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

US drones were under scrutiny at the UN Human Rights Council this month (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

There have been no reported drone strikes in Pakistan for more than three months

Strikes hit Yemen at an intensity not seen since July 2013

Another month without a US operation in Somalia, while African Union forces make advances

Naming the Dead identifies sixteen people killed by CIA drones in Pakistan

Pakistan

March 2014 actions

Total CIA strikes in March: 0
Total killed in strikes in March: 0


All actions 2004 – March 31 2014

Total Obama strikes: 332
Total US strikes since 2004: 383
Total reported killed: 2,296-3,718
Civilians reported killed: 416-957
Children reported killed: 168-202
Total reported injured: 1,089-1,639
For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

There has not been a drone strike in Pakistan for 96 days. The current pause is almost twice as long as 54-day break at the end of 2011.

Islamabad and the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) continued to hold peace talks but violence persisted on the part of both the state and militants. The Pakistan Air Force bombed the tribal regions and militants struck at the heart of the Pakistani capital.

On March 1 the TTP announced a month-long ceasefire. The next day the Pakistan government bombed Taliban commander Maulvi Tamanchey’s base in Khyber tribal agency, killing at least five. Pakistan blamed Tamanchey for killing 12 people in an attack on a polio vaccination team.

The day after the Khyber strike, suicide bombers and gunmen killed 11 people in an attack on the courts district of Islamabad. The TTP disowned the killings but a group called Ahrar ul Hind, reportedly a Taliban proxy, claimed responsibility for the attack. In addition, six Frontier Corps soldiers were killed three days later on March 5 – reportedly carried out by TTP-associated group Ansar ul Majahideen.

While there were no drone strikes in Pakistan, over the border five Afghan National Army soldiers were reportedly killed by US military drones. US military officials subsequently said manned aircraft were involved in the attack, in eastern Afghanistan.

Also this month, 26 members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution, proposed by Pakistan, that called on states to be more transparent in recording drone strikes and casualties. Yemen and Switzerland were among the co-sponsors of the resolution.

The US, UK and France voted against the resolution. Several Nato members abstained, including Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic.

The resolution also called on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organise an expert panel to examine the law around drone strikes. This was one of UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s recommendations in his final report on drones.

Emmerson presented the report to the HRC this month. It included eight key legal questions. He told the HRC meeting in Geneva these ‘need to be urgently debated and if possible resolved’.

This month the Bureau finished reconciling information gained from a Pakistani document leaked to the Bureau that records drone strikes in Pakistan. The document corroborated two strikes recorded in the Bureau’s database as possible CIA drone strikes.

Yemen

March 2014 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 2
Further reported/possible US strike events: 4
Total reported killed in US operations: 4-19
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 0-1


All actions 2002 – March 31 2014*

Confirmed US drone strikes: 61-71
Total reported killed: 293-430
Civilians reported killed: 30-74
Children reported killed: 6
Reported injured: 76-187

Possible extra US drone strikes: 92-111
Total reported killed: 311-501
Civilians reported killed: 24-44
Children reported killed: 6-9
Reported injured: 81-114

All other US covert operations: 13-77
Total reported killed: 148-377
Civilians reported killed: 59-88
Children reported killed: 24-26
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.

There were two confirmed drone strikes in Yemen this month, killing at least four people. These are the first confirmed US attacks this year.

In addition, there were four further, possible US attacks. These six attacks killed19 people in the space of 11 days. Covert bombings in Yemen have not seen this level of intensity since an international terror alert in July and August last year spurred the US to launch nine drone attacks in 15 days, killing at least 31 people.

Two attacks this month killed members of the Shabwan tribe. The first strike of the month killed Jaber Saleh al Shabwani, an alleged al Qaeda member, approximately 19-years old. He was the son of a respected Yemeni businessman in the oil industry. Jaber Saleh’s fellow tribesmen and alleged al Qaeda members Mohammed Jabir al Shabwani and Ebad al Shabwani, reportedly a friend of Jaber Saleh. Ebad was reportedly driving the car destroyed in the strike. His family later denied he was a part of al Qaeda and said he was a 16-year old boy.

The six attacks this month hit targets in four provinces – Abyan, Mareb, Shabwa, and Jawf – a vast area that forms a central band across the country from the Gulf of Aden to the Saudi Arabian border. Three quarters of all recorded attacks in Yemen have hit in these provinces.

Also this month, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula shot dead a man accused of being a spy. The group released a video of the alleged spy’s confessionAmin Abdullah Muhammad al Mualimi confessed to planting tracking chips on vehicles that killed seven alleged al Qaeda members in a strike at the end of 2012. His body was strung up between football goal posts in the eastern province of Hadramout as a warning to others.

Relatives of drone strike victims announced the formation of the National Organisation for Drone Victims, an advocacy group. It intends to highlight ‘the civilian impact of the covert programme’, according to legal charity Reprieve.

Somalia

March 2014 actions

Total reported US operations: 0


All actions 2007 – March 31 2014

US drone strikes: 5-8
Total reported killed: 10-24
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 for the second month running. However UN-backed African Union peacekeepers Amisom has made gains against al Shabaab. Kenyan and Ethiopian troops have successfully retaken key towns, including El Bur and Hudur in central Somalia. The UN’s representative said the advances are ‘significant and geographically extensive’.

The US-trained multinational force has expanded, with up to 410 Ugandan troops reportedly being sent to the country, taking the Uaganda’s deployment to 6,223. The new troops are being deployed to guard UN institutions in Mogadishu, to ‘free the bulk of Amisom forces from escort duties to pursue al Shabaab in their hide-outs’. The move came two weeks after militants launched a bloody attack on the presidential palace in Mogadishu which is at the heart of what is supposed to be the most secure part of the city.

That attack last month demonstrated the al Qaeda-aligned militant group remains a potent threat. Al Shabaab’s economic power is significantly reduced but it retains the ability to carry out ‘almost daily operations of indiscriminate violence’, BBC Somalia editor Mary Harper told the Bureau’s podcast. This month a suicide bomber and al Shabaab gunmen killed at least 25 Amisom and Somali soldiers in an attack on a hotel in central Somalia.

Alleged Somali terrorists have been active in Kenya as well this month. On March 18 police arrested two alleged Islamist terrorists in Mombassa, They were reportedly carrying two large bombs which ‘would have caused massive destruction’ police said. The Kenyan government subsequently ordered the concentration of all Somali refugees in the country into two refugee camps, one on the Somali border and the other on the South Sudanese border. There are an estimated 1.1m Somali refugees in Kenya. Three days later, on March 31, a bomb attack left six people dead in the predominantly Somali Eastleigh neighbourhood of Nairobi.

The militants executed six men by firing squad who they accused of spying. On March 4 al Shabaab announced it had killed 29-year-old Mohammed Abdulle Gelle for helping US drones kill an al Shabaab commander in October 2013. Ahmed Abdullahi Farole, 47, was also shot dead. The militants claimed he was spying for the government in Puntland. Four others were also killed after similar accusations, including three unnamed men publicly executed in a single incident on March 28.

Naming the Dead

The Bureau has added 16 names to its Naming the Dead database. Bureau sources in Pakistan revealed the names of eleven men killed in a night strike on a house in June 2013. Four more civilians killed in the infamous ‘jirga strike’ on March 17 2011 were identified. They were named by a victims relative who was interviewed by production company Brave New Films. The transcript of the interview was given to the Bureau. A senior TTP member was identified by the Taliban as killed in a strike in October 2010.

Four new case studies have also been added to Naming the Dead. Atiyah Abd al Rahman was a Libyan, born in Misrata. CIA drones killed him in September 2011. Pakistani al Qaeda member Aslam Awan died in January 2012 in a strike that destroyed a mud-brick house. Tuersun Toheti died in August 2012 as an alleged key member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – a group of ethnic Uighurs fighting for an independent state in Xinjian, western China. And alleged Haqqani Network commander Sangeen Zadran was killed in strike on a house in North Waziristan.

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