How did the drone assassination program begin? In a front page feature Sunday, The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti offered an answer. In June 2004, a Pakistani Taliban leader, Nek Muhammad , was killed by a drone strike in the South Waziristan tribal area. The killing, writes Mazzetti, was the result of a secret deal between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence officials.
“Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.
“That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.
“The C.I.A. has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike. While it was not the first country where the United States used drones, it became the laboratory for the targeted killing operations that have come to define a new American way of fighting, blurring the line between soldiers and spies and short-circuiting the normal mechanisms by which the United States as a nation goes to war.”
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office responded that “the story is baseless and a part of the propaganda to create confusion about the clear position of Pakistan on this matter.”
With data from the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, a team of developers has created a visualization of every drone strike in Pakistan since 2004. The interactive timeline shows how the campaign built over time, and illustrates the number of people killed. According to the Bureau:
“The project, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, aims to capture the scale and human cost of the drone war in Pakistan through its visual representation of the CIA’s covert Pakistan drone war from the first event in 2004 to the latest strike.”
Four people were killed in a drone attack on a vehicle in Pakistan yesterday. According to The New York Times,
"The officials said missiles fired late Thursday night from a drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency hit a moving vehicle in Datta Khel Bazar in the North Waziristan tribal region, which is a redoubt of local and foreign militants. “Four men inside the vehicle were killed,” a tribal official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The nationality of those killed was not immediately clear. The vehicle exploded after it was hit by two missiles, leaving the bodies charred and beyond recognition.”
This is the first reported attack in nearly two weeks.
Following a three-day visit to Pakistan, Ben Emmerson QC, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, warned that continuing U.S. drone strikes are a violation of that country’s sovereignty. According to the Guardian, Emmerson said,
"The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.
"Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalizing a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.”
The first reported drone strike in nearly a month is said to have happened Sunday morning in the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. According to The New York Times:
“Two people suspected of being militants were killed Sunday morning in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region by what Pakistani and Taliban officials said was a drone strike. … Two Pakistani officials, one in Peshawar and another in the tribal belt, said that missiles fired from a drone operated by the C.I.A. hit the two people in the village of Degan, about 20 miles from Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.”
The Long War Journal added:
“The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a pair of "militants" as they were riding horses in the village of Degan in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The two militants and their horses are reported to have been killed.”
The day after the hearing on John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA, U.S. drones were back in action over Pakistan. An attack on Friday in the border tribal region killed seven suspected militants. NBC News reports:
“Seven people were killed and six others injured in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region on Friday evening, Pakistani security officials said. The officials and tribal sources said the drone fired six missiles and pounded two separate mud-built houses in the Babar area of the Ladha subdivision in the South Waziristan tribal region.”
Several months ago, the Washington Post reported that presidential counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was developing a “playbook” of rules for drone attacks:
“The “playbook,” as Brennan calls it, will lay out the administration’s evolving procedures for the targeted killings that have come to define its fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It will cover the selection and approval of targets from the “disposition matrix,” the designation of who should pull the trigger when a killing is warranted, and the legal authorities the administration thinks sanction its actions in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.”
On Sunday, the Post followed with a report that the playbook was nearing completion, and would provide clear rules.
“In Yemen, officials said, strikes have been permitted only in cases in which intelligence indicates a specific threat to Americans. That could include “individuals who are personally involved in trying to kill Americans,” a senior administration official said, or “intelligence that . . . [for example] a truck has been configured in order to go after our embassy in Sanaa.
“The playbook has adopted that tighter standard and imposes other more stringent rules. Among them are requirements for White House approval of drone strikes and the involvement of multiple agencies — including the State Department — in nominating new names for kill lists.”
But there is one exception to the new rules. The CIA drone program in Pakistan gets an exemption for at least a year. That exemption is described as “a compromise that allowed officials to move forward with other parts of the playbook.” The disputed point that apparently led to it was the CIA’s use of so-called “signature strikes,” attacks based on behavior seen as suspicious rather than in specific identified targets.
It also appears that the coming withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will lead to more and more drone attacks. The Post quotes a former official involved in the playbook, “There’s a sense that you put the pedal to the metal now…”
For a number of months, I’ve reported and commented on news of drone strikes, the drone program, and legal and political challenges to it. But with the administration’s refusal to officially acknowledge the program, there’s a a lot we don’t know. Cora Currier at Pro Publica has an informative summary of what we know and what we don’t know about drone strikes.
Since the start of the year, drone attacks in Pakistan have been escalating. In the first ten days of January, seven attacks have been reported.
Thursday morning, according to the Global News/AP:
“U.S. drone-fired missiles hit a house in Pakistan's northwest tribal region Thursday, killing five suspected militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. It was the seventh such attack in less than two weeks.
“The recent spate of strikes has been one of the most intense in the past two years, a period in which political tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan led to a reduced number of attacks compared to 2010, when they were at their most frequent.”
Tuesday, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported:
“In twin strikes CIA drones killed at least six people, including up to two reported civilians. There were conflicting accounts of the events that night. Some sources reported there was a single strike that killed up to nine people. However multiple sources reported up to 17 missiles were fired on two close but separate targets at least 15 minutes apart. The first of the potentially coordinated attacks killed at least four in Haider Khel village shortly after midnight. …
“The Agency’s drones killed at least two people in the second strike in nearby Hesso Khel village. As many as 11 missiles were fired on a ‘two room house‘ belonging to Noor Mohammed – his fate was not reported. Villagers said there was no way to tell the identity or nationality of the ‘mutilated bodies’. Many drones were reportedly seen overhead after the strike making tribesmen panic.”
The secrecy of the U.S. drone program often makes it difficult to follow what is happening. News reports cite unnamed intelligence or security officials, sometimes tribal sources, usually with different information.
For example, on Sunday a large number of people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan's South Waziristan region. The story was reported by Al Jazeera, Reuters, DAWN, Associated Press, and CNN; among others.
The strike involved “several missiles” (AP), “eight to 10 missiles” (Al Jazeera), or “four unmanned drones fired ten missiles” (DAWN). It was aimed at “a suspected Taliban compound” (Al Jazeera), “three Taliban compounds” (Reuters), “three militant hideouts” (AP), or “three houses” (DAWN). The casualties were “sixteen killed and several others wounded” (Al Jazeera), “seventeen dead, three wounded” (CNN), “between ten and twelve dead” (Reuters), “seventeen dead” (DAWN), or “nine dead” (AP). They were “believed to be militants” (CNN), “suspected to be Taliban fighters” (Reuters), or “fighters belonging to the Punjabi Taliban” (Al Jazeera),
So, how many people were killed? Who were they? You decide.
Over the last two days, multiple drone strikes in Pakistan killed at least 13 people. According to the Associated Press,
“Two U.S. drone strikes on northwest Pakistan killed a senior Taliban commander who fought American forces in Afghanistan but had a truce with the Pakistani military, intelligence officials said Thursday.
“The commander, Maulvi Nazir, was among nine people killed in a missile strike on a house in the village of Angoor Adda in the South Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan late Wednesday night, five Pakistani security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. …
“Fighters under Nazir's command focused their attacks on American forces in neighboring Afghanistan, earning him the enmity of the U.S. But many in Pakistan's military viewed Nazir and militant chiefs like him as "good Taliban," meaning they focus attacks only on foreign forces in Afghanistan, keeping domestic peace by not attacking Pakistani targets.”
In a separate drone strike, at least four people were killed early Thursday morning near Mir Ali in the North Waziristan tribal region.
University of Notre Dame Law School Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell writes in Peace Policy of the “high-tech killing” made possible by drones, and the apparent violations of international law this creates.
“The arguments for drones continue to mutate as the technology advances to ever more powerful killing machines: Predators, Reapers, and now the Avenger. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on November 20, 2012, that the Pentagon plans to expand the use of drone attacks in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. He said that al Qaeda has “metastasized to other parts of the global body.’’ Now the policy of targeted killing with drones is spreading to other parts of the globe.”
Qanta Ahmed, Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion and Associate Professor of Medicine, State University of New York, writes in Haaretz about a recent trip to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. She finds that hatred of the US and strengthening of the Taliban are directly linked to continuing drone attacks.
“While the drive to codify U.S. drone policy is finally gaining momentum, it may be a case of too little, too late. As long as drones remain airborne, neo-orthodox Islamist terrorists and non-violent - but extremist - anti-American ideologues gain political capital, hoarding it as fast as America loses it. As long as we allow our administration to deploy drones without accountability, Pakistani anti-Americanism is validated, the Taliban is actually strengthened, while we as Americans remain confined in an ugly reality - defined not by who we are, but by whom, how and how often, we kill.”
One of the remaining Al Qaeda leaders was killed Thursday in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan. The Associated Press reports:
“Sheik Khalid bin Abdel Rehman al-Hussainan, who was also known as Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti, was killed when missiles slammed into a house Thursday near Mir Ali, one of the main towns in the North Waziristan tribal area, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.”
The report added that his wife and daughter were also injured, and his wife died Friday.
Reuters reports another senior leader killed on Sunday when a drone fired missiles at a house with Mohammad Ahmed Almansoor inside, in the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. Three other suspected militants were killed in the attack.
As it continues to condemn U.S. drone attacks, it appears that Pakistan is close to manufacturing its own drones. The Guardian reports that at a major arms fair held in Karachi last week, a senior Pakistani defense official briefed allies on their progress.
"The foreign delegates were quite excited by what Pakistan has achieved," said the official, who was closely involved with organising the four-day International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (Ideas). "They were briefed about a UAV that can be armed and has the capability to carry a weapon payload."
“The official said Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to friendly countries, principally Turkey and the Gulf, that it can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionising warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability.”
When the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world was ushered into a period of weapons paranoia. The Cold War, of course, was hallmarked by the obsessive weapons one-upmanship of the United States and the Soviet Union.
Who, then, would have thought that in the 21st century, the seeming weapon of choice would not be some sort of super-nuclear missile or an ultra-deadly biological toxin, but that it would, instead, be women?
“Women are being used as weapons of terror,” Dr. Rubina Greenwood told an audience last week at a congressional briefing on the rights of minority women in Pakistan organized by the Hindu American Foundation.
DAWN reports a drone attack Wednesday in the North Waziristan region.
“At least five people were killed Wednesday when a US drone targeted a suspected militant compound about 10 kilometres from the main town in volatile North Waziristan region, intelligence sources said.
“The US drone fired three missiles in Tappi village, about 10 kilometres southeast of Miramshah, on a compound which intelligence sources said was a militant facility. Two missiles hit the house and one struck a vehicle resulting in the death of four suspected militants. A woman was also killed in the strike, sources added. The official sources also said that three cows have also been killed as the house was completely destroyed.”
CNN reported three killed, and added that two children were injured.
“The latest suspected U.S. drone strike also injured two children, military officers said. Militants lived in the compound, but so did civilians, the officers said.”
Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who was shot by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan for her activism, is recovering at a hospital in Britain. The Guardian reported this morning
“Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl flown to Britain for treatment after being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan, has the potential to make "pretty much a full recovery", her doctors have said.
“She is able to stand with help and is writing notes, and although the bullet grazed her brain she has not shown "any deficit in terms of function", doctors at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham said on Friday. She was "not out of the woods but is doing very well", said Dr. Dave Rosser, medical director of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS foundation trust.”
The shooting has attracted a mass outpouring of support, both in Pakistan around the world. And Yousafzai is apparently aware of that support. According to Dr. Rosser
"She is keen that people share the details. She is also keen that I thank people for their support and their interest. She is obviously aware of the amount of support and interest this has generated around the world. She is keen to thank people for that."
Last weekend, the government of Pakistan prevented an anti-drone protest from entering the tribal regions. Led by former cricket star and now politician Imran Khan and including a delegation of 30 US activists, the caravan was blocked by barricades guarded by riot police.
The Guardian reported:
“Makeshift roadblocks, security threats and warnings from Pakistan's army forced Imran Khan to abandon his unprecedented attempt to lead a cavalcade of anti-drone protesters deep into the country's restive tribal belt on Sunday. Leading a convoy of thousands, the former cricketer was within striking distance of South Waziristan, where the CIA uses remote-controlled planes in the fight against Islamist militants, when he abruptly turned back.
“Later Khan said he had changed plan because of warnings from the army and the risk of becoming stuck after the military-imposed curfew. Addressing an impromptu rally of his supporters, he said the convoy had still been a huge success because he had gone to areas his political rivals "can only look at on maps." "We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you," Khan told the crowd of around 2,500 supporters.”
On Wednesday, the drone strikes resumed. BBC reported
“A US drone strike targeting a militant base has killed five insurgents in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border, security officials say. … "Several US drones flew into the area before dawn and fired four missiles on a compound, killing five militants," a security official told the AFP news agency after the strike in Hurmuz area, east of Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.”
Thursday, another major strike in which Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported 16 people were killed.
“A US drone attack killed 16 suspected militants and injured six others in the Orakzai agency of Pakistan’s tribal region on Thursday. Four missiles were fired in the Buland Khel area of the Orakzai agency, which is close to the borders of the North and South Waziristan tribal regions in Fata.”
The Associated Press added that according to a government administrator, as many as 12 others were injured and that “Drones were still flying over the site of the attack and locals were reportedly staying away from the site.”
One thing that characterized Afghanistan under Taliban rule before 2001 was their treatment of women and girls. From a society of total repression, new expressions of education, culture and human rights have slowly evolved. As you might suspect, Taliban groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are not pleased with that development.
On Tuesday, Malala Yusufzai, a 14-year-old education rights activist, was shot and seriously injured on her way home from school in the Swat Valley region of northwest Pakistan. The New York Times, using local news sources, reported on her injuries
"Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported that doctors at a hospital in Mingora, the region’s main city, said that Malala was “out of danger” because the bullet that “struck her skull and came out on the other side and hit her shoulder” had not damaged her brain. The newspaper added that the girl was later moved to Peshawar in a Pakistani Army helicopter.
"But The News, a Pakistani daily, reported late Tuesday that a bullet is still lodged in her head and arrangements were being made by the government to transport Malala abroad for emergency surgery that could not be performed at the military hospital in Peshawar. The newspaper Dawn also reported that surgeons at the military facility said “she immediately needs a sophisticated surgical procedure, which is not possible in the country” to save her life."
The Taliban is unrepentant. According to Al Jazeera,
"The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has since claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told the AFP news agency that the group carried out the attack after repeatedly warning Malala to stop speaking out against them.
"She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location. "We warned her several times to stop speaking against the Taliban and to stop supporting Western NGOs, and to come to the path of Islam."
One of the challenges facing the U.S. withdrawal of troops is how to provide security for those courageous activists for women’s and girl’s rights and advancement. In a recent study, “Afghan Women Speak,” David Cortright and Kristen Wall at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies propose that
“Demilitarization and negotiation of a peace agreement should be coupled with the deployment of an interim peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations to provide transitional security protection for civilians.”
Something along those lines must be created, or we will be reading more stories of advocates being attacked.