Tag Archives: drone war

Killing them like Flies: the Enduring Myth of Precise Airstrikes

Inside a B-52. Image from wikipedia

The American-led war against the Islamic State began in August 2014. …In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date [Nov. 2017], deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”

The US military planners describe a target-selection process grounded in meticulously gathered intelligence, technological wizardry, carefully designed bureaucratic hurdles and extraordinary restraint. Intelligence analysts pass along proposed targets to “targeteers,” who study 3-D computer models as they calibrate the angle of attack. A team of lawyers evaluates the plan, and — if all goes well — the process concludes with a strike so precise that it can, in some cases, destroy a room full of enemy fighters and leave the rest of the house intact.

The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.

NY Times reporting…found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like…remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

Excerpts from A The Uncounted, New York Times, Nov. 16, 2017

The Body Count and the Small Footprint

Jan. 14, 2014. Islamic State marching in Raqqa Syria. Image Associated Press

The U.S. assaults… have been far more deadly than is generally recognized. Military sources say that drone strikes have killed between 20,000 and 25,000 Islamic State operatives in Iraq and Syria. U.S. conventional attacks have killed about 30,000 more, for a total “body count” of over 50,000….The CIA and JSOC both conduct roughly the same number of drone flights every day. But the sources said the military’s drones conducted more than 20,000 strikes over the last year, in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, while the CIA is said to have struck less than a dozen targets over that same period.

The CIA oversaw much of America’s drone warfare during the first half of Obama’s presidency, when it was targeting al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan. But the agency’s focus on such counterterrorism “direct action” appears to have diminished over the past several years.
Obama’s  preference for special operations forces and their “small-footprint” tactics, as opposed to big conventional assaults….One unlikely legacy of Obama’s presidency is that he made the secret, once-impermissible tactic of targeted killing the preferred tool of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Excerpt from David Ignatius, Pentagon and CIA in a terror turf war,  Washington Post. Dec 12, 2016

Drone War 2014: transparency for covert lethal action

training in Djibouti image from wikipedia

A UN counter-terrorism expert has published the second report of his year-long investigation into drone strikes, highlighting 30 strikes where civilians are reported to have been killed.  The report, by British lawyer Ben Emmerson QC, identifies 30 attacks between 2006 and 2013 that show sufficient indications of civilian deaths to demand a ‘public explanation of the circumstances and the justification for the use of deadly force’ under international law.

Emmerson analysed 37 strikes carried out by the US, UK and Israel in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza, to arrive at a ‘sample’ of strikes that he believes those nations have a legal duty to explain.

Britain and the US conduct strikes as part of the armed conflict in Afghanistan, and the US also conducts covert strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.  Although Israel has never officially acknowledged using armed drones, Emmerson met with Israeli officials in the course of preparing his report and lists seven attacks in Gaza among those requiring investigation.

This report expands on an argument for the legal obligation for states to investigate and account for credible claims of civilian casualties, which Emmerson first laid out in his previous report, presented to the UN General Assembly in October (2013).

He writes: ‘in any case in which there have been, or appear to have been, civilian casualties that were not anticipated when the attack was planned, the State responsible is under an obligation to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and to provide a detailed public explanation of the results.

A February 2010 attack in Afghanistan serves as a ‘benchmark’ of the kind of disclosure that should follow claims of civilian casualties. After a US drone attack on a convoy of trucks reportedly killed up to 23 civilians, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which runs international operations in Afghanistan, partially declassified the findings of its internal investigation. Emmerson writes that this report strongly criticised the crew’s actions and revealed ‘a propensity to “kinetic activity” [lethal action]‘.  This level of transparency is rare.

The most recent incident featured in Emmerson’s report is a December 2013 attack that hit a wedding procession near Rada’a in Yemen, killing at least 12. Multiple sources have identified numerous civilian casualties among the dead, including a Human Rights Watch investigation published last week.   Three unnamed US officials told Associated Press after the publication of Human Rights Watch’s report that an internal investigation had found only alleged militants were killed – but no results of this investigation have yet been officially released.

Information is particularly scarce for activity in Somalia, Emmerson notes. The only strike from the country in the report is the February 2012 strike that killed former British citizen Mohamed Sakr, whose case the Bureau has reported on as part of its investigation into the British government’s deprivation of citizenship.

Neither the US nor the UK routinely publish details of their drone operations. The UK states that it has killed civilians in only one incident in Afghanistan, a March 2011 strike that killed four civilians.  The US has repeatedly dismissed the Bureau’s estimate that at least 400 civilians have died in Pakistan drone strikes as ‘ludicrous’; the CIA director John Brennan has said that claims of high civilian casualties amount to ‘disinformation’.

Emmerson notes that operations that kill civilians are not necessarily illegal under international law, but states have a duty of transparency where there are credible allegations of non-combatants being harmed.  The report does not take a position on the legality of drone strikes away from the battlefield, but says there is an ‘urgent and imperative need’ for international agreement on the legal arguments advanced in favour of covert lethal action.

The US has argued that its strikes are legal on two grounds: they are legitimate acts of self-defence against an imminent threat, and they are part of an armed conflict against an enemy, al Qaeda, and its ‘associated forces’. Emmerson asks a series of questions – about the thresholds for action in self-defence, the definition of ‘imminent’ threat, al Qaeda’s current state, and more – on which he says the international community must reach consensus.  Last week the European Parliament voted 534 to 49 in favour of a motion calling on the EU to develop a ‘common position’ on drone strikes and other targeted killings.  To date, Europe has remained largely silent on the issue, but the motion expressed ’grave concern’ over drone strikes ‘outside the international legal framework’ and called on member states not to ‘facilitate such killings by other states’.

The UK has refused to clarify whether it shares intelligence with the US that could lead to drone strikes in Pakistan; in January the Court of Appeal ruled that any attempt to force the government to disclose such information could endanger international relations. In December, Emmerson told a meeting in parliament that such intelligence-sharing is ‘inevitable’ owing to the closeness of the relationship between the US and UK. ‘It would be absurd if it were not the case,’ he added.

Alice K. Ross, UN report identifies 30 drone strikes that require ‘public explanation, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Mar. 1, 2014’

Drone Warfare is Mainstream: yes, we like it

occupy drone warfare.  Image from https://www.facebook.com/OccupyDroneWarfare

Rand Paul’s filibuster (March 2012) drew renewed attention to the U.S. government’s program of drone warfare. Paul’s focus — whether Obama believed that he could legally authorize a drone strike on a U.S. citizen on American soil — ultimately earned a direct response from Attorney General Eric Holder.

But  the main targets of drones have been mostly foreigners living in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. The irony, given all the attention and some plaudits given to Paul’s filibuster, is that most Americans support the use of drones to fight terrorists abroad. While Paul inveighed against a hypothetical killing, the actual killings that do happen are not that controversial in the minds of most Americans. An open question, however, is whether their minds could be changed.

Only last month, the Pew Center asked a random sample of Americans whether they supported “the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia?” A majority, 56 percent, approved while 26 percent disapproved and 18 percent were not sure — numbers similar to two 2012 polls.

In fact, drone strikes attracted roughly similar amounts of support from across the partisan spectrum: 68 percent of Republicans approved, as did 58 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents. A pattern of relative bipartisanship is not all that common in public opinion today, but it is predictable in this case. When leaders in the two parties don’t really disagree on something, there is no reason for partisans in the public to disagree either. In John Zaller’s magisterial account of how public opinion is formed and evolves, he refers to a pattern of bipartisanship like this one as a “mainstream effect.” Like it or not, drone warfare has become so common that “mainstream” does not sound inapt.

Thus, there is little reason to expect public opinion about the drone program to change without concerted and prolonged dissent from political leaders. That does not seem to be forthcoming. Paul’s dissent — which didn’t even emphasize foreign targets of American drones — was met with harsh rebuttals from Lindsay Graham, John McCain and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Democrats were not exactly rushing to stand with Paul either.

Would dissent from Capitol Hill make any difference? Actually, it might. Some evidence suggests public support for drone warfare is soft. The Pew survey provides hints of that. The main concern about drones — one that 53 percent of the public was “very concerned” about — was civilian casualties, which occur with some regularity…

Excerpts from Ezra Klein, Most Americans approve of foreign drone strikes, Washington Post. Mar. 8, 2013

The Drone War in Pakistan and have-nothing-to-lose Attitude

Expressing both public and private frustration with Pakistan, the Obama administration has unleashed the CIA to resume an aggressive campaign of drone strikes in Pakistani territory over the last few weeks, approving strikes that might have been vetoed in the past for fear of angering Islamabad.   Now, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing sensitive issues, the administration’s attitude is, “What do we have to lose?”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made clear the deteriorating relations with Islamabad on Thursday, saying the United States is “reaching the limits of our patience” because Pakistan has not cracked down on local insurgents who carry out deadly attacks on U.S. troops and others in neighboring Afghanistan.  “It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan,” Panetta told reporters here on the last stop of his nine-day swing through Asia. He made it clear that the drone strikes will continue.  The CIA has launched eight Predator drone attacks since Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, was invited to attend the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago but refused to make a deal to reopen crucial routes used to supply U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as the White House had hoped.

The CIA had logged 14 remotely piloted strikes on targets in Pakistan’s rugged tribal belt in the previous 5 1/2 months, according to the New America Foundation, a U.S. think tank that tracks reported attacks.  Obviously, something changed after Chicago,” said a senior congressional aide in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity in discussing a classified program. “I am only getting the official story, but even within the official story there is an acknowledgment that something has changed.”  Another congressional official said the surge in drone attacks stemmed in part from success in tracking down militants on the CIA’s target list, although only one has been publicly identified. It’s unclear who else has been targeted.

Pakistanis view the drone strikes as an attempt to intimidate their civilian and military leaders into giving in to U.S. demands. If that’s the strategy, it won’t work, said experts and analysts in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.  “They are trying to send a message: ‘If you don’t come around, we will continue with our plan, the way we want to do it,’ ” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired Pakistani intelligence chief and former senator. It’s “superpower arrogance being shown to a smaller state…. But this will only increase the feeling among Pakistanis that the Americans are bent on having their way through force and not negotiation.”

A White House official said no political or foreign policy considerations would have prevented the CIA from taking action when it found Abu Yahya al Libi, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, who was killed by a drone-fired missile in Pakistan on Monday.

Pakistan blocked truck convoys hauling North Atlantic Treaty Organization war supplies from the port city of Karachi after a clash near the Afghan border in November led to errors andU.S. military helicopters accidentally killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.  As part of the fallout, Pakistan ordered the U.S. to leave an air base in the country’s southwest that the CIA had used to launch drone flights bound for targets in the tribal areas. Since then, the aircraft reportedly have flown from across the border in Afghanistan.  The U.S. initially halted all drone strikes for two months to ease Pakistani sensitivities, and the attacks resumed only sporadically after mid-January. By May, Pakistani officials were signaling a willingness to reopen the supply route to resurrect relations.

But talks deadlocked over Pakistan’s demands for sharply higher transit fees just before the NATO conference, and President Obama appeared to give Zardari a cold shoulder in Chicago. Pentagon officials will visit Islamabad this week for a new round of talks.  After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, Pakistan allowed NATO supplies to transit through its territory at no charge. It later levied a token $250 charge per truck. Islamabad now wants more than $5,000 per truck to reopen the road, a toll U.S. officials refuse to pay.  As an alternative to Pakistan, Washington concluded a deal this week to haul military gear out of landlocked Afghanistan through three Central Asian nations — Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — as NATO coalition troops withdraw.

The senior U.S. official said the Obama administration and members of Congress were angered when a Pakistani court sentenced Shakeel Afridi, a doctor who helped the CIA search for Osama bin Laden, to 33 years in prison. Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden in May 2011 in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad.  But Panetta chiefly stressed his dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to clamp down on sanctuaries used by the Haqqani network, a militant group that has been blamed for numerous deadly attacks in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say Haqqani fighters, including some wearing suicide vests, most recently were involved in an assault last week on Forward Operating Base Salerno, a U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan. U.S. troops killed 14 insurgents and suffered no casualties, officials said.  Panetta’s complaint isn’t new, but his language was unusually bellicose.  He told a think tank audience in New Delhi on Wednesday that “we are at war in the FATA,” referring to the federally administered tribal areas in northwestern Pakistan where the Haqqani fighters and other insurgents have concentrated.  He later confirmed that the U.S. is targeting not just remaining Al Qaeda leaders but suspected militants from the Haqqani network and other Taliban-linked groups responsible for cross-border attacks. U.S. officials noted that Panetta leveled his charges in the capital of India, Pakistan’s archfoe.  “The tensions with Pakistan are clearly going up, not down,” said the second congressional official. “The fact that Panetta was talking about Pakistan in India tells you how frustrated people are.”

“If the U.S. feels it is doing very well in the war against Al Qaeda, OK,” said Riaz Khokhar, a former Pakistani foreign secretary. “But people in Pakistan don’t know who Al Libi is and don’t care who he is. What people care about is that Pakistani sovereignty is being violated repeatedly by drones.”….”We have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves,” Panetta said in New Delhi. “This is about our sovereignty as well.”

David S. Cloud and Alex Rodriguez, CIA gets nod to step up drone strikes in Pakistan, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2012

How Easy it is to Kill: the Anonymous Drone Politics

White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets.  The move concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists.  In describing Brennan’s arrangement to The Associated Press, the officials provided the first detailed description of the military’s previous review process that set a schedule for killing or capturing terror leaders around the Arab world and beyond. They spoke on condition of anonymity because U.S. officials are not allowed to publicly describe the classified targeting program.

One senior administration official argues that Brennan’s move adds another layer of review that augments rather than detracts from the Pentagon’s role. The official says that in fact there will be more people at the table making the decisions, including representatives from every agency involved in counterterrorism, before they are reviewed by senior officials and ultimately the president.  The CIA’s process remains unchanged, but never included the large number of interagency players the Pentagon brought to the table for its debates.  And the move gives Brennan greater input earlier in the process, before senior officials make the final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan’s office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials.

Previously, targets were first discussed in meetings run by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen at the time, with Brennan being just one of the voices in the debate.  The new Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has been more focused on shrinking the U.S. military as the Afghan war winds down and less on the covert wars overseas.  With Dempsey less involved, Brennan believed there was an even greater need to draw together different agencies’ viewpoints, showing the American public that al-Qaida targets are chosen only after painstaking and exhaustive debate, the senior administration official said.

But some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of “how easy it has become to kill someone,” one said. The U.S. is targeting al-Qaida operatives for reasons such as being heard in an intercepted conversation plotting to attack a U.S. ambassador overseas, the official said. Stateside, that conversation could trigger an investigation by the Secret Service or FBI.  Defense Department spokesman George Little said the department was “entirely comfortable with the process by which American counterterrorism operations are managed.  The CIA did not respond to a request for comment….

An example of a recent Pentagon-led drone strike was the fatal attack in January on al-Qaida commander Bilal al-Berjawi in Somalia. U.S. intelligence and military forces had been watching him for days. When his car reached the outskirts of Mogadishu, the drones fired a volley of missiles, obliterating his vehicle and killing him instantly. The drones belonged to the elite U.S. Joint Special Operations Command. The British-Lebanese citizen al-Berjawi ended up on the JSOC list after a studied debate run by the Pentagon.

The Defense Department’s list of potential drone or raid targets is about two dozen names long, the officials said. The previous process for vetting them, now mostly defunct, was established by Mullen early in the Obama administration, with a major revamp in the spring of 2011, two officials said.  Drone attacks were split between JSOC and the CIA, which keeps a separate list of targets, though it overlaps with the Pentagon list. By law, the CIA can target only al-Qaida operatives or affiliates who directly threaten the U.S. JSOC has a little more leeway, allowed by statue to target members of the larger al-Qaida network.

Under the old Pentagon-run review, the first step was to gather evidence on a potential target. That person’s case would be discussed over an interagency secure video teleconference, involving the National Counterterrorism Center and the State Department, among other agencies. Among the data taken into consideration: Is the target a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates; is he engaged in activities aimed at the U.S. overseas or at home?  If a target isn’t captured or killed within 30 days after he is chosen, his case must be reviewed to see if he’s still a threat.

The CIA’s process is more insular. Only a select number of high-ranking staff can preside over the debates run by the agency’s Covert Action Review Group, which then passes the list to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to carry out the drone strikes. The Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, is briefed on those actions, one official said.

Al-Berjawi’s name was technically on both lists — the Pentagon’s and the CIA’s. In areas where both JSOC and the CIA operate, the military task force commander and CIA chief of station confer, together with representatives of U.S. law enforcement, on how best to hit the target. If it’s deemed possible to grab the target, for interrogation or simply to gather DNA to prove the identity of a deceased person, a special operations team is sent, as in the case of the 2009 Navy SEAL raid against al-Qaida commander Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. Nabhan’s convoy was attacked by helicopter gunships, after which the raiders landed and took his body for identification, before burying him at sea.

But if the al-Qaida operative is in transit from Somalia to Yemen by boat, for instance, U.S. security officials might opt to use the Navy to intercept and the FBI to arrest him, officials said.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, Who will drones target? Who in the US will decide?, Associated Press, May 22, 2012

The Drone War in Yemen; surgical strikes or a relentless signature campaign?

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.   Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

The practice has been a core element of the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.  If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.  For President Obama, an endorsement of signature strikes would mean a significant, and potentially risky, policy shift. The administration has placed tight limits on drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into an often murky regional conflict and risk turning militants with local agendas into al-Qaeda recruits.  A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to talk about what he described as U.S. “tactics” in Yemen, but he said that “there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States.”  U.S. officials acknowledge that the standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.  Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.  “How discriminating can they be?” asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen “is joined at the hip” with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country’s government, the official said. “I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war.”  U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached. Officials from the White House and the CIA declined to comment.

Proponents of the plan said improvements in U.S. intelligence collection in Yemen have made it possible to expand the drone campaign — and use signature strikes — while minimizing the risk of civilian casualties.  They also pointed to the CIA’s experience in Pakistan. U.S. officials said the agency killed more senior al-Qaeda operatives there with signature strikes than with those in which it had identified and located someone on its kill list.  In Pakistan, the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there,” said a former senior U.S. military official familiar with drone operations.  The agency has cited the Pakistan experience to administration officials in arguing, perhaps counterintuitively, that it can be more effective against al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate if it doesn’t have to identify its targets before an attack. Obama, however, ruled out a similar push for such authority more than a year ago.

The CIA, the National Security Agency and other spy services have deployed more officers and resources to Yemen over the past several years to augment counterterrorism operations that were previously handled almost exclusively by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

The CIA began flying armed drones over Yemen last year after opening a secret base on the Arabian Peninsula. The agency also has worked with the Saudi and Yemeni intelligence services to build networks of informants — much the way it did in Pakistan before ramping up drone strikes there.

The agency’s strategy in Pakistan was centered on mounting a drone campaign so relentless that it allowed no time between attacks for al-Qaeda operatives to regroup. The use of signature strikes came to be seen as critical to achieving that pace.  The approach involved assembling threads of intelligence from multiple sources to develop telltale “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on operatives’ vehicles, facilities, communications equipment and patterns of behavior.  A former senior U.S. intelligence official said the CIA became so adept at this that it could tell what was happening inside an al-Qaeda compound — whether a leader was visiting or explosives were being assembled, for example — based on the location and number of security operatives surrounding the site.  The agency might be able to replicate that success in Yemen, the former intelligence official said. But he expressed skepticism that White House officials, including counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, will approve the CIA’s request.  The situation in Pakistan’s tribal territory “is far less ambiguous than in Yemen,” the former official said. “Brennan has been deliberate in making sure targets we hit in Yemen are terrorist targets and not insurgents.”  As a result, the CIA has been limited to “personality” strikes in Yemen, meaning it can fire only in cases where it has clear evidence that someone on its target list is in a drone’s crosshairs.  Often, that requires information from multiple sources, including imagery, cellphone intercepts and informants on the ground….

Which U.S. entity is responsible for each strike remains unclear. In Pakistan, the CIA carries out every drone strike. But in Yemen, the United States has relied on a mix of capabilities, including drones flown by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, as well as conventional military aircraft and warships parked off the coast.  The JSOC has broader authority than the CIA to pursue militants in Yemen and is not seeking permission to use signature strikes, U.S. officials said.

Excerpts, Greg Miller,CIA seeks new authority to expand Yemen drone campaign, Wasthington Post, April 18

See also

Who is the Boss? the CIA or JSOC

The Drone War in Yemen

The CIA Drone Program as a Violation of Human Rights

The CIA Drone Program and the Network of Pakistan’s Spies

The death of a senior al Qaeda leader in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal badlands, the first strike in almost two months, signalled that the US-Pakistan intelligence partnership is still in operation despite political tensions. The Jan 10 strike – and its follow-up two days later – were joint operations, a Pakistani security source based in the tribal areas told Reuters.  They made use of Pakistani “spotters” on the ground and demonstrated a level of coordination that both sides have sought to downplay since tensions erupted in January 2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor in Lahore.  “Our working relationship is a bit different from our political relationship,” the source told Reuters, requesting anonymity. “It’s more productive.”  US and Pakistani sources told Reuters that the target of the Jan 10 attack was Aslam Awan, a Pakistani national from Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a US commando team.

They said he was targeted in a strike by a US-operated drone directed at what news reports said was a compound near the town of Miranshah in the border province of North Waziristan.  That strike broke an undeclared eight-week hiatus in attacks by the armed, unmanned drones that patrol the tribal areas and are a key weapon in US President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy.  The sources described Awan, also known by the nom-de-guerre Abdullah Khorasani, as a significant figure in the remaining core leadership of al Qaeda, which US officials say has been sharply reduced by the drone campaign. Most of the drone attacks are conducted as part of a clandestine CIA operation. The Pakistani source, who helped target Awan, could not confirm that he was killed, but the US official said he was. European officials said Awan had spent time in London and had ties to British extremists before returning to Pakistan.

The source, who says he runs a network of spotters primarily in North and South Waziristan, described for the first time how US-Pakistani cooperation on strikes works, with his Pakistani agents keeping close tabs on suspected militants and building a pattern of their movements and associations.  “We run a network of human intelligence sources,” he said. “Separately, we monitor their cell and satellite phones.  “Thirdly, we run joint monitoring operations with our US and UK friends,” he added, noting that cooperation with British intelligence was also extensive.Pakistani and US intelligence officers, using their own sources, hash out a joint “priority of targets lists” in regular face-to-face meetings, he said.  “Al Qaeda is our top priority,” he said.  He declined to say where the meetings take place.

Once a target is identified and “marked,” his network coordinates with drone operators on the US side. He said the United States bases drones outside Kabul, likely at Bagram airfield about 25 miles (40 km) north of the capital. From spotting to firing a missile “hardly takes about two to three hours”, he said.

It was impossible to verify the source’s claims and American experts, who decline to discuss the drone programme, say the Pakistanis’ cooperation has been less helpful in the past.  US officials have complained that when information on drone strikes was shared with the Pakistanis beforehand, the targets were often tipped off, allowing them to escape……

The New America Foundation policy institute says that of 283 reported strikes from 2004 to Nov 16, 2011, between 1,717 and 2,680 people were killed. Between 293 and 471 were thought to be civilians – approximately 17 percent of those killed.  The Brookings Institution, however, says civilian deaths are high, reporting in 2009 that “for every militant killed, 10 or more civilians also died.” Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, also said in April 2011 that “the majority of victims are innocent civilians”.

Still, despite its public stance, Pakistan has quietly supported the drone programme since Obama ramped up air strikes when he took office in 2009 and even asked for more flights.

Excerpt, How Pakistan Helps the US Drone Campaign, Reuters, Han. 22, 2012

Drones Forever: the drone war

The U.S. Air Force has authorized Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems to begin low-rate initial production of a radar-jamming decoy drone.The Air Force exercised a contract option and awarded Raytheon $5 million to produce the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy-J (MALD-J), converting an earlier production order for the baseline, non-jamming MALD model, Raytheon said.  With a range of about 575 miles, the jet-powered MALD is launched from aircraft and protects aircrews and their aircraft by mimicking the combat flight profiles and signatures of U.S. and allied aircraft. The MALD-J adds radar-jamming capability.  The MALD-J will save lives by allowing commanders to conduct jamming missions without risking manned aircraft and crews, Harry Schulte, vice president of Raytheon’s warfare systems product line, said in prepared remarks.  About 125 Raytheon employees make the MALD, Schulte noted.

By David Wichner, Raytheon to start producing radar-jamming decoy drone, Arizona Daily Star, Nov. 29, 2011

US Spies against Pakistan Spies, drones and attacks

A US drone strike in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt on Friday[Sept. 23, 2011] killed at least six militants including four foreigners and destroyed a compound, security officials said. Two missiles fired by the unmanned aircraft hit a house in the village of Khushali Turikhel, 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in the lawless North Waziristan tribal district, security officials told AFP.  “The US drone fired two missiles which hit a house. Two locals and four militants of central Asian origin have been killed,” a Pakistani security official said. The official based in Peshawar said militants were using the house as a compound, which was completely destroyed.  Two intelligence officials based in Miranshah confirmed the attack and the number of casualties, adding that three militants whose identities were not yet clear were wounded in the strike.  Although the United States does not publicly confirm drone attacks, its military and the CIA in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the unmanned Predator aircraft in the region.

North Waziristan is the headquarters of the Haqqani leadership and the main militant bastion in the semi-autonomous tribal belt.  The Haqqani network is considered the deadliest enemy of US troops in eastern Afghanistan. It was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani and is run by his son, Sirajuddin, both designated “global terrorists” by Washington.  The United States blames it over some of the most spectacular attacks in Afghanistan, such as last week’s 19-hour siege in Kabul and the 2009 killing of seven CIA agents, and accuses Pakistani spies of having ties to the group.  In an unprecedented condemnation of Pakistan the US military’s top officer Admiral Mike Mullen said this week that the country’s main intelligence agency the ISI was actively supporting Haqqani network militants.  Pakistan has reacted angrily to the US allegations, saying they are “not acceptable” and warning that Washington stands to lose a vital ally.

Drone attacks are unpopular among many Pakistanis, who oppose the alliance with Washington and who are sensitive to perceived violations of sovereignty.   Around two dozen drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan since elite US forces killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a suburban home near Pakistan’s main military academy in Abbottabad, close to the capital, on May 2.  Pakistani-US relations sank to a new nadir after the unilateral American raid that killed bin Laden but in recent months had appeared to recover slightly.  Washington’s pressure on Islamabad to launch a decisive military campaign in North Waziristan, as Pakistan has conducted elsewhere in the tribal belt, has so far fallen on deaf ears.

US drone kills six militants in Pakistan: officials, Agence France Presse, Sept. 24, 2011