Britain is fighting at least seven covert wars in the Middle East and North Africa, outside of any democratic oversight or control. Whitehall has in effect gone underground, with neither parliament nor the public being allowed to debate, scrutinise or even know about these wars. To cover themselves, Ministers are now often resorting to lying about what they are authorising. While Britain has identified Islamic State (among others) as the enemy abroad, it is clear that it sees the British public and parliament as the enemy at home.
Britain began training Syrian rebel forces from bases in Jordan in 2012. This was also when the SAS was reported to be ‘slipping into Syria on missions’ against Islamic State. Now, British special forces are ‘mounting hit and run raids against IS deep inside eastern Syria dressed as insurgent fighters’ and ‘frequently cross into Syria to assist the New Syrian Army’ from their base in Jordan. British special forces also provide training, weapons and other equipment to the New Syrian Army.
British aircraft began covert strikes against IS targets in Syria in 2015, months before Parliament voted in favour of overt action in December 2015. These strikes were conducted by British pilots embedded with US and Canadian forces.
Britain has also been operating a secret drone warfare programme in Syria. Last year Reaper drones killed British IS fighters in Syria, again before parliament approved military action. As I have previously argued, British covert action and support of the Syrian rebels is, along with horrific Syrian government/Russian violence, helping to prolong a terrible conflict.
Hundreds of British troops are officially in Iraq to train local security forces. But they are also engaged in covert combat operations against IS. One recent report suggests that Britain has more than 200 special force soldiers in the country, operating out of a fortified base within a Kurdish Peshmerga camp south of Mosul.
British Reaper drones were first deployed over Iraq in 2014 and are now flown remotely by satellite from an RAF base in Lincolnshire. Britain has conducted over 200 drones strikes in Iraq since November 2014.
SAS forces have been secretly deployed to Libya since the beginning of this year, working with Jordanian special forces embedded in the British contingent. This follows a mission by MI6 and the RAF in January to gather intelligence on IS and draw up potential targets for air strikes. British commandos are now reportedly fighting and directing assaults on Libyan frontlines and running intelligence, surveillance and logistical support operations from a base in the western city of Misrata.
But a team of 15 British forces are also reported to be based in a French-led multinational military operations centre in Benghazi, eastern Libya, supporting renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. In July 2016, Middle East Eye reported that this British involvement was helping to coordinate air strikes in support of Haftar, whose forces are opposed to the Tripoli-based government that Britain is supposed to be supporting.
The government says it has no military personnel based in Yemen. Yet a report by Vice News in April, based on numerous interviews with officials, revealed that British special forces in Yemen, who were seconded to MI6, were training Yemeni troops fighting Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and also had forces infiltrated in AQAP. The same report also found that British military personnel were helping with drone strikes against AQAP. Britain was playing ‘a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program’. In addition, the UK spybase at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire facilitates US drone strikes in Yemen.
Britain has been widely reported (outside the mainstream media) as supporting the brutal Saudi war in Yemen, which has caused thousands of civilian deaths, most of them due to Saudi air strikes. Indeed, Britain is party to the war. The government says there are around 100 UK military personnel based in Saudi Arabia including a ‘small number’ at ‘Saudi MOD and Operational Centres’. One such Centre, in Riyadh, coordinates the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen and includes British military personnel who are in the command room as air strikes are carried out and who have access to the bombing targets.
The UK is of course arming the Saudi campaign: The British government disclosed on 13 October that the Saudis have used five types of British bombs and missiles in Yemen. On the same day, it lied to Parliament that Britain was ‘not a party’ to the war in Yemen.
A secret ‘memorandum of understanding’ that Britain signed with Saudi Arabia in 2014 has not been made public since it ‘would damage the UK’s bilateral relationship’ with the Kingdom, the government states. It is likely that this pact includes reference to the secret British training of Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia, which has taken place since mid-2015. Operating from a desert base in the north of the country, British forces have been teaching Syrian forces infantry skills as part of a US-led training programme.
In Afghanistan, the public was told that British forces withdrew at the end of 2014. However, British forces stayed behind to help create and train an Afghan special forces unit. Despite officially only having ‘advisors’ in Afghanistan, in August 2015 it was reported that British covert forces were fighting IS and Taliban fighters. The SAS and SBS, along with US special forces, were ‘taking part in military operations almost every night’ as the insurgents closed in on the capital Kabul.
In 2014, the government stated that it had ended its drone air strikes programme in Afghanistan, which had begun in 2008 and covered much of the country. Yet last year it was reported that British special forces were calling in air strikes using US drones.
Pakistan and Somalia
Pakistan and Somalia are two other countries where Britain is conducting covert wars. Menwith Hill facilitates US drone strikes against jihadists in both countries, with Britain’s GCHQ providing ‘locational intelligence’ to US forces for use in these attacks.
The government has said that it has 27 military personnel in Somalia who are developing the national army and supporting the African Union Mission. Yet in 2012 it was reported that the SAS was covertly fighting against al-Shabab Islamist terrorists in Somalia, working with Kenyan forces in order to target leaders. This involved up to 60 SAS soldiers, close to a full squadron, including Forward Air Controllers who called in air strikes against al-Shabab targets by the Kenyan air force. In early 2016, it was further reported that Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose troops operate with UK special forces, was saying that his troops were ready with Britain and Kenya to go ‘over the border’ to attack al-Shabaab.
The RAF’s secret drone war, which involves a fleet of 10 Reaper drones, has been in permanent operation in Afghanistan since October 2007, but covertly began operating outside Afghanistan in 2014. The NGO Reprieve notes that Britain provides communications networks to the CIA ‘without which the US would not be able to operate this programme’. It says that this is a particular matter of concern as the US covert drone programme is illegal.
Even this may not be the sum total of British covert operations in the region. The government stated in 2015 that it had 177 military personnel embedded in other countries’ forces, with 30 personnel working with the US military. It is possible that these forces are also engaged in combat in the region. For example, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, has said that in the Gulf, British pilots fly US F18s from the decks of US aircraft carriers. This means that ‘US’ air strikes might well be carried out by British pilots.
Britain has many other military and intelligence assets in the region. Files leaked by Edward Snowden show that Britain has a network of three GCHQ spy bases in Oman – codenamed ‘Timpani’, ‘Guitar’ and ‘Clarinet’ – which tap in to various undersea cables passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf. These bases intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies, which information is then shared with the National Security Agency in the US.
The state of Qatar houses the anti-IS coalition’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Al Udeid airbase. The government says it has seven military personnel ‘permanently assigned to Qatar’ and an additional number of ‘temporary personnel’ working at the airbase. These are likely to be covert forces; the government says that ‘we do not discuss specific numbers for reasons of safeguarding operational security’.
Similarly, the government says it has six military personnel ‘permanently assigned’ to the United Arab Emirates and an additional number of ‘temporary personnel’ at the UAE’s Al Minhad airbase. Britain also has military assets at Manama harbour, Bahrain, whose repressive armed forces are also being secretly trained by British commandos.
Kenya and Turkey
Kenya hosts Britain’s Kahawa Garrishon barracks and Laikipia Air Base, from where thousands of troops who carry out military exercises in Kenya’s harsh terrain can be deployed on active operations in the Middle East. Turkey has also offered a base for British military training. In 2015, for example, Britain deployed several military trainers to Turkey as part of the US-led training programme in Syria, providing small arms, infantry tactics and medical training to rebel forces.
The web of deceit
When questioned about these covert activities, Ministers have two responses. One is to not to comment on special forces’ operations. The other is to lie, which has become so routine as to be official government policy. The reasoning is simple – the government believes the public simply has no right to know of these operations, let alone to influence them.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told parliament in July that the government is ‘committed to the convention that before troops are committed to combat the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the matter’. This is plainly not true, as the extent of British covert operations show.
Similarly, it was first reported in May that British troops were secretly engaged in combat in Libya. This news came two days after Fallon told MPs that Britain was not planning ‘any kind of combat role’ to fight IS in Libya.
There are many other examples of this straightforward web of deceit. In July 2016, the government issued six separate corrections to previous ministerial statements in which they claimed that Saudi Arabia is not targeting civilians or committing war crimes in Yemen. However, little noticed was that these corrections also claimed that ‘the UK is not a party’ to the conflict in Yemen. This claim is defied by various news reports in the public domain.
British foreign policy is in extreme mode, whereby Ministers do not believe they should be accountable to the public. This is the very definition of dictatorship. Although in some of these wars, Britain is combatting terrorist forces that are little short of evil, it is no minor matter that several UK interventions have encouraged these very same forces and prolonged wars, all the while being regularly disastrous for the people of the region. Britain’s absence of democracy needs serious and urgent challenging.
twitter – @markcurtis30
The reported decision by Asian Development Bank to lend $2.5 billion to Pakistan and be a collateral financier for upgrade of Lahore-Peshawar segment of the Karachi-Peshawar railway line is a significant development. India should analyse it carefully. (Business Standard )
Firstly, Karachi-Peshawar railway line upgrade falls within the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). That is to say, ADB is joining hands with China (which is the co-financier for the railway line upgrade) in a CPEC project.
Now, this is a big concessional loan ($2.5 billion at low interest rate less than 2 percent) and it wouldn’t have been possible without approval by Japan and the United States, which dominate ADB’s decision-making. We need to take note that Japan and the US are showing pragmatism here, given the reality that CPEC is a flag carrier of China’s One Belt One Road.
In sum, this is a political affirmation of their interest in Pakistan’s stability and development.
The other salience that emerges here is that it is an extremely untimely and counterproductive move on our part to raise dust on Baluchistan. It complicates India’s relations with not only Pakistan but also with China, considering that a significant segment of the CPEC activity is located in Baluchistan, and, equally, our campaign on Baluchistan will not get a sympathetic ear in the world capitals. It will only make us look small-minded and petulant.
Similar pragmatism toward One Belt One Road as ADB is showing also characterises the attitudes of Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries. No doubt, projects enhancing regional connectivity attract all countries. India probably stands out as solitary exception, in its perspective on One Belt One Road derived exclusively through the geopolitical prism.
Secondly, we need to take note that the CPEC is indeed going ahead despite the ‘hawks’ amongst us hoping against hope that it may not take off. The ADB loan itself wouldn’t have been forthcoming without expert opinion saluting the CPEC. The ADB decision has prompted China to fill in with an additional loan of $5.5 billion for the railway project, which now makes CPEC a $51.5 billion eighth wonder in the world.
Two things become clear. One, China is determined to build Pakistan’s infrastructure development and make its economy resilient. Clearly, it is a ‘win-win’ for China too for a variety of factors at work in regional politics and China’s own national strategies. Two, China usually puts its money (big or small) only where the mouth is, which means it is becoming a stakeholder in Pakistan’s future and prosperity with a long-term perspective.
And where China goes, the US and Japan are bound to follow. Simply put, Indian diplomacy runs into almost-impossible headwinds to ‘isolate’ Pakistan in the prevailing circumstances.
It is about time we wake up and put to ourselves some searching questions. Do we have the ghost of a chance to annex Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, as the present government is leading the domestic opinion to believe? To my mind, our government is whistling in the dark and leading the public opinion in a wrong direction.
Again, from a regional security point of view, if the POK and Northern Areas of Pakistan, which are hopelessly impoverished regions, are set on a path of infrastructure development and economic activity, there is less chance of them becoming the sanctuaries of terrorist groups. In fact, this is also one consideration China would have. Don’t we have a congruence of interests with China on regional security and stability in this regard? This is one thing.
Besides, if Pakistan integrates these regions politically, doesn’t it open up an interesting avenue to resolve the Kashmir problem? A realistic perspective would be that without any redrawing of boundaries as such, if the Line of Control gets legitimacy as an internationally recognised border – with Pakistan keeping the areas under its control and India keeping J&K as an integral part of it – won’t that be a basis of durable settlement?
Put differently, if Pakistan integrates Northern Areas and POK, it is tantamount to a unilateral move to ‘solve’ the Kashmir problem. We should actually applaud Pakistan if it goes on to integrate those regions just as it plans at present to integrate the tribal areas. Which in turn would also enable India to work out its own terms of integration of J&K in terms of our democratic principles.
Frankly, India’s paranoia over the CPEC has no rationality. It is based on contrived and often trivial arguments lacking basis and/or unsupported by empirical evidence or are outright falsehoods, which are assembled uncouthly with the ulterior motive to arrive at a certain pre-determined conclusion.
The name of the game is Sinophobia – to somehow complicate the Sino-Indian normalization itself. See a paper by the Vivekananda Foundation on the topic titled Implications of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The reported statement by former Israeli minister Diaspora Affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior that Saudi Arabia will open its doors to Israeli visitors “much sooner than you dream about” will not come as surprise. To be sure, a critical mass is developing in the secretive Saudi-Israeli intercourse.
The Saudi regime has been chary about links with Israel for fear of annoying the ‘Arab Street’, whereas, Israel has been all along eager to flaunt the breach in the Berlin Wall of Arab-Israeli conflict. But Saudis seem to estimate that the time has come to be open about the relationship.
The point is, if the raison d’etre of the dalliance is the ‘containment’ of Iran, it is resource-sharing. An open relationship is needed to optimally develop security and military cooperation. The Custodian of Holy Places seems to think the Muslim world will learn to live with his country’s strategic cooperation with Israel.
Well, the Palestine issue no longer poses hurdles, either. Arab Spring, conflicts in Syria and Iraq, military coup in Egypt, Saudi-Iranian rivalry, breakdown in Iran’s ties with Hamas, Islamic State – all these have relegated the Palestine issue to the backburner. Besides, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is on a tight American and Saudi leash. Abbas even received in Ramallah recently a Saudi delegation led by former general Anwar Majed Eshki who visited Jerusalem and met senior Israeli officials, including the head of the foreign ministry Dore Gold.
Again, Saudi Arabia’s keen interest in taking possession of two Red Sea islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – Tiran and Sanafir – needs to be understood as a move to be Israel’s ‘neighbor’. Sanafir and Tiran sit at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access Red Sea. King Salman personally camped in Cairo in April to persuade Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to transfer the two islands in lieu of a seductive multi-billion dollar offer to Sisi.
Indeed, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are making haste to position themselves for a new phase of the Middle East’s politics in the post-Barack Obama era. They expect Hillary Clinton to pick up the threads where George W. Bush left them — a muscular regional policy involving switch back to containment of Iran and resuscitation of the pivotal relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel is willing to reconcile with the Iran nuclear deal. They are doing everything possible, no matter what it takes, to see that the deal gets derailed. On Saturday, Israeli Defence Ministry issued a harshly-worded statement slamming Obama and comparing the Iran deal with the 1938 Munich agreement to appease Hitler. (Jerusalem Post )
Equally, Saudis and Israelis have convergent interests in regard to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq — supporting extremist Sunni groups, promoting the Kurdistan project, creation of ‘spheres of influence’ on Syrian and Iraqi territory, and ultimately, entrapping Iran in a quagmire that will exhaust the regime.
The Saudi-Israeli strategic regional realignment is something that Washington historically encouraged. It is just the underpinning needed for creating a regional security architecture supported by the NATO’s network of partnerships with the GCC states under the canopy of a US missile shield.
Alas, Turkey too could have been a key partner in this enterprise, but for the failure of the July 15 coup. Israel looked distressed when it transpired that the coup failed. As for Saudi Arabia, it probably played a role in the failed coup. (Sputnik )
Without doubt, it is against a complex backdrop that the recent reports regarding Israel and Pakistan taking part in a major air exercise hosted by the US also needs to be viewed. Neither Islamabad nor Tel Avi has denied the reports. Of course, the US always encouraged a Pak-Israeli proximity. Now, the big question is: With Saudi Arabia establishing ties with Israel, can Pakistan be far behind? (Times of Israel )
From the Israeli, Saudi and American perspective, it is of utmost importance that Pakistan aligns with Saudi Arabia instead of remaining neutral in regard of Iran’s rise. Pakistan’s role is crucial to any major plans of destabilization of Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia pretended until recently that they have a special thing going with Moscow, too, with a view to create ‘strategic ambiguity’. Moscow played along, while making a strategic decision that Iran is its ‘natural ally’ in the Middle East. This is perfectly understandable, because in the ultimate analysis, Israel and Saudi Arabia are bit players only, while Iran (or Turkey for that matter) is an authentic regional power credited with a world view.
It is possible to see the Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran trilateral summit in Baku on Monday as a strategic counter-move by Moscow and Tehran.
The proposed North-South Transport Corridor is admittedly an old idea with a pronounced economic dimension, but in the present context, an access route for Russia to the Persian Gulf and Middle East via Iran’s territory becomes a geopolitical event of far-reaching significance in the regional alignment that is under way. (See my blog China’s One Belt One Road isn’t only show in town.)
Forbes in a report has hailed Iran’s success in the development of its gas industry and says the country can soon become a main rival over market access to key players like the United States.
The world’s leading business magazine says Iran owes the progress it has made in its gas industry to its high exploration success rate which it says stands at a whopping 79 percent.
The rate, it says, is specifically high given that the world’s average is only 30 to 35 percent.
The Forbes report further emphasizes that the progress in Iran’s gas industry could soon enable it to exploit the promising markets in India, Pakistan, Kuwait, and UAE.
It adds that the country’s planned reductions in subsidized pricing, which will help reduce wasteful usage, will free up more of its gas for exports.
Forbes further stresses that Iran’s plans to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) will specifically have a prosperous future.
“Iran is currently working on several options to join the same ‘international LNG club’ that the US is also joining,” wrote Forbes in its report. “And Europe is the mid- and long-term target. Europe’s gas demand is projected to increase 15-20 percent by 2025. This means that Iran is competition for the US”.
The report emphasizes that Iran’s LNG plans are expected to become operational after 2020, adding that the country could benefit from the growing demand over the succeeding years particularly given that Europe’s gas demand, for example, is projected to increase 15-20% by 2025.
The US government today claimed it has killed between 64 and 116 “non-combatants” in 473 counter-terrorism strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya between January 2009 and the end of 2015.
This is a fraction of the 380 to 801 civilian casualty range recorded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from reports by local and international journalists, NGO investigators, leaked government documents, court papers and the result of field investigations.
While the number of civilian casualties recorded by the Bureau is six times higher than the US Government’s figure, the assessments of the minimum total number of people killed were strikingly similar. The White House put this figure at 2,436, whilst the Bureau has recorded 2,753.
Since becoming president in 2009, Barack Obama has significantly extended the use of drones in the War on Terror. Operating outside declared battlefields, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, this air war has been largely fought in Pakistan and Yemen.
The White House’s announcement today is long-awaited. It comes three years after the White House first said it planned to publish casualty figures, and four months after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco, said the data would be released.
The figures released do not include civilians killed in drones strikes that happened under George W Bush, who instigated the use of counter-terrorism strikes outside declared war zones and in 58 strikes killed 174 reported civilians.
Today’s announcement is intended to shed light on the US’s controversial targeted killing programme, in which it has used drones to run an arms-length war against al Qaeda and Islamic State.
The US Government also committed to continued transparency saying it will provide an annual summary of information about the number of strikes against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities as well as the range of combatants and non-combatants killed.
But the US has not released a year-by-year breakdown of strikes nor provided any detail on particularly controversial strikes which immediately sparked criticism from civil liberty groups.
Jamel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “While any disclosure of information about the government’s targeted-killing policies is welcome, the government should be releasing information about every strike—the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. Perhaps this kind of information should be released after a short delay, rather than immediately, but it should be released. The public has a right to know who the government is killing—and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public should know that.”
The gap between US figures and other estimates, including the Bureau’s data, also raised concerns.
Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at Reprieve said: “For three years now, President Obama has been promising to shed light on the CIA’s covert drone programme. Today, he had a golden opportunity to do just that. Instead, he chose to do the opposite. He published numbers that are hundreds lower than even the lowest estimates by independent organisations. The only thing those numbers tell us is that this Administration simply doesn’t know who it has killed. Back in 2011, it claimed to have killed “only 60” civilians. Does it really expect us to believe that it has killed only 4 more civilians since then, despite taking hundreds more strikes?
“The most glaring absence from this announcement are the names and faces of those civilians that have been killed. Today’s announcement tells us nothing about 14 year old Faheem Qureshi, who was severely injured in Obama’s first drone strike. Reports suggest Obama knew he had killed civilians that day.”
The US government said in a statement: “First, although there are inherent limitations on determining the precise number of combatant and non-combatant deaths, particularly when operating in non-permissive environments, the US Government uses post-strike methodologies that have been refined and honed over years and that use information that is generally unavailable to non-government organsations.”
Bibi Mamana was a grandmother and midwife living in the the tribal region of North Waziristan on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
On October 24 2012, she was preparing for the Muslim festival of Eid. She used to say that the joy of Eid was the excitement it brought to children. Her eight-year-old granddaughter Nabeela was reported to be in a field with her as she gathered vegetables when a drone killed Mamana.
“I saw the first two missiles coming through the air,” Nabeela later told The Times. “They were following each other with fire at the back. When they hit the ground, there was a loud noise. After that I don’t remember anything.” Nabeela was injured by flying shrapnel.
At the sound of the explosion, Mamana’s 18-year-old grandson Kaleem ran from the house to help. But a few minutes later the drones struck again, he told the BBC. He was knocked unconscious. His leg was badly broken and damaged by shrapnel, and needed surgery.
Atiq, one of Mamana’s sons, was in the mosque as Manama gathered vegetables. On hearing the blast and seeing the plume of smoke he rushed to the scene. When he arrived he could not see any sign of his mother.
“I started calling out for her but there was no reply,” Atiq told the Times. “Then I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards. It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected many different parts from the field and put a turban over her body.”
Atiq’s brother Rafiq told Al Jazeera English he received a letter after the strike from a Pakistani official that said the attack was a US drone strike and that Mamana was innocent. But nothing more came of it, he said. The following year Rafiq, a teacher, travelled to the US to speak to Congress about the strike.
“My job is to educate,” he said in an emotional testimony. “But how do I teach something like this? How do I explain what I myself do not understand?”
Picture credit: BBC
Evaluating the numbers
The administration has called its drone programme a precise, effective form of warfare that targets terrorists and rarely hits civilians.
With the release of the figures today President Obama said, “All armed conflict invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.”
In June 2011 Obama’s then counter terrorism chief, now CIA director, John Brennan made a similar statement. He also declared drones strikes were “exceptionally precise and surgical” and had not killed a single civilian since August 2010. A Bureau investigation in July 2011 demonstrated this claim was untrue.
Most of the Bureau’s data sources are media reports by local and international news outlets, including Reuters, Associated Press and The New York Times.
The US Government suggests it has a much clearer view of post-strike situations than such reporting, suggesting this is the reason why there is such a gap between the numbers that have been recorded by the Bureau, and similar organisations, and those released today.
But the Bureau has also gathered essential information from its own field investigations.
The tribal areas have long been considered a difficult if not impossible area for journalists to access. However, occasionally reporters have been able to gain access to the site of the strikes to interview survivors, witnesses and relatives of people killed in drone strikes.
The Bureau conducted a field investigation through the end of 2011 into 2012, in partnership with The Sunday Times. Through extensive interviews with local villagers, the Bureau found 12 strikes killed 57 civilians.
The Associated Press also sent reporters into the Fata, reporting its findings in February 2012. It found 56 civilians and 138 militants were killed in 10 strikes.
Access to affected areas is a challenge in Yemen too. But in December 2009 a deputation of Yemeni parliamentarians sent to the scene of a strike discovered the burnt remnants of a camp, which had been set up by several families from one of Yemen’s poorest tribes.
A subsequent investigation by journalist Jeremy Scahill revealed a deception that hid US responsibility for the deaths of 41 civilians at the camp – half of them children, five of them pregnant women.
The reality on the ground flew in the face of the US government’s understanding of events. A leaked US diplomatic record of a meeting in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, between General David Petraeus and the Yemeni president revealed the US government was ignorant of the civilian death toll.
Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber
Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, a 40-year-old father of seven, was exactly the kind of man the US needed in Yemen. A widely respected cleric in rural Yemen, he delivered sermons in his village mosque denouncing al-Qaida.
He gave just such a speech in August 2012 and earned the attention of the terrorist group. Three anonymous fighters arrived in his village two days later, after dark, calling for Jaber to come out and talk.
He went to meet them, taking his policeman cousin, Walid Abdullah bin Ali Jaber, with him for protection. The five men stood arguing in the night air when Hellfire missiles tore into them.
A “huge explosion” rocked the village, a witness said. Jaber’s father, Ahmad bin Salim Salih bin Ali Jaber, 77, arrived on the scene to find people “wrapping up body parts of people from the ground, from here and there, putting them in grave clothes like lamb.”
All the dead were al Qaeda fighters, unnamed Yemeni officials claimed. However Jaber’s family refused to allow him to be smeared as a terrorist.
For three years they fought in courts in America and Germany for recognition that he was an innocent civilian. In November 2013 they visited Washington and even managed to arrange a meeting in the White House to plead their case. In 2014 the family said it was offered a bag containing $100,000 by a Yemen national security official. The official said it was a US strike and it had been a mistake.
By late 2015 the family offered to drop their lawsuits against the US government if the administration would apologise. The Department of Justice refused. In February 2016 the court dismissed the family’s suit but they have not stopped fighting: in April they announced they would appeal.
Picture credit: Private
Falling numbers of civilian casualties
The White House stressed that it was concerned to protect civilians and that best practices were in place to help reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties.
The Bureau’s data does show a significant decline in the reports of civilian casualties in recent years.
In Pakistan, where the largest number of strikes have occurred, there have been only three reported civilian casualties since the end of 2012. Two of these casualties – Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto – were Western hostages held by al Qaeda. The US, unaware they were targeting the American and Italian’s captors, flattened the house they were being held in.
The accidental killing of a US citizen spurred Obama to apologise for the strike – the first and only time he had publicly discussed a specific CIA drone strike in Pakistan. With the apology of a “condolence payment to both the families,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told the Bureau. However, they have yet to receive any compensation from the US government for their loss.
Families who have lost relatives in Pakistan have not reported being compensated for their loss. In Yemen, money has been given to families for their loss but it is not clear whether it actually comes from the US. The money is disbursed by Yemeni government intermediaries, nominally from the Yemeni government’s coffers.
Tariq Khan was a 16-year-old from North Waziristan who attended a high-profile anti-drone rally in Islamabad in October 2011. Only days later, he and his cousin were killed in a drone strike.Tariq was the youngest of seven children. He was described by relatives as a quiet teenager who was good with computers. His uncle Noor Kalam said: “He was just a normal boy who loved football.”
On 27 October, Tariq made the eight-hour drive to Islamabad for a meeting convened by Waziri elders to discuss how to end civilian deaths in drone strikes. The Pakistani politician Imran Khan, his former wife Jemima, members of the legal campaign group Reprieve and several western journalists also attended the meeting.
Neil Williams from Reprieve said Tariq seemed very introverted at the meeting. He asked the boy if he had ever seen a drone. Tariq replied he saw 10 or 15 every day. He said they prevented him from sleeping. “He looked absolutely terrified,” Williams said.
After a four-hour debate, the audience joined around 2,000 people at a protest rally outside the Pakistani parliament. After the rally, the tribesmen made the long journey home. The day after he got back, Tariq and his cousin Wahid went to pick up his newly married aunt, according a Bureau reporter who met Tariq at the Islamabad meeting. When they were 200 yards from the house two missiles slammed into their car. The blast killed Tariq and Wahid instantly.
Some reports suggested Wahid was 12 years old.
An anonymous US official acknowledged the CIA had launched the strike but denied they were children. The occupants of that car were militants, he said.
Picture credit: Neil Williams/Reprieve
Most of the dead from CIA strikes in Pakistan are unnamed Pakistanis and Afghans, according to Naming the Dead – a research project by the Bureau. Over three years the Bureau has painstakingly gathered names of the dead from US drone strikes in Pakistan. The project has recorded just 732 names of people killed since 2004 – 329 of which were civilians.
The fact that so many people are unnamed adds to the confusion about who has been killed.
A controversial US tactic, signature strikes, demonstrates how identities of the dead, and their status as a combatant or non-combatant, eludes the US. These strikes target people based on so-called pattern of life analysis, built from surveillance and intelligence but not the actual identity of a person.
And the CIA’s own records leaked to the news agency McClatchy show the US is sometimes not only ignorant of the identities of people it has killed, but also of the armed groups they belong to. They are merely listed as “other militants” and “foreign fighters” in the leaked records.
Former Deputy US Secretary of State, Richard Armitage outlined his unease with such internal reporting in an interview with Chris Woods for his book Sudden Justice. “Mr Obama was popping up with these drones left, right and down the middle, and I would read these accounts, ’12 insurgents killed.’ ’15!’ You don’t know that. You don’t know that. They could be insurgents, they could be cooks.”
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The prospect of Hillary Clinton being President of the United States of America is one to fill our minds with dread concerning the likely posture of Washington in foreign affairs should she ever attain the Oval Office. There is no doubt she would continue or even increase the intensity of Washington’s military confrontations with China and Russia — and enjoy smacking the wrists of smaller countries whose actions might displease her. Indeed her castigation might go further, even to the extent of rejoicing in the murder of national leaders such as President Gaddafi of Libya, about whom she laughed “We came. We saw. He died.”
Who might be next, with Hillary at the helm?
Under her reign the US military presence around the world would be maintained or expanded — but no matter who is in the White House, the hundreds of military bases surrounding China and Russia will continue operations and the US nuclear-armed fleets that roam the seas and oceans will maintain their aggressive posture.
Drone assassinations will also continue and more innocent people like that poor taxi driver in Pakistan will be killed by US Hellfire missiles guided by gleeful techno-cretins who move control sticks and prod buttons while playing barbaric video games from their comfortable killing couches in drone-control bases.
That taxi driver?
To remind you: on May 21 a taxi driver called Mohammad Azam was earning his tiny daily wage by picking up passengers who crossed the Iranian border into Pakistan. Sometimes he would take them only to nearby villages, but that day he picked up a client who wanted to go to the city of Quetta, eight hours drive away. He drove off in his Toyota Corolla, and a few hours later, when he stopped for a rest, Obama’s Hellfires struck and blasted the car to twisted shards of metal — and reduced Azam and his customer to smoking corpses.
Another case of “We came. We saw. He died.”
Azam’s passenger was the evil Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, travelling under a false name. His sought-for anonymity didn’t do him much good, because he had been traced and tracked, and while he was in Iran or when he was going through border crossing examination on the Pakistan side it’s likely that a US-paid agent planted a chip on him or in his baggage that signaled his whereabouts to the drone-controlling video-gamers.
Azam the taxi-driver didn’t know Mullah Mansour and was not associated with the Taliban or any such organization. He was an entirely innocent man trying to earn enough money to feed his family — his wife, four small children and a crippled brother who stayed with them.
But Azam was killed by the same US Hellfire missiles that killed Mullah Mansoor.
The Pentagon stated that “Mansur has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict.” So they killed him. And without the slightest hesitation they also killed the taxi driver Mohammad Azam.
If a person in a foreign country that can’t retaliate to drone strikes is considered an enemy of the United States there is no question of arrest, charge and trial. When it can be done they are killed by drone missile strikes, personally authorized by President Obama who stressed that there must be “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed,” and that “the United States respects national sovereignty and international law.”
But the US president ordered the assassination of two people in a country whose prime minister said that the US drone attack was a gross violation of national sovereignty. And although the White House and the Pentagon might — just might — be able to convince a War Crimes Tribunal that their killing of Mullah Mansur was in some fashion reasonable, how could they possibly claim that their murder of the taxi driver Azam was justified? When did it become “respectful of international law” to deliberately slaughter a taxi driver?
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, declared that Mansoor’s obliteration “sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan.” Which was no doubt solace to Azam’s widow and her two little boys and two little girls when his hideously charred fragmented corpse arrived next day.
People like Obama and Kerry and Clinton and countless millions of others simply don’t care about the smashing, flashing, hideously agonizing death of the innocent taxi driver Azam.
The US President’s professional video-gamers had killed yet another totally innocent non-combatant, but no doubt they all slept soundly on the night that Azam’s children began to realize their terrible loss.
Three weeks after the drone murder of taxi driver Azam there was a massacre of 49 people in the US city of Orlando. It was horrible. Much of the world was aghast, and there was emotion displayed in Europe and North America, with candle-lit vigils, solemn silences of respect in parliaments and other demonstrations of sympathy and solidarity. And when a British female Member of Parliament was killed by a lunatic on June 16 there was an amazing outpouring of grief in the country. Her husband said after her murder that “the two things that I’ve been very focused on is how do we support and protect the children.”
Quite right. And understandable and most admirable.
But who is going to support and protect the children of the US drone-killed taxi driver Azam?
The slaughter of innocent human beings is an everyday occurrence in Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan, where countless thousands have died — without a single western candle being lit in sorrowful commemoration of any Iraqis, Libyans or Afghans who have died in the savage chaos caused by the catastrophic military fandangos in their countries by US-led western powers.
Western countries are highly selective in displaying disapproval and grief following killings, be they mass or individual, and it could hardly be expected that the US assassination of a Pakistani taxi driver would attract the slightest sympathy or censure.
The murder-by drone of taxi driver Azam by the Pentagon’s video-gamers could be summed up by Hillary Clinton’s happy rejoicing about the murder of President Gaddafi during the US-NATO blitz on Libya, when she laughingly declared that “We came. We saw. He died.”
And thinking about the future . . . Would you be surprised if in twenty years or so one of the children of taxi driver Azam were to take up a gun and kill Americans?
The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced influential religious figure Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader after confirming supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US drone strike.
“Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him,” the insurgents said in a statement.
It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of US forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies.
Haibatullah was one of two deputies under Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike on Saturday, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.
Mansour’s killing is a major blow to the militant movement just nine months after he was formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle, and sent shockwaves through the leadership.
Haibatullah’s appointment comes after the Taliban’s supreme council held emergency meetings that began Sunday in southwest Pakistan to find a unifying figure for the leadership post.
Taliban sources told AFP the supreme council members were lying low and constantly changing the venue of their meetings to avoid new potential air strikes.
The British government is providing military training to the majority of nations it has blacklisted for human rights violations, a new report reveals.
In a report published on Sunday, the Independent revealed that 16 of the 30 countries on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s “human rights priority” watchlist are receiving military support from the UK despite being accused by London itself of issues ranging from internal repression to the use of sexual violence in armed conflicts.
According to the UK Ministry of Defense, since 2014, British armed forces have provided “either security or armed forces personnel” to the military forces of Saudi Arabia , Bahrain, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Burundi, China, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
Britain is a major provider of weapons and equipment such as cluster bombs and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in its year-long military aggression against Yemen that has killed nearly 9,400 people, among them over 2,230 children.
Since the conflict began in March 2015, the British government has licensed the sale of nearly $4 billion worth of weaponry to the Saudi kingdom.
British commandos also train Bahraini soldiers in using sniper rifles, despite allegations that the Persian Gulf monarchy uses such specialist forces to suppress a years-long pro-democracy uprising in the country.
Bahraini forces visited the Infantry Battle School in Wales last week, accompanied by troops from Nigeria, the Defense Ministry said.
Nigeria’s top military generals are accused by Amnesty International of committing war crimes by causing the deaths of 8,000 people through murder, starvation, suffocation and torture during security operations against the Boko Haram Takfiri terrorists, according to the report.
Andrew Smith, with the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said Britain should not be “colluding” with countries known for being “some of the most authoritarian states in the world.”
Pakistan has denounced the US drone strike believed to have killed the Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
In a statement issued to the media, Pakistan’s foreign office said the drone strike was a violation of its sovereignty, adding that information about the drone strike was shared with the prime minister and the army chief after the strike.
“It may be recalled that the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) held on 18th May had reiterated that a politically negotiated settlement was the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan and called upon the Taliban to give up violence and join peace talks,” the statement said.
Afghanistan’s spy agency known as National Security Directorate (NDS), senior officials in Kabul and some militant sources on Sunday confirmed that the Taliban leader was killed after the US drones targeted his vehicle in a remote area of in a remote area of south-west Pakistan, near the Afghan border, on Saturday.
On Saturday, the US Department of Defense announced in a statement that it had mounted the strike against Mansour “in a remote area of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.”
File photo shows a picture of the leader of Taliban militant group, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
The Pentagon announced on Saturday that the operation had been authorized by President Barack Obama.
The development comes as relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tense in recent years over the ongoing militancy.
Senior Afghan officials blame elements inside the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for supporting the Taliban militants and sheltering its leadership, while Islamabad blames the Afghan government for giving shelter to the militants on its side of the border.
Moreover, senior officials in Kabul have been frustrated by what they see as Islamabad’s refusal to honor a pledge to force Taliban leaders based in Pakistan to join negotiations.
They have long blamed Pakistan for turning a blind eye to the Taliban militant group whose leadership is widely believed to be based in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar, near the border.
The Taliban has seen a string of defections ever since the news about the death of its founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, broke in late July 2015.
Mullah Omar died at a hospital in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi in April 2013.
Pakistan, which wields influence on the insurgent group, mediated the first round of direct peace talks between delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban last summer, but a planned second meeting was canceled after news broke that Taliban’s founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar had died two years ago. In recent months, a four-member group comprising Afghanistan, the United States, China and Pakistan has been attempting to revive the talks.
There have also been growing differences among Taliban elements over the negotiations, with some vowing to fight for power instead of taking part in the talks.
In his first public comments on the US drone campaign in Pakistan, President Obama described it as “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.” In 2011, then-national security advisor to the president John Brennan said of the CIA drone campaign that “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Popular American mythology in the Obama era has held that drones are the surgeon’s tool in the endless, global war on terror. American soldiers and spies can knock off terrorists without bogging down the military in ground occupations, or killing civilians.
So says the myth. The reality is starkly different, according to scholar Micah Zenko.
Zenko examined civilian deaths from US military operations and found that drones kill more civilians than do piloted US aircraft—not fewer. “Drones are far less precise than airstrikes conducted by piloted aircraft, which themselves also conduct “precision strikes.” Drones result in far more civilian fatalities per each bomb dropped,” Zenko writes.
Zenko’s analysis shows us that the claims officials have long made about the supposed accuracy of drone strikes are dead wrong. But we don’t know why, in part because the US government refuses to disclose basic information about how it designates drone targets, or under what circumstances commanders order killings. It could be, as Zenko posits, “that the standards that need to be met before authorizing a [drone] strike are less rigid than Obama’s purported principle of “near certainty that the terrorist target is present.” This wouldn’t be surprising given that Obama continued the George W. Bush administration’s practice of “signature strikes” — killing anonymous suspected militants who appear to be associated with terrorists based upon their observable activity.”
If that’s the case, the US public and the victims of drone strikes have a right to know. But government secrecy and judicial evasiveness have conspired to keep us all in the dark about even the most basic legal theories upon which the CIA and military base their drone programs.
That secrecy has recently been reified. Just last week, a Washington D.C. federal appeals court tossed an ACLU lawsuit against the CIA seeking information about its drone operations. The court sided with the government, holding that releasing information about the drone program “could reasonably be expected to damage national security.”
As ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said, “Secret law is always invidious, but it’s particularly so here because of the subject matter.” Now we know the stories officials have been telling us for years about the laser-like accuracy of drone strikes are false. But thanks to secret law, we don’t know why.
A man claiming to be on a western “kill list” of people to be targeted by US airstrikes has appealed to both the British and American governments to stop trying to kill him.
Malik Jalal, a tribal elder from Waziristan, a border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, says he has been targeted in at least four drones strikes, narrowly missing what he believes are attempts on his life.
Traveling to Britain following an invitation from Lord Ken MacDonald, the former Director of Prosecutions, Malik Jalal told BBC Radio 4 that he had been warned by various authorities in Waziristan that he is on a western “kill list” adding that his children are “terrified” of dying in an attack.
In one close call, he says a missile hit a car traveling behind him.
“I heard the explosion and the back window of my car shattered. The car behind was in flames and the passengers were in pieces.”
A tribal elder of the region, Malik Jalal believes he is being targeted because of his connection with the North Waziristan Peace committee (NWPC) — a group facilitating peace talks between the Taliban and the Pakistani government.
While Malik Jalal says he plays an important role in trying to bring peace to the region, there have been criticisms of the NWPC, with some suggesting the committee provides Taliban members with a safe haven in Waziristan.
‘I Came Close to Being Bombed Four Times’
In a letter, addressed to UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who is responsible for MI5 and the National Crime Agency (NCA), and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who has responsibility for GCHQ and MI6, Malik Jalal has called for a meeting to clear up concerns that he may be on a government kill list.
“I had a special role to improve security and we were making progress and that’s why I think Americans targeted us […] I came close to being bombed four times, so in the end I realized they were on to me,” he told the BBC.
“I have had to leave Waziristan. In my own family there are six people who are mentally destabilized because of the strikes. In Waziristan there are more than 400,000 people who have mental problems because of the drones. My own son is too scared to go back to Waziristan.”
The US ambassador to the UK has also been copied into the letter, with Malik Jalal calling on Britain to try and influence the US to stop what he believes have been attempts on his life and others in Waziristan.
“I have a peaceful role in Pakistan. I am not involved in terrorism. I came to Britain because I feel like Britain is like a younger brother to America. I am telling Britain that America doesn’t listen to us, so you tell them not to kill Waziristanis.”
Concerns Over Long-Term UK Involvement in US ‘Kill List’
The comments follow the release of an explosive report, accusing British law enforcement and intelligence agencies of drawing up an extra-judicial kill list targeting some of the world’s most wanted terror suspects and drug smugglers.
The report, released by human rights organization Reprieve, claimed that the UK has been a long-time partner in the US’ “shoot to kill” policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the report alleging that drug smugglers, as well as terrorists were among those targeted.
The findings follow a separate Vice News investigation that claimed that UK military personnel were exploiting a legal loophole to play a “critical” role in the US drone kill list program in Yemen.
Citing interviews with more than two dozen current and former British, American and Yemeni officials, UK forces were alleged to have taken part in so-called “hits” in Yemen, “triangulating” intelligence for kill lists, and preparing “target packages.”
The reports of long-time collaboration with the US shoot to kill policy have led to suggestions that UK Prime Minister David Cameron misled parliament on September 7, 2015, when he said that the assassination of two British nationals in Syria was a “new departure” for the UK.
Commenting on the latest developments, Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve, said: It is horrifying that, in the 21st Century, we have drawn up a list of people we want to kill.
“For a country that loudly proclaims its opposition to the death penalty even after a fair trial, the notion that we would execute him without a trial at all stunningly hypocritical. Malik Jalal puts a very human face on the horror of this policy.”
The UK government has said they don’t comment on matters of intelligence.
Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to scale back US military engagement in the Middle East and to keep America’s soldiers from getting bogged down in never-ending regional civil wars. President Obama has kept park of that campaign promise, with America’s troop presence abroad reduced. But US military engagement, as a whole, has increased significantly, through the use of unmanned drones and the deployment of troops in combat and security situations in more countries than in 2009.
Obama’s White House ended the previous administration’s Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom — combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that continued to fester following George W. Bush’s attempts at regime change in Baghdad and the bombing of mountains into submission around Kabul. Today, despite recent reports that the Defense Department has understated the US troop presence in Iraq, troop levels in each country are down.
Nonetheless, Obama followed up his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize by expanding US military actions to nearly every country in the Middle East and North Africa, while reviving a Cold War posture toward Russia and China.
For instance, during the so-called Arab Spring, the US undertook a military campaign against Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, leading to the leader being deposed and killed in the streets. The ousting of Qaddafi turned the once thriving country into a hotbed for Daesh extremists and today Libya is largely considered a failed state.
Under Obama, the US has expanded drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria with limited results and many civilian deaths.
Reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggest that the majority of US drone strikes result in civilian casualties, but under Obama these casualties have been defined away by invoking a macabre redefining of the “kill box” – anybody within a certain proximity to targeted victim is deemed a combatant.
The US today now finds itself performing aggressive joint military exercises with the South Koreans, seen as dress rehearsals for a full-scale invasion of North Korea — a nuclear capable country. American and NATO forces are posted along the Russian border in Norway to prepare for potential offensive actions against Moscow justified by the fantasy of Russian military aggression in Europe. US forces are now fighting in not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
The paradox of the Obama Administration is how a president who campaigned on getting us out of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has now committed the US to the escalation of several recent wars.
Obama is no dove, and the world is no safer. With unmanned drone use increasing overseas, perpetual war has never been rebranded so effectively.