October 2013 Update: US covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

Relatives hold photographs of victims of a January drone strike (Letta Tayler/Human Rights Watch).

A single strike kills up to five in Pakistan, at the end of a month of sharp criticism of the US drone war.

There are no reported drone attacks in Yemen for the second month running.

The US military attacks Somalia twice, the first strikes in almost two years.

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project identifies more than 600 people killed by drones.

Pakistan

October 2013 actions

Total CIA strikes in October: 1
Total killed in strikes in October: 0-5, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians


All actions 2004 – October 31 2013

Total Obama strikes: 326
Total US strikes since 2004: 377
Total reported killed: 2,523-3,621
Civilians reported killed: 416-948
Children reported killed: 168-200
Total reported injured: 1,123-1,543
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

There was only one drone attack in October, breaking 31 days of no strikes. The attack in the early morning on October 31 reportedly killed up to five people.

But while there was only one drone attack, the media was full of reports about the drone war in Pakistan.

In October, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with President Obama, and asked him to end drone strikes. Two UN reports criticising the secret campaign in Yemen as well as Pakistan were presented to the UN in New York. And the family of 65-year old midwife Bibi Mamana travelled to Washington to speak to lawmakers. The event was the first time Congress had heard from relatives of drone strike victims.

In the first report to the UN, Special Rapporteur, Christof Heyns called for greater transparency around the use of armed drones. He also warned against ‘wide and permissive interpretations’ of international law to justify lethal strikes. The second report by Ben Emmerson called on the US to ‘release its own data on the level of civilian casualties’ and also criticised the lack of transparency around the secret drone programme.

Key members of the UN endorsed these calls for greater transparency. Pakistan, Russia and China were joined by the European Union, Switzerland, and key US ally the UK in calling for more openness. The US  defended itself before the UN, saying drone strikes are ‘necessary, legal and just‘.

Also this month, international rights group Amnesty International published a field investigation into drone strikes in Pakistan. The report also stressed the need for more transparency around drone attacks, particularly in relation to the victims killed. The report said the lack of disclosure means that victims cannot access justice or compensation.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence released summary statistics on the US drone war in the country’s tribal agencies. According to the new Pakistan strike data 67 civilians and 2,160 militants have been killed in 317 drone strikes from 2008 onwards. The Bureau’s estimates show at least 308 civilians have been killed in 365 strikes since 2008.

This was the fourth time the Pakistan government has released drone strike data. In April the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Emmerson at least 400 civilians have been killed by drones since 2004. Emmerson told the New York Times he would be writing to the Pakistan government to clarify the disparity. In May the Peshawar High Court published summary statistics of data collected by the tribal administration saying 896 civilians had been killed by drone attacks between 2007 and 2012. In July the Bureau published Pakistan’s secret internal assessment of 75 drone strikes from between 2006 and 2009. The document showed that 147 of 746 people were civilians.

Yemen

October 2013 actions

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


All actions 2002 – October 31 2013*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 54-64
Total reported killed: 268-397
Civilians reported killed: 21-58
Children reported killed: 5
Reported injured: 65-147

Possible extra US drone strikes: 82-101
Total reported killed: 289-467
Civilians reported killed: 23-48
Children reported killed: 6-9
Reported injured: 83-109

All other US covert operations: 12-77
Total reported killed: 148-380
Civilians reported killed: 60-88
Children reported killed: 24-26
Reported injured: 22-111
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.

For the second month there were no reported strikes in Yemen.

Reports by two international human rights organisations scrutinised US attacks in the country. Geneva-based Alkarama and New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) analysed 11 US operations between them, covering the period from 2009 to 2013. Both groups looked into five of the same strikes independently of each other. Alkarama looked at five more strikes that were not covered by HRW. And the US organisation scrutinised a sixth strike not investigated by Alkarama.

Alkarama researchers spoke with relatives, witnesses and survivors to build a comprehensive analysis of the events around each strike. The report said it was unclear if strikes in Yemen are carried out under ‘the rules of war, or law enforcement’. The US ‘plays on the confusion between’ the two, it added. Alkarama concluded that the strikes are extrajudicial executions, regardless of which set of international laws are applied.

HRW researchers analysed six strikes in detail, scrutinising evidence from the scenes and speaking with witnesses, survivors and Yemeni government officials. They concluded that two of the strikes violated the laws of war because they did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, or used indiscriminate weapons. The four other strikes were considered possibly unlawful because they caused disproportionate civilian casualties, or attacked an unlawful military target. However, the report said further information would be needed to draw more concrete conclusions.

Somalia

October 2013 actions

Total reported US operations: 2


All actions 2007 – October 31 2013

US drone strikes: 4-10
Total reported killed: 9-30
Civilians reported killed: 0-15
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 two attacks on al Shabaab in southern Somalia this month. They are the first confirmed US operations for 20 months. Anonymous US officials said both were carried out by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

The first JSOC raid on October 5 was a widely reported amphibious assault. US Navy Seals attacked a reportedly well fortified house on the coast in Baraawe, a town around 120km (75 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu. It was a bid to snatch Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir (aka Ikrima), a senior militant and leader of attacks on Kenyans in 2011 and 2012. The Seals met fiercer resistance than expected and withdrew without their target.

The second operation on October 28 was a JSOC drone strike. It targeted and killed Ibrahim Ali Abdi (aka Anta Anta), a senior al Shabaab commander and bomb maker. Abdi’s ‘friend’ Abu Ali also died in the strike, which hit a Suzuki car travelling from the town of Jillib to Baarawe. Somali Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled said Somali security services provided the US with intelligence for the attack.

Also in October, the UN-backed African Union peacekeepers reportedly began an offensive against al Shabaab positions. Kenyan forces led the fresh assault with airstrikes in what Reuters reported was retaliation for the bloody Westgate mall terrorist attack in Kenya.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project has named 613 people killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. Naming the Dead is a new project from the Bureau that aims to identify people killed by US drones in Pakistan.

This month the Bureau published the names of 20 previously unidentified people collected during a recent field investigation. On March 12 2009 (Ob6) multiple missiles hit a house in Kurram province, killing up to 26 people and injuring scores more. A local politician told the Bureau the dead were Taliban although he said some of them were children. The Bureau has discovered the ages of only three of the dead, a child and two adults.

Bureau researchers in Pakistan have also discovered the names of two children killed in the first strike in Pakistan, on June 17 2004 (B1). Amnesty International independently published different names for the two children. Amnesty also reported the names of 18 civilians killed in a 2012 follow-up strike (Ob281). Eight different names had already been independently reported by legal charity Reprieve. This highlights the challenge of reconciling different reports from drone strike witnesses and victims’ relatives. Amnesty also this month reported two named Taliban, killed in a May 2012 strike (Ob270).

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