intensity was in June 2011, shortly after the death of bin Laden. At that time the CIA strikes were still thought to be with the tacit approval of Islamabad.

The Islamabad-based think tank the Conflict Monitoring Center has accused the United States of ‘a bid to punish Pakistan for its conviction of Dr. Afridi as well as its reluctance to reopen NATO supply routes.’

The CIA declined to comment on reports that rescuers and funeral-goers were again being targeted.

The drone strike of June 4 was later revealed to have killed senior al Qaeda figure Abu Yahya al-Libi.

On June 5 British Channel 4 News noted that its own sources had also reported US drones returning to the attack in the al-Libi strike, stating that

Reports from Pakistan suggest the strike on al-Libi might have been just such a double attack, with the al Qaeda leader said by one source to have been amongst those killed in the second bombing run.’

Channel 4’s report on the al-Libi strike

In contrast and in confusion, US officials claimed either that only al-Libi himself, or al-Libi and four others had died in the attack, rather than the 16 fatalities reported by Pakistani officials.

CBS News and the Los Angeles Times also reported that al-Libi had been targeted just prior to June 4, and may have been injured. The May 28 attack in which al-Libi was reportedly injured also marked the earlier occasion in which a double US strike – possibly against rescuers – was reported.

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