drone strike casualties disputed

topic posted Sun, October 16, 2011 - 1:13 PM by  Gerbil
August 11, 2011
C.I.A. Is Disputed on Civilian Toll in Drone Strikes

WASHINGTON — On May 6, a Central Intelligence Agency drone fired a volley of missiles at a pickup truck carrying nine militants and bomb materials through a desolate stretch of Pakistan near the Afghan border. It killed all the militants — a clean strike with no civilian casualties, extending what is now a yearlong perfect record of avoiding collateral deaths.

Or so goes the United States government’s version of the attack, from an American official briefed on the classified C.I.A. program. Here is another version, from a new report compiled by British and Pakistani journalists: The missiles hit a religious school, an adjoining restaurant and a house, killing 18 people — 12 militants, but also 6 civilians, known locally as Samad, Jamshed, Daraz, Iqbal, Noor Nawaz and Yousaf.

The civilian toll of the C.I.A.’s drone campaign, which is widely credited with disrupting Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan’s tribal area, has been in bitter dispute since the strikes were accelerated in 2008. Accounts of strike after strike from official and unofficial sources are so at odds that they often seem to describe different events.

The debate has intensified since President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, clearly referring to the classified drone program, said in June that for almost a year, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Other officials say that extraordinary claim still holds: since May 2010, C.I.A. officers believe, the drones have killed more than 600 militants — including at least 20 in a strike reported Wednesday — and not a single noncombatant.

Cutting through the fog of the drone war is important in part because the drone aircraft deployed in Pakistan are the leading edge of a revolution in robotic warfare that has already expanded to Yemen and Somalia, and that military experts expect to sweep the world.

“It’s urgent to answer this question, because this technology is so attractive to the U.S. and other governments that it’s going to proliferate very rapidly,” said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or Civic, a Washington nonprofit that tracks civilian deaths.

The government’s assertion of zero collateral deaths meets with deep skepticism from many independent experts. And a new report from the British Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which conducted interviews in Pakistan’s tribal area, concluded that at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 strikes during the last year.

Others who question the C.I.A. claim include strong supporters of the drone program like Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, who closely tracks the strikes.

“The Taliban don’t go to a military base to build bombs or do training,” Mr. Roggio said. “There are families and neighbors around. I believe the people conducting the strikes work hard to reduce civilian casualties. They could be 20 percent. They could be 5 percent. But I think the C.I.A.’s claim of zero civilian casualties in a year is absurd.”

A closer look at the competing claims, including interviews with American officials and their critics, discloses new details about how the C.I.A. tracks the results of the drone strikes. It also suggests reasons to doubt the precision and certainty of the agency’s civilian death count.

In a statement on Tuesday for this article, Mr. Brennan adjusted the wording of his earlier comment on civilian casualties, saying American officials could not confirm any such deaths.

“Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq, and we will continue to do our best to keep it that way,” Mr. Brennan said.

If there are doubts about the C.I.A. claim, there are also questions about the reliability of critics’ reports of noncombatant deaths. Reporters in North Waziristan, where most strikes occur, operate in a dangerous and politically charged environment. Many informants have their own agendas: militants use civilian deaths as a recruiting tool, and Pakistani officials rally public opinion against the drones as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

“Waziristan is a black hole of information,” acknowledged Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who is suing the C.I.A. on behalf of civilians who say they have lost family members in the strikes. American officials accuse Mr. Akbar of working to discredit the drone program at the behest of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the Pakistani spy service. Mr. Akbar and others who know him strongly deny the accusation.

American officials, who will speak about the classified drone program only on the condition of anonymity, say it has killed more than 2,000 militants and about 50 noncombatants since 2001 — a stunningly low collateral death rate by the standards of traditional airstrikes.

The officials say C.I.A. drone operators view their targets for hours or days beforehand, analyzing what they call a “pattern of life” and distinguishing militants from others. They use software to model the blast area of each proposed strike. Then they watch the strike, see the killed and wounded pulled from the rubble, and track the funerals that follow.

The video is supplemented, officials say, by informants on the ground who sometimes plant homing devices at a compound or a car. The C.I.A. and National Security Agency intercept cellphone calls and e-mails discussing who was killed.

“Because our coverage has improved so much since the beginning of this program, it really defies logic that now we would start missing all these alleged noncombatant casualties,” said an American official familiar with the program.

In one recent strike, the official said, after the drone operator fired a missile at militants in a car and a noncombatant suddenly appeared nearby, the operator was able to divert the missile harmlessly into open territory, hitting the car minutes later when the civilian was gone.

“Nobody is arguing that this weapon is perfect, but it remains the most precise system we’ve ever had in our arsenal,” the official said.

The agency’s critics counter that an intelligence officer watching a video screen thousands of miles away can hardly be certain of the identity of everyone killed in a strike. In a tribal society where men commonly carry weapons and a single family compound can include a militant fighter, an enlistee in the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps, and a shopkeeper, even villagers may be uncertain about the affiliations of their neighbors.

Skeptics likewise say that militants can commandeer a car or a compound from neighbors who cannot safely refuse the demands. And civilians may be present among militants: the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for example, found that one strike that killed about two dozen militants also killed two civilians, a prisoner of the militants and a visitor negotiating the release of relatives held elsewhere.

The standard drone weapons, Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs, like other ordnance, are not absolutely predictable. A strike last Oct. 18, all reports agree, hit a militant compound and killed a number of fighters. But Mr. Akbar, the lawyer, said the family next door to the compound had told his investigators their 10-year-old son, Naeem Ullah, was hit by shrapnel and died an hour after being taken to the hospital in nearby Miram Shah. Neighbors confirmed the account, Mr. Akbar said.

The C.I.A. declines to publicly discuss the drone program, so it was not possible to talk to an agency drone pilot. But Col. David M. Sullivan, an Air Force pilot with extensive experience with both traditional and drone airstrikes from Kosovo to Afghanistan, said remotely piloted craft offered far greater opportunities to study a target and avoid hitting civilians.

An F-117 fighter or a Reaper drone each carries the same 500-pound bombs, “but the Reaper has been sitting for hours on target,” allowing the operator time to study who will be hit by a strike, said Colonel Sullivan, who is on the staff of the secretary of defense.

Still, he said, there is still a margin of error in drone strikes, even if it is far smaller than in traditional strikes.

“Zero innocent civilians having lost their lives does not sound to me like reality,” Colonel Sullivan said. “Never in the history of combat operations has every airborne strike been 100 percent successful.”

American officials said the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report was suspect because it relied in part on information supplied by Mr. Akbar, who publicly named the C.I.A.’s undercover Pakistan station chief in December when announcing his legal campaign against the drones. But Mr. Akbar, a former prosecutor, denied he had ever received money or instructions from the ISI, which he said he had often faced off against as a lawyer. He said that in July two ISI agents visited him to ask, “who do you work for?”

Christopher Rogers, an American human rights lawyer who lived in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, said that he had helped interest Mr. Akbar in the drone strikes and their legal implications. “The idea that ISI was the puppeteer here is not credible at all,” said Mr. Rogers, now at the Open Society Institute in New York.

Though Pakistani officials often denounce the drone program, even as they have at times quietly assisted it, skeptics about its overall impact include American officials as well. The former director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, said at a public forum in Aspen, Colo., last month that he thought unilateral American strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia should end.

“Pull back on unilateral actions by the United States except in extraordinary circumstances,” said Mr. Blair, who headed national intelligence from January 2009 until May 2010.

C. Christine Fair, an expert on Pakistan at Georgetown University, said that getting full cooperation with Pakistan on drone strikes might be impossible. But Ms. Fair, who said she began as a skeptic but has come to believe that the drones are highly effective and civilian casualties are very low, said the semisecrecy surrounding the program fuels suspicion and allows propaganda to thrive.

The C.I.A. should make public its strikes and their results — even to the point of posting video of the strikes online, she said.

“This is the least indiscriminate, least inhumane tool we have,” Ms. Fair said. “But until there is complete transparency, the public will not believe that.”

Pir Zubair Shah contributed reporting from New York.
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  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Sun, October 16, 2011 - 1:31 PM
    Ted Mann 12:42 PM ET

    The key to controlling and limiting collateral damage from the U.S. military's drone warfare operations may be this simple: crash the vehicle into the target.

    The craft that military insiders call the "Kamikaze drone" is meant to be flown directly into its target — a single enemy fighter, for instance — and detonated. That new approach could help to eliminate one of the largest problems with the military's new reliance on drones to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and the Middle East, namely that missile strikes frequently miss their targets, or kill innocent bystanders in attempts to kill terrorists.

    Enter the Switchblade, which The Daily sums up this way: "Think of it as a smart, remote-control grenade with wings."

    Increasingly a mainstay of modern warfare and widely credited by defense officials as the key tool in winning the war on terror, drones offer significant benefits — most notably, keeping American troops out of harm’s way. But the existing models are also renowned for their potential to both miss targets entirely and, often in the process of killing a single person, yield devastating collateral damage.

    Switchblade would minimize that drawback, and improve the chances that military personnel hit the correct target. As personnel monitor the Switchblade’s trajectory in real-time, they can call off detonation with mere seconds to spare. And a smaller, more localized explosion means fewer incidental deaths.

    “With missiles, you fire and forget,” Gitlin said. “Now, you can make sure you hit the bad guy without hurting the people next door, or pull back if a group of kids walk onto the balcony.”

    Making it easier to hit targets with remote-controlled weaponry will help U.S. officials if they're seeking to continue (or to expand) their use against terrorism. They will do little to help resolve the debate about whether or not the military should be fighting its wars this way at all.
    • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

      Sun, October 16, 2011 - 1:34 PM
      Armchair Kamikaze: What the Latest Generation of Small Armed Drones Means for Antiterrorism
      Terrorism, Defense, Homeland Security, Military Technology, National Security
      John Villasenor, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Center for Technology Innovation
      The Brookings Institution
      October 06, 2011 —

      It was bound to happen sooner or later: a drone small enough to fit in a backpack, equipped with both a video camera and a warhead so it can be flown, kamikaze style, into the target it is intended to destroy. And indeed, in early September it was announced[1] that the U.S. Army had signed a nearly $5 million contract in June 2011 with California company AeroVironment for the purchase of Switchblade drones. A Switchblade is launched from a tube roughly two feet long, sprouts wings immediately after exiting the tube, and is then controlled by an operator who looks into the long end of a shoebox-shaped viewer[2] displaying video from the drone. It is equipped with an electric motor that is quiet even when running, and that can be switched off to enable a completely silent glide in the final moments of an approach.

      In the short term, the Switchblade will provide American forces in Afghanistan and perhaps elsewhere with an important new asymmetrical asset in a conflict that is defined in part by asymmetry. However, the American quasi-monopoly on what are formally called “agile munitions systems”[3] and what others have more descriptively termed “suicide drones”[4] is likely to be short-lived. There will be imitators – crude at first – but inevitably better and better, and while reasonable people can disagree on how long it will take before terrorists, insurgents, and other rogue groups can build or acquire weaponized drones that can be guided by video straight into a target, there’s really no dispute that it is a question of when and not if. The day will come when such drones are available to almost anyone who wants them badly enough.

      An accelerating series of events suggests that day may not be far off. There was the 2010 news, for example, of the U.S. government decision to provide unarmed 11-foot-long Shadow drones to Pakistan.[5] Then, there was the August 2011 report that the U.S. Marine Corps is experimenting with arming Shadow drones,[6] meaning that the Pakistanis and others could presumably do so as well. And, as has been widely reported, on September 22, 2011, outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Haqqani faction of the Taliban “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.[7] While politicians and diplomats in the United States and Pakistan continue their carefully choreographed dance to try to put that genie back in the bottle, the rest of us can give voice to what they almost certainly won’t say publicly: If an armed Shadow drone ends up being used in Afghanistan by the Haqqani network, will anyone really be surprised?

      And then there is an international drone market that is, for lack of a better word, exploding. Several dozen different Chinese drone models were on display at the November 2010 Zhuhai air show.[8] Lest there be any doubt regarding Chinese intentions to enter the global market, an official of Xian-based ASN Technology, which claims on its web site to control over 90 percent of the domestic Chinese drone market,[9] said at the Zhuhai show that the company is “interested in exporting” drones, adding “that’s why we’re displaying them here.”[10] Iran is in the mix as well, having unveiled a drone in August 2010 that Iranian President Ahmadinejad managed to describe as both an “ambassador of death” and a “message of peace and friendship" in the same sentence.[11] Iran has long supplied Hezbollah with drones, some of which have been used over Israel.[12] Israel, in turn, has sold drones to Turkey.[13]

      Most of the headlines to date have been about large drones. However, it is the smaller drones that are currently attracting the most research and development attention and that pose the most challenging security threat. Small drones are less expensive to purchase, easier to move and hide, and extremely difficult to detect and stop in flight. If the United States can build a drone like the Switchblade, then sooner or later so, too, can Israel, China, Iran, and many other countries. The international arms market is a murky place, and if quiet sales of small, video-capable, armed drones haven’t occurred already, they will soon.

      It is against this backdrop that the September 28, 2011 arrest of Boston-area resident Rezwan Ferdaus for allegedly plotting to launch attacks in Washington using a remotely controlled model airplane should really be considered. While the plane that Ferdaus was allegedly planning to use was guided by GPS as opposed to video, technology for capturing video and transmitting it wirelessly is built into almost every smart phone. There are likely many thousands of people in the world with the skills to place this technology on a small drone.

      Unfortunately, the alleged Ferdaus plot has been dismissed in some quarters as a joke.[14] But there’s nothing at all laughable about the arrest of someone who, absent being stopped by the FBI, would apparently have been more than happy to carry out a terrorist attack aimed at killing people using a model airplane laden with explosives. And, to scoff at the specifics of his methods is to miss the larger point, much like the Detroit auto industry executives who, according to a perhaps apocryphal story, ridiculed the prototypes shown by Japanese manufacturers at the American auto shows of the mid-twentieth century.

      Presumably there are ongoing efforts in the defense departments of the United States and other responsible nations to develop countermeasures against the potential terrorist use of drones that would enable a suicide bomber to avoid suicide. If there is any message in the combination of the early September Switchblade announcement and the late September Ferdaus arrest, which came only a few weeks after the 10th anniversary of a very different use of airplanes as tools of terror, it is that those efforts are more timely and important than ever.

      [1] AeroVironment, Inc., “U.S. Army Awards AeroVironment $4.9 Million Contract for Switchblade Agile Munition Systems and Services,” September 1, 2011,, retrieved September 29, 2011.

      [2] MSNBC, “U.S. Army orders its first batch of suicide drones,” September 6, 2011,, retrieved September 29, 2011.

      [3] AeroVironment, Inc., op. cit.

      [4] MSNBC, op. cit.

      [5] United Press International, "Pakistan gets U.S. drones," January 26, 2010,, retrieved September 30, 2011.

      [6] Stephen Trimble, "Marine Corps experiments with armed Shadow," August 17, 2011,, retrieved September 30, 2011.

      [7] CBS News, “Mullen blames Pakistan intelligence for attack,” September 22, 2011,, retrieved September 30, 2011.

      [8] Jeremy Page, “China's New Drones Raise Eyebrows,” The Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2010,, retrieved October 4, 2011.


      [10] Jeremy Page, The Wall Street Journal, op. cit.

      [11] MSNBC, “Iran unveils ‘ambassador of death’ bomber,” August 23, 2010,, retrieved October 4, 2011.

      [12] Noah Shachtman, “U.S. Jet Shoots Down Iranian Drone Over Iraq,” Wired Danger Room, March 12, 2009,, retrieved October 4, 2011.

      [13] UPI, “Turkey gets Heron drones,” March 31, 2010,, retrieved October 4, 2011.

      [14] The Wall Street Journal (AP), “Recent Arrest Puts Model Airplanes on Radar,” September 30, 2011,, retrieved September 30, 2011.
  • C
    offline 32

    Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Sun, October 16, 2011 - 11:04 PM
    To "fly a drone" is like playing a video game !
    looking at who are the video-games "masters" we discover a bunch of teenagers without life or girl friend
    that generally are drug addicted and without sense of reality !

    some difference

    • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

      Mon, October 17, 2011 - 9:41 AM
      We either use drones or we don't.

      If we do, allowing empathy to creep into the process is only going to be counterproductive.

      It's just as possible to find someone who will eagerly pull the trigger from a manned aircraft, but it's not always a more efficient thing to do.
      • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

        Mon, October 17, 2011 - 8:48 PM
        > allowing empathy to creep into the process

        Yeah, so when the moral compass goes awry (as you are quite a rabid zionist as well), that's internal collapse.

        As I said, grab your $0.00 Happy American Big Meal and go crawl somewhere, waiting for better days to come back.

        They won't, but in the meanwhile you can drool over overseas wars that your people have instigated.
      • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

        Sun, November 6, 2011 - 9:01 PM
        go ahead and use drones, if you have to, but let's make sure we are actually killing the right people instead of indiscriminately killing anyone who might have supposed "ties" to terrorists.
        • disinformation- get that into your head

          Thu, December 8, 2011 - 6:42 PM
          Firstly, the US military won't be as well suited as the CIA to recruit spies on the ground.

          Next, there is practically no credible reporting from areas where CIA drones operate. It's a huge serious question as to whether the casualties are genuine targets? And to what extent?
          • Re: disinformation- get that into your head

            Tue, December 20, 2011 - 8:15 PM
            Known variously as “unmanned aerial vehicles” (U.A.V.) or “unmanned aircraft systems” (U.A.S.), “drones” as they are more popularly described have a shadowy if increasingly well-known role in military operations. Now they are beginning to find a place in journalism.

            The B.B.C.’s College of Journalism blog reports that a small Polish-made drone provided footage of a demonstration in Warsaw and photographers used a U.A.V. in Moscow to film post-election protests. Both provided material, it says, that were used by international news organizations including the B.B.C.

            Under current UK regulations , a small drone can be deployed providing the operator can see it at all times—giving it a range of a few hundred metres. In theory, that could be perfectly adequate for covering events such as protests, large fires or police operations—the sort of stories that news organizations often send helicopters to cover.

            The problem, however, is that tighter regulations apply (in the U.K. at least) to unmanned aircraft flying in built up and congested areas—exactly the sort of places where most news stories take place. Understandably so—no news organization would want to deal with the legal consequences if its unmanned camera crash-landed onto the head of a peaceful protestor.

            Wired, meanwhile, has more detail on the Polish drone which it says came from a start-up called “RoboKopter”. And Mashable quotes an interview on Palewire with Professor Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who recently founded the Drone Journalism Lab.

            “I think drones—small, cheap, easy-to-use vehicles that can fit in a small bag and carried into the field by a reporter—offer a major opportunity to improve certain kinds of reporting.”

            However, the cost of the basic remote-controlled, G.P.S.-equipped RoboKopter, according to Mashable, is just $6,000 which is not a price so high that it can only be afforded by large news organizations. It surely cannot be long before citizen drone journalists are competing for space above demonstrations and natural disasters.
            • Re: disinformation- get that into your head

              Wed, May 30, 2012 - 3:44 PM
              Let me clarify: The information that's used to identify "targets" comes from humans.

              So you can kill a lot of people with drones, but who decides on whether they were identified genuinely or not?

              Kill #X: ???

              Kill #X+1: ???


              Too many screw-ups means that you've lost the confidence of the local population. Could this have already happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal borderlands?

              If so, then your very expen$ive military operation for all its hoopla has ended up IN THE TOILET.

              So ultimately you've screwed the American Taxpayer. Whether you're the CIA or greedy and amoral Israeli Zionists.
  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Mon, October 17, 2011 - 9:50 AM
    Tomgram: Nick Turse, Mapping America's Shadowy Drone Wars
    By Nick Turse
    Posted on October 16, 2011, Printed on October 17, 2011

    These last weeks, there have been two “occupations” in lower Manhattan, one of which has been getting almost all the coverage -- that of the demonstrators camping out in Zuccotti Park. The other, in the shadows, has been hardly less massive, sustained, or in its own way impressive -- the police occupation of the Wall Street area.

    On a recent visit to the park, I found the streets around the Stock Exchange barricaded and blocked off to traffic, and police everywhere in every form (in and out of uniform) -- on foot, on scooters, on motorcycles, in squad cars with lights flashing, on horses, in paddy wagons or minivans, you name it. At the park’s edge, there is a police observation tower capable of being raised and lowered hydraulically and literally hundreds of police are stationed in the vicinity. I counted more than 50 of them on just one of its sides at a moment when next to nothing was going on -- and many more can be seen almost anywhere in the Wall Street area, lolling in doorways, idling in the subway, ambling on the plazas of banks, and chatting in the middle of traffic-less streets.

    This might be seen as massive overkill. After all, the New York police have already shelled out an extra $1.9 million, largely in overtime pay at a budget-cutting moment in the city. When, as on Thursday, 100 to 150 marchers suddenly headed out from Zuccotti Park to circle Chase Bank several blocks away, close to the same number of police -- some with ominous clumps of flexi-cuffs dangling from their belts -- calved off with them. It’s as if the Occupy Wall Street movement has an eternal dark shadow that follows it everywhere.

    At one level, this is all mystifying. The daily crowds in the park remain remarkably, even startlingly, peaceable. (Any violence has generally been the product of police action.) On an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly police officers could easily handle the situation. There is, of course, another possibility suggested to me by one of the policemen loitering at the Park’s edge doing nothing in particular: “Maybe they’re peaceable because we’re here.” And here's a second possibility: as my friend Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, said to me, “This is the most important piece of real estate on the planet and they’re scared. Look how amazed we are. Imagine how they feel, especially after so many decades of seeing nothing like it.”

    And then there’s a third possibility: that two quite separate universes are simply located in the vicinity of each other and of what, since September 12, 2001, we’ve been calling Ground Zero. Think of it as Ground Zero Doubled, or think of it as the militarized recent American past and the unknown, potentially inspiring American future occupying something like the same space. (You can, of course, come up with your own pairings, some far less optimistic.) In their present state, New York’s finest represent a local version of the way this country has been militarized to its bones in these last years and, since 9/11, transformed into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state.

    Their stakeout in Zuccotti Park is geared to extreme acts, suicide bombers, and terrorism, as well as to a conception of protest and opposition as alien and enemy-like. They are trying to herd, lock in, and possibly strangle a phenomenon that bears no relation to any of this. They are, that is, policing the wrong thing, which is why every act of pepper spraying or swing of the truncheon, every aggressive act (as in the recent eviction threat to “clean” the park) blows back on them and only increases the size and coverage of the movement.

    Though much of the time they are just a few feet apart, the armed state backing that famed 1%, or Wall Street, and the unarmed protesters claiming the other 99% might as well be in two different times in two different universes connected by a Star-Trekkian wormhole and meeting only where pepper spray hits eyes.

    Which means anyone visiting the Occupy Wall Street site is also watching a strange dance of phantoms. Still, we do know one thing. This massive semi-militarized force we continue to call “the police” will, in the coming years, only grow more so. After all, they know but one way to operate.

    Right now, for instance, over crowds of protesters the police hover in helicopters with high-tech cameras and sensors, but in the future there can be little question that in the skies of cities like New York, the police will be operating advanced drone aircraft. Already, as TomDispatch regular Nick Turse indicates in his groundbreaking report, the U.S. military and the CIA are filling the global skies with missile-armed drones and the clamor for domestic drones is growing. The first attack on an American neighborhood, not one in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, or Libya, surely lurks somewhere in our future. Empires, after all, have a way of coming home to roost. Tom

    America’s Secret Empire of Drone Bases
    Its Full Extent Revealed for the First Time
    By Nick Turse

    They increasingly dot the planet. There’s a facility outside Las Vegas where “pilots” work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth at an air base in the United Arab Emirates that almost no one talks about.

    And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide. Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous -- until now.

    Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases -- some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment -- are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war. They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad -- in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign “footprint” and little accountability.

    Using military documents, press accounts, and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by TomDispatch has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations. There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.

    A Galaxy of Bases

    Over the last decade, the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has expanded exponentially, as has media coverage of their use. On September 21st, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military has deployed missile-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones on the “island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia.” A day earlier, a Washington Post piece also mentioned the same base on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago, as well as one in the African nation of Djibouti, another under construction in Ethiopia, and a secret CIA airstrip being built for drones in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. (Some suspect it's Saudi Arabia.)

    Post journalists Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock reported that the “Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.” Within days, the Post also reported that a drone from the new CIA base in that unidentified Middle Eastern country had carried out the assassination of radical al-Qaeda preacher and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

    With the killing of al-Awlaki, the Obama Administration has expanded its armed drone campaign to no fewer than six countries, though the CIA, which killed al-Awlaki, refuses to officially acknowledge its drone assassination program. The Air Force is less coy about its drone operations, yet there are many aspects of those, too, that remain in the shadows. Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes recently told TomDispatch that, “for operational security reasons, we do not discuss worldwide operating locations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, to include numbers of locations around the world.”

    Still, those 60 military and CIA bases worldwide, directly connected to the drone program, tell us much about America’s war-making future. From command and control and piloting to maintenance and arming, these facilities perform key functions that allow drone campaigns to continue expanding, as they have for more than a decade. Other bases are already under construction or in the planning stages. When presented with our list of Air Force sites within America’s galaxy of drone bases, Lieutenant Colonel Haynes responded, “I have nothing further to add to what I’ve already said.”

    Even in the face of government secrecy, however, much can be discovered. Here, then, for the record is a TomDispatch accounting of America’s drone bases in the United States and around the world.

    The Near Abroad

    News reports have frequently focused on Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas as ground zero in America’s military drone campaign. Sitting in darkened, air-conditioned rooms 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board the plane. Their faces are lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone. By squeezing a trigger on a joystick, one of those Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.

    While Creech gets the lion’s share of media attention -- it even has its own drones on site -- numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars. The same video-game-style warfare is carried out by U.S and British pilots not far away at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS). According to a factsheet provided to TomDispatch by the Air Force, the 2nd SOS and its drone operators are scheduled to be relocated to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida in the coming months.

    Reapers or Predators are also being flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York. Recently, it was announced that Reapers flown by Hancock’s pilots would begin taking off on training missions from the Army’s Fort Drum, also in New York State.

    Meanwhile, at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by the New York Times, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell-phone intercepts, high-altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan. They call it “Death TV” and are constantly instant-messaging with and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements. Air Force analysts also closely monitor the battlefield from Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida and a facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.

    CIA drone operators also reportedly pilot their aircraft from the Agency’s nearby Langley, Virginia headquarters. It was from here that analysts apparently watched footage of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, for example, thanks to video sent back by the RQ-170 Sentinel, an advanced drone nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar.” According to Air Force documents, the Sentinel is flown from both Creech Air Force Base and Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

    Predators, Reapers, and Sentinels are just part of the story. At Beale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia). Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.

    Other bases have been intimately involved in training drone operators, including Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, as is the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona, which is home to “the world’s largest UAV training center,” according to a report by National Defense magazine. There, hundreds of employees of defense giant General Dynamics train military personnel to fly smaller tactical drones like the Hunter and the Shadow. The physical testing of drones goes on at adjoining Libby Army Airfield and “two UAV runways located approximately four miles west of Libby,” according to Global Security, an on-line clearinghouse for military information.

    Additionally, small drone training for the Army is carried out at Fort Benning in Georgia while at Fort Rucker, Alabama -- “the home of Army aviation” -- the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts pertaining to UAVs. Recently, Fort Benning also saw the early testing of true robotic drones -- which fly without human guidance or a hand on any joystick. This, wrote the Washington Post, is considered the next step toward a future in which drones will “hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.”

    The Army has also carried out UAV training exercises at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and, earlier this year, the Navy launched its X-47B, a next-generation semi-autonomous stealth drone, on its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. That flying robot -- designed to operate from the decks of aircraft carriers -- has since been sent on to Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River for further testing. At nearby Webster Field, the Navy worked out kinks in its Fire Scout pilotless helicopter, which has also been tested at Fort Rucker and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, as well as Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station. The latter base was also where the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial system was developed. It is now based there and at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State.

    Foreign Jewels in the Crown

    The Navy is actively looking for a suitable site in the Western Pacific for a BAMS base, and is currently in talks with several Persian Gulf states about a site in the Middle East. It already has Global Hawks perched at its base in Sigonella, Italy.

    The Air Force is now negotiating with Turkey to relocate some of the Predator drones still operating in Iraq to the giant air base at Incirlik next year. Many different UAVs have been based in Iraq since the American invasion of that country, including small tactical models like the Raven-B that troops launched by hand from Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Shadow UAVs that flew from Forward Operating Base Normandy in Baqubah Province, Predators operating out of Balad Airbase, miniature Desert Hawk drones launched from Tallil Air Base, and Scan Eagles based at Al Asad Air Base.

    Elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, according to Aviation Week, the military is launching Global Hawks from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, piloted by personnel stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, to track “shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Arabian Sea.” There are unconfirmed reports that the CIA may be operating drones from the Emirates as well. In the past, other UAVs have apparently been flown from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base and Al Jaber Air Base, as well as Seeb Air Base in Oman.

    At Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the Air Force runs an air operations command and control facility, critical to the drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The new secret CIA base on the Arabian peninsula, used to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, may or may not be the airstrip in Saudi Arabia whose existence a senior U.S. military official recently confirmed to Fox News. In the past, the CIA has also operated UAVs out of Tuzel, Uzbekistan.

    In neighboring Afghanistan, drones fly from many bases including Jalalabad Air Base, Kandahar Air Field, the air base at Bagram, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Edinburgh and FOB Delaram II, to name a few. Afghan bases are, however, more than just locations where drones take off and land.

    It is a common misconception that U.S.-based operators are the only ones who “fly” America’s armed drones. In fact, in and around America’s war zones, UAVs begin and end their flights under the control of local “pilots.” Take Afghanistan’s massive Bagram Air Base. After performing preflight checks alongside a technician who focuses on the drone’s sensors, a local airman sits in front of a Dell computer tower and multiple monitors, two keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches, overseeing the plane’s takeoff before handing it over to a stateside counterpart with a similar electronics set-up. After the mission is complete, the controls are transferred back to the local operators for the landing. Additionally, crews in Afghanistan perform general maintenance and repairs on the drones.

    In the wake of a devastating suicide attack by an al-Qaeda double agent that killed CIA officers and contractors at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost in 2009, it came to light that the facility was heavily involved in target selection for drone strikes across the border in Pakistan. The drones themselves, as the Washington Post noted at the time, were “flown from separate bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

    Both the Air Force and the CIA have conducted operations in Pakistani air space, with some missions originating in Afghanistan and others from inside Pakistan. In 2006, images of what appear to be Predator drones stationed at Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan's Balochistan province were found on Google Earth and later published. In 2009, the New York Times reported that operatives from Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, had taken over the task of arming Predator drones at the CIA’s “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

    Following the May Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, that country’s leaders reportedly ordered the United States to leave Shamsi. The Obama administration evidently refused and word leaked out, according to the Washington Post, that the base was actually owned and sublet to the U.S. by the United Arab Emirates, which had built the airfield “as an arrival point for falconry and other hunting expeditions in Pakistan.”

    The U.S. and Pakistani governments have since claimed that Shamsi is no longer being used for drone strikes. True or not, the U.S. evidently also uses other Pakistani bases for its drones, including possibly PAF Base Shahbaz, located near the city of Jacocobad, and another base located near Ghazi.

    The New Scramble for Africa

    Recently, the headline story, when it comes to the expansion of the empire of drone bases, has been Africa. For the last decade, the U.S. military has been operating out of Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti. Not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it became a base for Predator drones and has since been used to conduct missions over neighboring Somalia.

    For some time, rumors have also been circulating about a secret American base in Ethiopia. Recently, a U.S. official revealed to the Washington Post that discussions about a drone base there had been underway for up to four years, “but that plan was delayed because ‘the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.’” Now construction is evidently underway, if not complete.

    Then, of course, there is that base on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. A small fleet of Navy and Air Force drones began operating openly there in 2009 to track pirates in the region’s waters. Classified diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, however, reveal that those drones have also secretly been used to carry out missions in Somalia. “Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport,” the Post reports, the base consists of three or four “Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.”

    The U.S. has also recently sent four smaller tactical drones to the African nations of Uganda and Burundi for use by those countries’ militaries.

    New and Old Empires

    Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come. Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and -- with counterinsurgency out of favor -- the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.

    During the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, as the U.S. was building up its drone fleets, the country launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, using drones in at least four of those countries. In less than three years under President Obama, the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It maintains that it has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation (or at least any nation in the global south).

    According to a report by the Congressional Budget Office published earlier this year, “the Department of Defense plans to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” over the next decade. In practical terms, this means more drones like the Reaper.

    Military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Reaper “can fly 1,150 miles from base, conduct missions, and return home… [T]he time a drone can stay aloft depends on how heavily armed it is.” According to a drone operator training document obtained by TomDispatch, at maximum payload, meaning with 3,750 pounds worth of Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 or GBU-30 bombs on board, the Reaper can remain aloft for 16 to 20 hours.

    Even a glance at a world map tells you that, if the U.S. is to carry out ever more drone strikes across the developing world, it will need more bases for its future UAVs. As an unnamed senior military official pointed out to a Washington Post reporter, speaking of all those new drone bases clustered around the Somali and Yemeni war zones, “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense -- you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

    Earlier this year, an analysis by TomDispatch determined that there are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases scattered across the globe -- a shadowy base-world providing plenty of existing sites that can, and no doubt will, host drones. But facilities selected for a pre-drone world may not always prove optimal locations for America’s current and future undeclared wars and assassination campaigns. So further expansion in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia is a likelihood.

    What are the Air Force’s plans in this regard? Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes was typically circumspect, saying, “We are constantly evaluating potential operating locations based on evolving mission needs.” If the last decade is any indication, those “needs” will only continue to grow.

    Nick Turse is a historian, essayist, and investigative journalist. The associate editor of and a senior editor at, his latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books). This article marks another of Turse’s joint Alternet/TomDispatch investigative reports on U.S. national security policy and the American empire.

    Copyright 2011 Nick Turse

    © 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
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  • the drone mentality

    Sun, November 6, 2011 - 9:00 PM
    In a New York Times Op-Ed yesterday, international human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith describes a meeting he had in Pakistan with residents from the Afghan-Pakistani border region that has been relentlessly bombed by American drones; if I had one political wish this week, it would be that everyone who supports (or acquiesces to) President Obama’s wildly accelerated drone attacks would read this:

    The meeting had been organized so that Pashtun tribal elders who lived along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier could meet with Westerners for the first time to offer their perspectives on the shadowy drone war being waged by the Central Intelligence Agency in their region. Twenty men came to air their views; some brought their young sons along to experience this rare interaction with Americans. In all, 60 villagers made the journey. . . .

    On the night before the meeting, we had a dinner, to break the ice. During the meal, I met a boy named Tariq Aziz. He was 16. As we ate, the stern, bearded faces all around me slowly melted into smiles. Tariq smiled much sooner; he was too young to boast much facial hair, and too young to have learned to hate.

    The next day, the jirga lasted several hours. I had a translator, but the gist of each man’s speech was clear. American drones would circle their homes all day before unleashing Hellfire missiles, often in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. Death lurked everywhere around them. . . .

    On Monday, [Tariq] was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. The two of them had been dispatched, with Tariq driving, to pick up their aunt and bring her home to the village of Norak, when their short lives were ended by a Hellfire missile.

    My mistake had been to see the drone war in Waziristan in terms of abstract legal theory — as a blatantly illegal invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, akin to President Richard M. Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970.

    But now, the issue has suddenly become very real and personal. Tariq was a good kid, and courageous. My warm hand recently touched his in friendship; yet, within three days, his would be cold in death, the rigor mortis inflicted by my government.

    And Tariq’s extended family, so recently hoping to be our allies for peace, has now been ripped apart by an American missile — most likely making any effort we make at reconciliation futile.

    This tragedy repeats itself over and over. After I linked to this Op-Ed yesterday on Twitter — by writing that “every American who cheers for drone strikes should confront the victims of their aggression” — I was predictably deluged with responses justifying Obama’s drone attacks on the ground that they are necessary to kill The Terrorists. Reading the responses, I could clearly discern the mentality driving them: I have never heard of 99% of the people my government kills with drones, nor have I ever seen any evidence about them, but I am sure they are Terrorists. That is the drone mentality in both senses of the word; it’s that combination of pure ignorance and blind faith in government authorities that you will inevitably hear from anyone defending President Obama’s militarism. As Jonathan Schwarz observed after the U.S. unveiled the dastardly Iranian plot to hire a failed used car salesman to kill America’s close friend, the Saudi Ambassador: “I’d bet the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. has closer ‘ties’ to Al Qaeda than 90% of the people we’ve killed with drones.”

    As it turns out, it isn’t only the President’s drone-cheering supporters who have no idea who is being killed by the program they support; neither does the CIA itself. A Wall Street Journal article yesterday described internal dissension in the administration to Obama’s broad standards for when drone strikes are permitted, and noted that the “bulk” of the drone attacks — the bulk of them – “target groups of men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.” As Spencer Ackerman put it: “The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups”; moreover, the administration refuses to describe what it even means by being “associated” with a Terrorist group (indeed, it steadfastly refuses to tell citizens anything about the legal principles governing its covert drone wars).

    Of course, nobody inside the U.S. Government is objecting on the ground that it is wrong to blow people up without having any knowledge of who they are and without any evidence they have done anything wrong. Rather, the internal dissent is grounded in the concern that these drone attacks undermine U.S. objectives by increasing anti-American sentiment in the region (there’s that primitive, inscrutable Muslim culture rearing its head again: they strangely seem to get very angry when foreign governments send sky robots over their countries and blow up their neighbors, teenagers and children). But whatever else is true, huge numbers of Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — defend Obama’s massive escalation of drone attacks on the ground that he’s killing Terrorists even though they — and, according to the Wall Street Journal, Obama himself — usually don’t even know whose lives they’re snuffing out. Remember, though: we have to kill The Muslim Terrorists because they have no regard for human life.

    This is why it’s so imperative to do everything possible to shine a light on the victims of President Obama’s aggression in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere: ignoring the victims, rendering them invisible, is a crucial prerequisite to sustaining propaganda and maintaining support for this militarism (that’s the same reason John Brennan lied — yet again — by assuring Americans that there are no innocent victims of drone attacks). Many people want to hear nothing about these victims — like Tariq — because they don’t want to accept that the leader for whom they cheer and the drone attacks they support are regularly ending the lives of large numbers of innocent people, including children. They believe the fairy tale that the U.S. is only killing Terrorists and “militants” because they want to believe it (at this point, the word “militant” has no real definition other than: he or she who dies when a missile shot by a U.S. drone detonates). It’s a self-serving, self-protective form of self-delusion, and the more we hear about the dead teeangers left in the wake of this violence, the more difficult it is to maintain that delusion. That’s precisely why we hear so little about it.

    Over the last week, I had the genuine privilege of spending substantial amounts of time with participants in the truly inspiring Occupy movement around the country, including visiting Occupy Oakland on Thursday. This same dynamic is at play there. Many sneer at the protest encampments because they include the homeless, the unstable, the “dirty,” the jobless, and those who are otherwise downtrodden, dispossessed and unable to live decent lives. Much of that sneering is due to the desire that these people remain hidden from sight, invisible, so that we can avoid facing the reality of what our society has produced on a large scale (having Dirty, Disobedient People be part of a movement vaguely associated with liberalism also harms the ability of progressive media stars to maintain their access to the Halls of Seriousness). But they are and should be part of that movement precisely because the disappearance of the middle class and booming wealth and income inequality produces exactly this type of human suffering. There are those who love to parade around as supporters of the marginalized and poor who prefer that they remain silent and invisible — distant abstractions — because being viscerally confronted with their human realness is unpleasant and uncomfortable. That’s exactly why victims of President Obama’s relentless drone attacks remain invisible and many prefer to keep it that way — it’s best not to confront the reality of the misery that one’s policies wreak — and it’s exactly why everything should be done to prevent that disappearing from happening.

    * * * * *

    Pratap Chatterjee of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism attended the meeting in Islamabad which Smith describes in that Op-Ed and wrote in detail about it. Chatterjee posted video of Tariq at that meeting — who is seen on the video, posted below, in the dark shirt and yellow hat just days before his death-by-American-drone — and wrote the following:

    Among the group was Tariq Aziz, a quiet 16-year-old, who had come after he received a phone call from a lawyer in Islamabad offering him an opportunity to learn basic photography to help document these strikes. . . .

    Tariq was proud to be part of this meeting. About 18 months earlier, in April 2010, his cousin Aswar Ullah was killed by a missile fired from a drone as he rode a motorcycle near Norak. . . .

    What none of us could have imagined was that 72 hours later, this football-loving teenager would himself be killed by a CIA drone, along with his 12-year-old cousin Waheed Khan. . . .

    Tariq and Waheed’s death brought the total number of children killed in drone strikes to 175, according to the Bureau’s own findings. As part of an ongoing investigation, the Bureau has documented 306 strikes from remotely piloted drones that have killed between 2,359 and 2,959 people. Over 85% of them have been launched by the administration of President Barack Obama.
    Tariq came from a poor community on the border with Afghanistan. He was the youngest of seven children. His father, Mumtaz Khan, was away working in the United Arab Emirates as a driver to support his family. Waheed’s family was equally poor – the 12-year-old worked in a local shop for a salary of just Rs 2000 a month (roughly £15 or $23)

    As I’ve noted before, the statistical methodology used by the Bureau to count innocent victims is the most conservative possible, meaning the numbers are almost certainly much higher. The only thing unusual about Tariq is that his death is receiving substantial attention because of the coincidence that he met with Westerners 72 hours before his life was ended. Most Tariqs simply die without anyone in the country responsible being bothered with hearing about it.
  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Tue, December 6, 2011 - 3:34 PM
    Blair Addresses the CIA, Drones, and Pakistan
    By Scott Horton

    On Monday, Admiral Denis Blair, former National Intelligence Director for President Obama, presented remarks concerning military readiness and potential defense budget cuts at a function hosted by the Aspen Institute. In response to a question from Fox News’s Catherine Herridge about the development of drone policy, Blair offered a surprisingly forceful critique of the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan:

    Covert action that goes on for years doesn’t generally stay covert. And you need a way to make it something that is part of your overt policy. I think that the way that we know about to do that is to make it a military operation and to — therefore, when you are going to be using drones over a long period of time, I would say you ought to give strong consideration to running those as military operations.

    Within the armed forces we have a set of procedures that are open, known for how you make decisions about when to use deadly force or not, levels of approval degrees of proof and so on and they are things that can be and should be openly put out. So yet another of the problems of trying to conduct long-term sustained covert operations is this secrecy, which you do for other purposes but then puts you in this position which we said. So, I argue strongly that covert action should be retained for relatively short duration operations which — no kidding — should not be talked about and should not be publicized. That if something has been going for a long period of time, somebody else ought to do it, not intelligence agencies.

    The remarks can be viewed on CSPAN here, beginning at the 1:17 mark.

    Blair was sharply critical of the CIA-run drone war in Pakistan in his final months in the Obama White House, and he has acknowledged that friction with the CIA led to his departure. But his critique (which is almost identical to the one I have been raising for the past three years) is firmly rooted in American national-security doctrine.

    The CIA has been able to stifle serious discussion of its highly anomalous military role in Pakistan thanks to a combination of mission creep and secrecy. First the agency secured command of drones as an intelligence asset. Then it gained control of drones armed with lethal weaponry for occasional covert operations. These two stages were arguably within the scope of the agency’s charter under the National Security Act. But then developments in Pakistan during the course of the Afghanistan War led the White House to conclude that drone operations there were best conducted covertly and by the CIA. This clearly occurred because Islamabad wanted to maintain a posture in which it publicly opposed the use of drones, even as it was not only enabling them but actively helping the U.S. target at least some of the strikes.

    As Blair points out, the CIA ended up running a military campaign that has entailed hundreds of strikes, often linked to hostilities in Afghanistan, over a period of seven years. The agency developed targets, operated strikes, and performed post-strike assessments, all using covert assets on Pakistani soil. The scope of this campaign amounts to a de facto militarization of the CIA — minus the training, procedures, and public justification that Blair notes must accompany military action.

    The current crisis in U.S.–Pakistan relations — which is to some extent the consequence of avoidable missteps by the CIA, such as the Raymond Davis affair — further validates Blair’s critique. As the United States and Pakistan seek to mend their relationship, the White House should carefully reassess some of the decisions that have led to the breakdown, one of which is clearly the unprecedented, essentially military mission being conducted by the CIA. Blair’s resistance may have earned him Langley’s enmity, and may have hastened his departure from the White House, but he was right about every element of it. Indeed, the CIA’s drone war goes to the heart of America’s challenge in forging a stable relationship with Pakistan and the nations emerging from the Arab Spring. The campaign cannot be reconciled with the Obama Administration’s talk of dedication to democracy, nor of respect for the rule of law.
  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Tue, December 20, 2011 - 8:12 PM
    December 17, 2011
    In Strikes on Libya by NATO, an Unspoken Civilian Toll

    TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO’s seven-month air campaign in Libya, hailed by the alliance and many Libyans for blunting a lethal crackdown by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and helping to push him from power, came with an unrecognized toll: scores of civilian casualties the alliance has long refused to acknowledge or investigate.

    By NATO’s telling during the war, and in statements since sorties ended on Oct. 31, the alliance-led operation was nearly flawless — a model air war that used high technology, meticulous planning and restraint to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s troops, which was the alliance’s mandate.

    “We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,” the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in November.

    But an on-the-ground examination by The New York Times of airstrike sites across Libya — including interviews with survivors, doctors and witnesses, and the collection of munitions remnants, medical reports, death certificates and photographs — found credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit.

    In all, at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO at these sites, available evidence suggests. While that total is not high compared with other conflicts in which Western powers have relied heavily on air power, and less than the exaggerated accounts circulated by the Qaddafi government, it is also not a complete accounting. Survivors and doctors working for the anti-Qaddafi interim authorities point to dozens more civilians wounded in these and other strikes, and they referred reporters to other sites where civilian casualties were suspected.

    Two weeks after being provided a 27-page memorandum from The Times containing extensive details of nine separate attacks in which evidence indicated that allied planes had killed or wounded unintended victims, NATO modified its stance.

    “From what you have gathered on the ground, it appears that innocent civilians may have been killed or injured, despite all the care and precision,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We deeply regret any loss of life.”

    She added that NATO was in regular contact with the new Libyan government and that “we stand ready to work with the Libyan authorities to do what they feel is right.”

    NATO, however, deferred the responsibility of initiating any inquiry to Libya’s interim authorities, whose survival and climb to power were made possible largely by the airstrike campaign. So far, Libyan leaders have expressed no interest in examining NATO’s mistakes.

    The failure to thoroughly assess the civilian toll reduces the chances that allied forces, which are relying ever more heavily on air power rather than risking ground troops in overseas conflicts, will examine their Libyan experience to minimize collateral deaths elsewhere. Allied commanders have been ordered to submit a lessons-learned report to NATO headquarters in February. NATO’s incuriosity about the many lethal accidents raises questions about how thorough that review will be.

    NATO’s experience in Libya also reveals an attitude that initially prevailed in Afghanistan. There, NATO forces, led by the United States, tightened the rules of engagement for airstrikes and insisted on better targeting to reduce civilian deaths only after repeatedly ignoring or disputing accounts of airstrikes that left many civilians dead.

    In Libya, NATO’s inattention to its unintended victims has also left many wounded civilians with little aid in the aftermath of the country’s still-chaotic change in leadership.

    These victims include a boy blasted by debris in his face and right eye, a woman whose left leg was amputated, another whose foot and leg wounds left her disabled, a North Korean doctor whose left foot was crushed and his wife, who suffered a fractured skull.

    The Times’s investigation included visits to more than 25 sites, including in Tripoli, Surman, Mizdah, Zlitan, Ga’a, Majer, Ajdabiya, Misurata, Surt, Brega and Sabratha and near Benghazi. More than 150 targets — bunkers, buildings or vehicles — were hit at these places.

    NATO warplanes flew thousands of sorties that dropped 7,700 bombs or missiles; because The Times did not examine sites in several cities and towns where the air campaign was active, the casualty estimate could be low.

    There are indications that the alliance took many steps to avoid harming civilians, and often did not damage civilian infrastructure useful to Colonel Qaddafi’s military. Elements of two American-led air campaigns in Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, appear to have been avoided, including attacks on electrical grids.

    Such steps spared civilians certain hardships and risks that accompanied previous Western air-to-ground operations. NATO also said that allied forces did not use cluster munitions or ordnance containing depleted uranium, both of which pose health and environmental risks, in Libya at any time.

    The alliance’s fixed-wing aircraft dropped only laser- or satellite-guided weapons, said Col. Gregory Julian, a NATO spokesman; no so-called dumb bombs were used.

    While the overwhelming preponderance of strikes seemed to have hit their targets without killing noncombatants, many factors contributed to a run of fatal mistakes. These included a technically faulty bomb, poor or dated intelligence and the near absence of experienced military personnel on the ground who could help direct airstrikes.

    The alliance’s apparent presumption that residences thought to harbor pro-Qaddafi forces were not occupied by civilians repeatedly proved mistaken, the evidence suggests, posing a reminder to advocates of air power that no war is cost- or error-free.

    The investigation also found significant damage to civilian infrastructure from certain attacks for which a rationale was not evident or risks to civilians were clear. These included strikes on warehouses that current anti-Qaddafi guards said contained only food, or near businesses or homes that were destroyed, including an attack on a munitions bunker beside a neighborhood that caused a large secondary explosion, scattering warheads and toxic rocket fuel.

    NATO has also not yet provided data to Libyans on the locations or types of unexploded ordnance from its strikes. At least two large weapons were present at sites visited by The Times. “This information is urgently needed,” said Dr. Ali Yahwya, chief surgeon at the Zlitan hospital.

    Moreover, the scouring of one strike site found remnants of NATO munitions in a ruined building that an alliance spokesman explicitly said NATO did not attack.

    That mistake — a pair of strikes — killed 12 anti-Qaddafi fighters and nearly killed a civilian ambulance crew aiding wounded men. It underscored NATO’s sometimes tenuous grasp of battle lines and raised questions about the forthrightness and accuracy of the alliance’s public-relations campaign.

    The second strike pointed to a tactic that survivors at several sites recounted: warplanes restriking targets minutes after a first attack, a practice that imperiled, and sometimes killed, civilians rushing to the wounded.

    Pressed about the dangers posed to noncombatants by such attacks, NATO said it would reconsider the tactic’s rationale in its internal campaign review. “That’s a valid point to take into consideration in future operations,” Colonel Julian said.

    That statement is a shift in the alliance’s stance. NATO’s response to allegations of mistaken attacks had long been carefully worded denials and insistence that its operations were devised and supervised with exceptional care. Faced with credible allegations that it killed civilians, the alliance said it had neither the capacity for nor intention of investigating and often repeated that disputed strikes were sound.

    The alliance maintained this position even after two independent Western organizations — Human Rights Watch and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or Civic — met privately with NATO officials and shared field research about mistakes, including, in some cases, victims’ names and the dates and locations where they died.

    Organizations researching civilian deaths in Libya said that the alliance’s resistance to making itself accountable and acknowledging mistakes amounted to poor public policy. “It’s crystal clear that civilians died in NATO strikes,” said Fred Abrahams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “But this whole campaign is shrouded by an atmosphere of impunity” and by NATO’s and the Libyan authorities’ mutually congratulatory statements.

    Mr. Abrahams added that the matter went beyond the need to assist civilians harmed by airstrikes, though he said that was important. At issue, he said, was “who is going to lose their lives in the next campaign because these errors and mistakes went unexamined, and no one learned from them?”

    Human Rights Watch and Civic also noted that the alliance’s stance on civilian casualties it caused in Libya was at odds with its practices for so-called collateral damage in Afghanistan. There, public anger and political tension over fatal mistakes led NATO to adopt policies for investigating actions that caused civilian harm, including guidelines for expressing condolences and making small payments to victims or their families.

    “You would think, and I did think, that all of the lessons learned from Afghanistan would have been transferred to Libya,” said Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of Civic, which helped NATO devise its practices for Afghanistan. “But many of them didn’t.”

    Choosing Targets

    When foreign militaries began attacking Libya’s loyalists on March 19, the United States military, more experienced than NATO at directing large operations, coordinated the campaign. On March 31, the Americans transferred command to NATO.

    Seven months later, the alliance had destroyed more than 5,900 military targets by means of roughly 9,700 strike sorties, according to its data, helping to dismantle the pro-Qaddafi military and militias. Warplanes from France, Britain, the United States, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Canada dropped ordnance. Two non-NATO nations, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, participated on a small scale.

    France carried out about a third of all strike sorties, Britain 21 percent and the United States 19 percent, according to data from each nation.

    The attacks fell under two broad categories. So-called deliberate strikes were directed against fixed targets, like buildings or air-defense systems. These targets were selected and assigned to pilots before aircraft took off.

    Deliberate strikes were planned to minimize risks to civilians, NATO said. In Naples, Italy, intelligence analysts and targeting specialists vetted proposed targets and compiled lists, which were sent to an operations center near Bologna, where targets were matched to specific aircraft and weapons.

    For some targets, like command bunkers, NATO said, it conducted long periods of surveillance first. Drones or other aircraft chronicled the daily routines at the sites, known as “patterns of life,” until commanders felt confident that each target was valid.

    Other considerations then came into play. Targeting specialists chose, for example, the angle of attack and time of day thought to pose the least risk to civilians. They would also consider questions of ordnance. These included the size and type of bomb, and its fuze.

    Some fuzes briefly delay detonation of a bomb’s high-explosive charge. This can allow ordnance to penetrate concrete and explode in an underground tunnel or bunker, or, alternately, to burrow into sand before exploding — reducing the blast wave, shrapnel and risk to people and property nearby.

    (NATO could also choose inert bombs, made of concrete, that can collapse buildings or shatter tanks with kinetic energy rather than an explosion. NATO said such weapons were used fewer than 10 times in the war.)

    Many early strikes were planned missions. But about two-thirds of all strikes, and most of the attacks late in the war, were another sort: dynamic strikes.

    Dynamic strikes were against targets of opportunity. Crews on aerial patrols would spot or be told of a potential target, like suspected military vehicles. Then, if cleared by controllers in Awacs aircraft, they would attack.

    NATO said dynamic missions, too, were guided by practices meant to limit risks. On Oct. 24, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada, the operation’s commander, described a philosophy beyond careful target vetting or using only guided weapons: restraint. “Only when we had a clear shot would we take it,” he said.

    Colonel Julian, the spokesman, said there were hundreds of instances when pilots could have released ordnance but because of concerns for civilians they held fire. Col. Alain Pelletier, commander of seven Canadian CF-18 fighters that flew 946 strike sorties, said Canada installed a special computer software modification in its planes that allowed pilots to assess the likely blast radius around an intended target and to call off strikes if the technology warned they posed too great a risk to civilians.

    Colonel Julian also said that NATO broadcast radio messages and that it dropped millions of leaflets to warn Libyans to stay away from likely military targets, a practice Libyan citizens across much of the country confirmed.

    A Blow to the Rebels

    Civilians were killed by NATO within days of the alliance’s intervention, the available evidence shows, beginning with one of the uglier mistakes of the air war: the pummeling of a secret rebel armored convoy that was advancing through the desert toward the Qaddafi forces’ eastern front lines.

    Having survived the first wave of air-to-ground attacks, the loyalists were taking steps to avoid attracting NATO bombs. They moved in smaller formations and sometimes set aside armored vehicles in favor of pickup trucks resembling those that rebels drove. Pilots suddenly had fewer targets.

    On April 7, as the rebel armor lined up on a hill about 20 miles from Brega, NATO aircraft struck. In a series of attacks, laser-guided bombs stopped the formation, destroyed the rebels’ armor and scattered the anti-Qaddafi fighters, killing several of them, survivors said.

    The attack continued as civilians, including ambulance crews, tried to converge on the craters and flames to aid the wounded. Three shepherds were among them.

    As the shepherds approached over the sand, a bomb slammed in again, said one of them, Abdul Rahman Ali Suleiman Sudani. The blast knocked them over, he said. His two cousins were hit.

    One, he said, was cut in half; the other had a gaping chest wound. Both died. Mr. Sudani and other relatives returned to the wreckage later and retrieved the remains for burial in Kufra. The men had died, he said, trying to help.

    “We called their families in Sudan and told them, ‘Your sons, they have passed away,’ ” he said.

    Colonel Julian declined to discuss this episode but said that each time NATO aircraft returned to strike again was a distinct event and a distinct decision, and that it was not a general practice for NATO to “double tap” its targets.

    This practice was reported several times by survivors at separate attacks and cited to explain why some civilians opted not to help at strike sites or bolted in fear soon after they did.

    Colonel Julian said the tactic was likely to be included in NATO’s internal review of the air campaign.

    An Errant Strike

    NATO’s planning or restraint did not protect the family of Ali Mukhar al-Gharari when his home was shattered in June by a phenomenon as old as air-to-ground war: errant ordnance.

    A retiree in Tripoli, Mr. Gharari owned a three-story house he shared with his adult children and their families. Late on June 19 a bomb struck it squarely, collapsing the front side. The rubble buried a courtyard apartment, the family said, where Karima, Mr. Gharari’s adult daughter, lived with her husband and two children, Jomana, 2, and Khaled, 7 months.

    All four were killed, as was another of Mr. Gharari’s adult children, Faruj, who was blasted from his second-floor bed to the rubble below, two of his brothers said. Eight other family members were wounded, one seriously.

    The Qaddafi government, given to exaggeration, claimed that nine civilians died in the airstrike, including a rescue worker electrocuted while clearing rubble. These deaths have not been independently corroborated. There has been no dispute about the Gharari deaths.

    Initially, NATO almost acknowledged its mistake. “A military missile site was the intended target,” an alliance statement said soon after. “There may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties.”

    Then it backtracked. Kristele Younes, director of field operations for Civic, the victims’ group, examined the site and delivered her findings to NATO. She met a cold response. “They said, ‘We have no confirmed reports of civilian casualties,’ ” Ms. Younes said.

    The reason, she said, was that the alliance had created its own definition for “confirmed”: only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed. But because the alliance declined to investigate allegations, its casualty tally by definition could not budge — from zero.

    “The position was absurd,” Ms. Younes said. “But they made it very clear: there was no appetite within NATO to look at these incidents.”

    The position left the Gharari family disoriented, and in social jeopardy. Another of Mr. Gharari’s sons, Mohammed, said the family supported the revolution. But since NATO’s attack, other Libyans have labeled the family pro-Qaddafi. If NATO attacked the Ghararis’ home, the street logic went, the alliance must have had a reason.

    Mohammed al-Gharari said he would accept an apology from NATO. He said he could even accept the mistake. “If this was an error from their control room, I will not say anything harsh, because that was our destiny,” he said.

    But he asked that NATO lift the dishonor from the family and set the record straight. “NATO should tell the truth,” he said. “They should tell what happened, so everyone knows our family is innocent.”

    A ‘Horrible Mistake’

    In the hours before his wife and two of their sons were killed, on Aug. 4, Mustafa Naji al-Morabit thought he had taken adequate precautions.

    When Colonel Qaddafi’s officers began meeting at a home next door in Zlitan, he moved his family. That was in July. The adjacent property, Mr. Morabit and his neighbors said, was owned by a loyalist doctor who hosted commanders who organized the local front.

    About a month later, as rebels pressed near, the officers fled, Mr. Morabit said. He and his family returned home on Aug. 2, assuming that the danger had passed.

    Calamity struck two days later. A bomb roared down in the early morning quiet and slammed into their concrete home, causing its front to buckle.

    Mr. Morabit’s wife, Eptisam Ali al-Barbar, died of a crushed skull. Two of their three sons — Mohammed, 6, and Moataz, 3 — were killed, too. Three toes on the left foot of Fatima Umar Mansour, Mr. Morabit’s mother, were severed. Her lower left leg was snapped.

    “We were just in our homes at night,” she said, showing the swollen leg.

    The destruction of their home showed that even with careful standards for target selection, mistakes occurred. Not only did NATO hit the wrong building, survivors and neighbors said, but it also hit it more than two days late.

    Mr. Morabit added a sorrowful detail. He suspected that the bomb was made of concrete; there seemed to be no fire or explosion when it struck, he said. NATO may have tried to minimize damage, he added, but the would-be benefits of its caution were lost. “I want to know why,” he said. “NATO said they are so organized, that they are specialists. So why? Why this horrible mistake?”

    It is not clear whether the mistake was made by the pilot or those who selected the target. NATO declined to answer questions about the strike.

    On Aug. 8, four days after destroying the Morabit home, NATO hit buildings occupied by civilians again, this time in Majer, according to survivors, doctors and independent investigators. The strikes were NATO’s bloodiest known accidents in the war.

    The attack began with a series of 500-pound laser-guided bombs, called GBU-12s, ordnance remnants suggest. The first house, owned by Ali Hamid Gafez, 61, was crowded with Mr. Gafez’s relatives, who had been dislocated by the war, he and his neighbors said.

    The bomb destroyed the second floor and much of the first. Five women and seven children were killed; several more people were wounded, including Mr. Gafez’s wife, whose her lower left leg had to be amputated, the doctor who performed the procedure said.

    Minutes later, NATO aircraft attacked two buildings in a second compound, owned by brothers in the Jarud family. Four people were killed, the family said.

    Several minutes after the first strikes, as neighbors rushed to dig for victims, another bomb struck. The blast killed 18 civilians, both families said.

    The death toll has been a source of confusion. The Qaddafi government said 85 civilians died. That claim does not seem to be credible. With the Qaddafi propaganda machine now gone, an official list of dead, issued by the new government, includes 35 victims, among them the late-term fetus of a fatally wounded woman the Gafez family said went into labor as she died.

    The Zlitan hospital confirmed 34 deaths. Five doctors there also told of treating dozens of wounded people, including many women and children.

    All 16 beds in the intensive-care unit were filled with severely wounded civilians, doctors said. Dr. Ahmad Thoboot, the hospital’s co-director, said none of the victims, alive or dead, were in uniform. “There is no doubt,” he said. “This is not fabricated. Civilians were killed.”

    Descriptions of the wounds underscored the difference between mistakes with typical ground-to-ground arms and the unforgiving nature of mistakes with 500-pound bombs, which create blast waves of an entirely different order.

    Dr. Mustafa Ekhial, a surgeon, said the wounds caused by NATO’s bombs were far worse than those the staff had treated for months. “We have to tell the truth,” he said. “What we saw that night was completely different.”

    In previous statements, NATO said it watched the homes carefully before attacking and saw “military staging areas.” It also said that it reviewed the strikes and that claims of civilian casualties were not corroborated by “available factual information.” When asked what this information was, the alliance did not provide it.

    Mr. Gafez issued a challenge. An independent review of all prestrike surveillance video, he said, would prove NATO wrong. Only civilians were there, he said, and he demanded that the alliance release the video.

    Ms. Younes said the dispute missed an essential point. Under NATO’s targeting guidelines and in keeping with practices the alliance has repeatedly insisted that it followed, she said, if civilians were present, aircraft should not have attacked.

    The initial findings on the Majer strikes, part of the United Nations’ investigation into actions by all sides in Libya that harmed civilians, have raised questions about the legality of the attack under international humanitarian law, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

    Homes as Targets

    NATO’s strikes in Majer, one of five known attacks on apparently occupied residences, suggested a pattern. When residential targets were presumed to be used by loyalist forces, civilians were sometimes present — suggesting holes in NATO’s “pattern of life” reviews and other forms of vetting.

    Airstrikes on June 20 in Surman leveled homes owned by Maj. Gen. El-Khweldi el-Hamedi, a longtime confidant of Colonel Qaddafi and a member of his Revolutionary Council. NATO has said the family compound was used as command center.

    The family’s account, partly confirmed by rebels, claimed that the strikes killed 13 civilians and wounded six more. Local anti-Qaddafi fighters corroborated the deaths of four of those killed — one of the general’s daughters-in-law and three of her children.

    General Hamedi was wounded and has taken refuge in Morocco, said his son Khaled. Khaled has filed a lawsuit against NATO, claiming that the attack was a crime. He said that he and his family were victims of rebel “fabrications,” which attracted NATO bombs.

    On Sept. 25, a smaller but similar attack destroyed the residence of Brig. Gen. Musbah Diyab in Surt, neighbors and his family members said.

    General Diyab, a distant cousin of Colonel Qaddafi, was killed. So were seven women and children who crowded into his home as rebels besieged the defenses of some of the Qaddafi loyalists’ last holdouts, witnesses said.

    By this time, tables in Libya had turned. The remaining loyalists held almost no territory. They were a dwindling, disorganized lot. It was the anti-Qaddafi forces who endangered civilians they suspected of having sympathies for the dying government, residents of Surt said.

    On a recent afternoon, Mahmoud Zarog Massoud, his hand swollen with an infection from a wound, wandered the broken shell of a seven-story apartment building in Surt, which was struck in mid-September. His apartment furniture had been blown about by the blast.

    He approached the kitchen, where, he said, he and his wife had just broken their Ramadan fast when ordnance hit. “We were not thinking NATO would attack our home,” he said.

    Judging by the damage and munitions’ remains, a bomb with a delayed fuze struck another wing of the building, burrowed into another apartment and exploded, blasting walls outward. Debris flew across the courtyard and through his kitchen’s balcony door.

    His wife, Aisha Abdujodil, was killed, both her arms severed, he said. Bloodstains still marked the floor and walls.

    Provided written questions, NATO declined to comment on the three strikes on homes in Surman and Surt.

    C. J. Chivers reported from Libya, and Eric Schmitt from Washington, Brussels and Naples, Italy.
  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Thu, February 9, 2012 - 4:33 PM
    After Obama’s remarks on drones, White House rebuffs security questions
    By Karen DeYoung, Published: January 31

    White House spokesman Jay Carney rebuffed questions Tuesday about whether President Obama had violated intelligence restrictions on the secret U.S. drone program in Pakistan when he openly discussed the subject the day before.

    Obama, speaking Monday at an online town hall sponsored by Google, twice uttered the word “drones” as he explained their precise and “judicious” use against al-Qaeda targets. Asked if the president had made a mistake, Carney said he was “not going to discuss . . . supposedly covert programs.”

    He suggested that nothing Obama had said could be a security violation: “He’s the commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States. He’s the president of the United States.”

    On Monday, Obama was responding to “Evan in Brooklyn,” who said that the president had “ordered more drone attacks in your first year than your predecessor did in his entire term.”

    Noting persistent reports of civilian casualties, Evan said he was “curious to know how you feel they help the nation and whether you think they’re worth it.”

    “I want to make sure that people understand that drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama replied. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.”

    The perception that “we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly,” Obama said, is incorrect. “This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on.”

    “I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones,” Obama added.

    His remarks went beyond careful references to what State Department legal adviser Harold H. Koh once called “lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.” In a speech last summer, White House counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan spoke euphemistically of U.S. “removal” of al-Qaeda leaders.

    In a lawsuit last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said that the CIA’s refusal to release information about drone killings was illegal. When the CIA argued that even the “fact of the existence or non-existence” of such a program was classified, the ACLU responded that then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta had spoken openly of U.S. “hits” and “strikes” against al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

    But a federal judge found in favor of the CIA, ruling that Panetta had never spoken specifically about drones or “acknowledged the CIA’s involvement in such [a] program.”

    In the wake of Obama’s comments, “it becomes more and more absurd to say that this is a covert program, a secret program,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer. “There is nobody left in the United States or in Pakistan or in Yemen,” where drone strikes have also been conducted, “who doesn’t know about this.”

    “At this point,” Jaffer said, “the only consequence of pretending that it’s a secret program is that the courts don’t play a role in overseeing it.”

    © The Washington Post Company
  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Fri, April 27, 2012 - 11:50 AM
    April 26, 2012
    Obama Follows Bush in Yemen, Ups Drone Strikes

    Obama expanded the controversial “signature strikes” drone program into Yemen this month, where drone strikes can now be authorized even when the identity of the potential victims is unknown. The Washington Post reports that this program has already killed its first target: Mohammad Said al Umda, an al-Qaeda operative who received extensive training in Afghanistan and is believed to be a commander for al-Qaeda’s operations on the Arabian Peninsula.

    That Obama has chosen to expand the drone campaign in Yemen is not a surprise. The past few years have seen al-Qaeda and other terror groups gain a significant foothold in Yemen, which now threatens to become another Afghanistan—a weak state from which terror attacks can be planned with little harassment by local government. Drone strikes have proven effective in combating these terror cells in the past, and from a tactical perspective continuing them is simply a logical move.

    What is surprising is the lack of public outcry. In the waning years of the Bush Administration, even modest military expansion was greeted by opposition and outrage at presidential overreach. Though Obama’s plan is currently under scrutiny in Congress and is getting some press coverage, it looks like this expansion will be allowed to pass rather quietly.

    Fortunately, it looks like Obama is proceeding wisely, given the ongoing threat to the United States from radicalized terror groups. It’s almost as if we were in a war of some kind, a global war on terror, perhaps. And it’s almost as though the President thought the threat was so grave, so immense, that the United States had to bring everything we have to the struggle. Imagine that.

    Posted in Middle East, Obama, Politics, Quick Takes, U.S. Foreign Policy
  • Re: drone strike casualties disputed

    Fri, June 8, 2012 - 10:50 AM
    Opinion | March 5, 2012
    Deadly Drone Strike on Muslims in the Southern Philippines

    Early last month, Tausug villagers on the Southern Philippine island of Jolo heard a buzzing sound not heard before. It is a sound familiar to the people of Waziristan who live along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, where the United States fights the Taliban. It was the dreaded drone, which arrives from distant and unknown destinations to cause death and destruction. Within minutes, 15 people lay dead and a community plunged into despair, fear and mourning.

    The U.S. drone strike, targeting accused leaders in the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah organisations, marked the first time the weapon has been used in Southeast Asia. The drone has so far been used against Muslim groups and the Tausug are the latest on the list.

    Just as in Pakistan and other theatres of the "war on terror", the strike has provoked controversy, with a Filipino lawmaker condemning the attack as a violation of national sovereignty. This controversy could increase with the recent American announcement that it plans to boost its drone fleet in the Philippines by 30 per cent. The U.S. already has hundreds of troops stationed on Jolo Island, but until now, the Americans have maintained a non-combat "advisory" role.

    The expansion of U.S.' drone war has the potential to further enflame a volatile conflict involving the southern Muslim areas and Manila, which has killed around 120,000 people over the past four decades. To understand what is happening in the Philippines and the U.S.' role in the conflict, we need to look at the Tausug, among the most populous and dominant of the 13 groups of Muslims in the South Philippines known as "Moro", a pejorative name given by Spanish colonisers centuries ago.

    Sulu Sultanate

    For hundreds of years, the Tausug had their own independent kingdom, the Sulu Sultanate, which was established in 1457 and centered in Jolo. The Sultanate became the largest and most influential political power in the Philippines with highly developed trade links across the region. From this base among the Tausug, Islam took root in neighbouring Mindanao Island among the Maguindanao and other groups.

    The antagonistic relationship between the Moro periphery and the centre in Manila developed during the Spanish colonial era. The Spanish had arrived not long after expelling the Muslims from Spain and, intoxicated by that historical victory, were determined to exterminate Islam in the region and unite the Philippines under Christian rule.

    In the instructions given by the Spanish governor on the eve of the first campaign against the southern Muslims in 1578, he ordered that "there be not among them anymore preachers of the doctrines of Mahoma since it is evil and false" and called for all mosques to be destroyed. The governor's instructions set the tone for centuries of continuous warfare. The idea of a predatory central authority is deeply embedded in Tausug mythology and psychology.

    Of all the Moro groups, the Tausug has been considered the most independent and difficult to conquer, with not a single generation of Tausug experiencing life without war over the past 450 years.

    As any anthropologist will testify, the Tausug have survived half a millennium of persecution and attempts at conversion because of their highly developed code and clan structure. It is the classic tribe: egalitarian and feuding clans that unite in the face of the outside enemy and a code which emphasizes honor, revenge, loyalty and hospitality.

    It was only in the late 19th century that Spain succeeded in incorporating the Sulu Sultanate as a protectorate and established a military presence on Jolo. The Spanish were followed by American colonisers who could be as brutal as their predecessors. In a 1906 battle, U.S. troops killed as many as 1,000 Tausug men, women and children, and between 500 and 2,000 in a 1913 engagement.

    Despite the Moro resistance to U.S. colonial rule, they advocated for either continued American administration or their own country, rather than be incorporated into an independent Philippines, which they believed would continue the policies of the Spanish against their religion and culture. The request, however, was rejected.

    'Special provinces'

    Following independence in 1946, the Muslim regions were ruled as "special provinces" with most of the important government posts reserved for Christian Filipinos. Despite being granted electoral representation in the 1950s, the majority of Moro had little interest in dealing with the central government. Manila, for its part, largely neglected the region.

    The Tausug areas remained impoverished and, in the absence of jobs, young men turned to looting and piracy. In response, Manila opted for heavy-handed military tactics and based its largest command of security forces in the nation among the Tausug.

    Central government actions to subdue the Tausug areas in the 1950s resulted in the deaths of almost all fighting age men in certain regions. The society was torn apart, with the young generation growing up without traditional leadership.

    The current conflict began in 1968 with what became known as the Jabidah Massacre, when around 60 mainly Tausug recruits in the Philippine Army were summarily executed after they refused a mission to attack the Malaysian region of Sabah, where a population of Tausug also resides.

    In 1971, the Moro, incensed by Jabidah and accusing the central government of conducting "genocide", began an open war against the state. A Tausug-dominated independence movement soon developed called the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In 1976, the government reached an agreement with the MNLF to grant the Moro areas autonomy, which was further developed in a 1996 treaty that is still being negotiated.

    For many Moro living on Mindanao, however, the deal was unsatisfactory because of the presence of so many Christian settlers, who they complained were taking more and more of their land under what seemed like government policy.

    Indeed, the population had dramatically changed from 76 per cent Muslim in 1903 to 72.5 per cent Christian by 2000. The government was arming Christian settlers to attack Muslims. In 1971, the most notorious Christian militia, the Ilaga, killed 70 Moro in a mosque. Muslim militias lashed back, leading to a cycle of violence.

    A new group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), based in Mindanao's Maguindanao ethnic group, soon split from the MNLF and vowed to push for secession.

    'Abu Sayyaf' label

    Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States became involved in the region in pursuit of the elusive Abu Sayyaf, which it accused of having links with al-Qaeda. The group was formed by a charismatic Tausug preacher in the late 1980s, whose speeches attracted angry young men from a community rife with orphans due to the previous decades of war.

    Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for kidnappings, bombings and beheadings, gripping the Philippines with sensational media reports. Manila has been accused of applying the "Abu Sayyaf" label to any conflict in the region, including those involving small armed Tausug groups, many of them kinship based, which have existed for centuries.

    Aid workers kidnapped in 2009, for example, reported that their "Abu Sayyaf" captor told them "I can be ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group), I can be MILF, I can be [MILF or MNLF breakaway group] Lost Command".

    Manila was discovering, like many other nations after 9/11, that by associating its restless communities on the periphery with al-Qaeda, it could garner easy American support.

    To resolve the conflict between the Moro and Manila, President Benigno Aquino must demonstrate that the centuries of conflict and forced assimilation into a monolithic Filipino culture are over. The government needs to promote pluralism and build trust with the periphery.

    With the recent declarations by President Aquino's government that the state is fully invested in implementing the 1996 autonomy agreement with the MNLF and hopes to have a peace treaty in place with the MILF by 2013, the various parties have a unique opportunity to work for a longstanding solution.

    Development projects to help the suffering Tausug must be conducted urgently as the situation for ordinary people is dire. Amidst the frequent barrages of artillery and bombs and the displacement of hundreds of thousands over the past decade, a 2005 study found that 92 per cent of water sources in Sulu Province, where the majority of Tausug live, were contaminated, while the malnutrition rate for children under five is 50 per cent. Education and employment are constant challenges.

    The sad state of affairs does not only result from a lack of funds, as the Philippines government, the United States and others have poured millions into the region, but rather how funds are spent. The association of development with the military among the population has been an impediment to implementing necessary projects.

    Mediation needed

    Between inefficient aid funding and the ongoing military campaigns, Manila has been drained of desperately needed resources and diverted from fulfilling its ambitions to become an economic powerhouse.

    Development solutions can only work if they have the full support of the clans that decide local politics, which is no easy task, considering the tenacity with which clans can fight over resources. Yet with a holistic plan of engagement in the context of true autonomy, it is possible to bring them together.

    Mediation, involving local religious leaders and international bodies like the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which has taken the lead in peace talks between the Moro factions and the government, can play a key role in this regard.

    Major General Reuben Rafael, the Philippine commander formerly in charge of military operations in Sulu Province, gave us an example of how to proceed. In 2007, he staged a public apology for transgressions against the population. The assembled people began to cry, including the Tausug mayor of the town, who stated that never in the history of Sulu had a military general apologized to them in such a manner. This is the way to the heart of the Tausug, and we salute the general for showing us the path to peace.

    By unleashing the drones, the U.S. has pushed the conflict between centre and periphery in the Philippines in a dangerous direction. If there is one lesson we can learn from half a millennium of history it is this: weapons destroy flesh and blood, but cannot break the spirit of a people motivated by ideas of honour and justice.

    Instead, the U.S. and Manila should work with the Muslims of the Philippines to ensure full rights of identity, development, dignity, human rights and self-determination. Only then will the security situation improve and the Moro permitted to live the prosperous and secure lives they have been denied for so long; and only then will the Philippines be able to become the Asian Tiger it aspires to be.

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