The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

US Drone Strike Kills Two in Southeast Yemen

January 8th, 2013

In a move that was nearly a month too late, the Obama Administration has finally gotten around to announcing an “investigation” into the December 12 drone strike against a Yemeni wedding party, which killed a large number of civilians.

The strike fueled massive opposition from locals, and also a rare rebuke from the Yemeni parliament, which has long looked the other way over civilian deaths. The Obama Administration hasn’t learned any lesson however.

That’s because even as the probe was getting underway, the US launched yet another drone strike against the Hadrawmut Province, killing two unidentified people.

Officially, both of the slain have been declared “suspected al-Qaeda militants,” but that explanation would be a lot more credible if the US hadn’t labeled the wedding party the exact same way after that hit.

Though the US has long insisted virtually no civilians are slain in their strikes, they likewise have never identified a large number of their victims, shrugging them off as suspects unless someone says otherwise.

I worked on the US drone program. The public should know what really goes on

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some questions. I’d start with “how many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” and “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly, “how many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

… I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again, it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to, not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one of year leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life – at home and abroad – will continue.

Khyber Agency: Six killed in US drone strike in Loe Shalman

December 14th, 2014

At least six people were killed in a drone strike in Mach Magai area of Loe Shalman near Khyber Agency on Saturday.

According to political administration, two missiles were fired while a boat in River Kabul was targeted in the strike.

Six people were killed while two others injured in the drone attack, the administration added.

The injured identified as Hamid and Shabir were taken to Landikotal Hospital.

This is the first US drone strike in Loe Shalman area.

The last drone strike was carried out in Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that killed six people.

US Drone Attacks Yemen Wedding Party, Killing 15 Civilians

December 12th, 2013

When a US drone strike tears through some vehicle, building, or picnic in Yemen, the Yemeni government is quick to label all of the victims “suspected al-Qaeda fighters,” and today was no different.

That claim was stretched beyond all credibility, however, when witnesses came forward saying today’s strike, on the outskirts of Qaifa, actually hit a wedding party. The procession of vehicles was traveling together when missiles slammed into one of the middle cars, causing chaos and killing 10 civilians instantly, while wounding 12 others. Five of the wounded have since died, bringing the toll to 15.

The early indications are that this was yet another “signature” attack, where US drones target totally unidentified people doing something they thing seems terrorist-like. In this case, it was driving cars in a convoy, which is bad news for weddings and funeral processions.

The Hadi government has yet to issue an official statement, but is unlikely to be too critical of the US, having openly endorsed drone strikes repeatedly.

US Drone Strike Kills Four in Southern Yemen | Antiwar

December 9th, 2013

Another US drone strike hit the Hadramawt Province in southeastern Yemen today, destroying a truck and killing four unidentified people within.

Yemeni officials dubbed the slain “al-Qaeda suspects,” and in some accounts “gunmen,” though they conceded that they have no idea who the four victims of the attack actually are since the bodies were burned beyond recognition in the strike. That is nothing new, as the overwhelming majority of US drone strikes kill so-called “signature” targets, people even the attackers don’t know but who simply look like they might be up to something.

Of thousands of victims of US drone strikes across the world, only a few dozen have ever been named officially, with the rest forever labeled “suspects.”

Life After a Drone Strike | Interview with Director Madiha Tahir

The US isn’t the first Western nation to bomb Waziristan. As you note, the British did it in the 1920s. Do these campaigns have anything in common?

Yes, there are some things in common. Let me point out a difference first: the historian Priya Satia has observed that for the British creating terror through “air policing” — what it was called then — was considered humane because it would terrorize people into submission and therefore minimize the number of people they’d actually have to kill, or so they reasoned. For the US, that discourse has been replaced by claims about precision, accuracy and surgical strikes.

But, of course, the buzzing of the drones does create terror, particularly among those who have already been attacked or seen an attack. That’s the simplest link. More interestingly, there’s a kind of technophilia that’s part of the British and American effort. It has been part of the fantasy of empire ever since flight became a possibility. It’s the belief that flight — whether by airplanes or drones — can make total control of a territory possible. It’s the idea that flight equals omniscience, that territory is transparent, and that all one needs to do in order to understand it, is to see it by air. The British made that mistake, and the Americans are making it now. They have their heads in the clouds. They have failed to grasp the link between the violence they inflict and the response that they get. The British wrote off rebellions as part of the alleged innate savagery of Pashtuns rather than a reaction to their brutal colonial rule. The US now presumes the right to be the global policeman, to occupy and destroy entire countries, but then wonders “why do they hate us?” This is a question that reflects the utter, willful blindness of American power.

This is not to say that those fighting against the Americans in Afghanistan are simply anti-colonial warriors, because the insurgents have been ruthless to Waziris and Pakistanis more generally. But, at the level of imperial politics, there is a definite link between what the British did and what the US is attempting to do now.

A major theme in your documentary is that survivors of drone strikes are continually haunted by the dead — and continually reminded of their deaths by the omnipresence of drones in Waziristan’s skies. One young boy recounts that while he barely survived a drone attack that killed both his sister-in-law and baby niece, he doesn’t feel lucky to be alive. Indeed, ‘Death would have been better than this kind of life,’ he tells you. Why would he say that?

When I asked him why he said that, Saddam responded that he was tired of the drone attacks and that he felt ill every time he heard a drone had bombed somewhere. I think this is part of what’s critical to understand about drone attacks: they don’t just kill people. They destroy lives. We, those of us who don’t have to suffer through these bombings, have been so disciplined to think in terms of the numbers dead and whether they were “civilians” or “militants” that I think we miss the broader, deeper and long-lasting effects of drone policy. We miss the fact that deaths resound and echo through the social fabric for long after. We miss the fact the bombing destroys communities. The focus on numbers alone has been successful in narrowing the terms of the debate around drones. I wanted to broaden the discussion.
Madiha Tahir

Afghans describe relatives' deaths in recent U.S. drone strike | LA Times

Miya Jan was filling potholes on the rutted trail that leads to his village in rugged eastern Afghanistan when he heard the whine of a drone aircraft overhead.

The sunburned 28-year-old farmer looked up and saw a gray, narrow-winged drone circling the village. A few minutes later, he said, it fired a missile that landed with a tremendous thud across a stony ridge line.

Jan ran to the explosion site and recognized the burning frame of his cousin’s blue pickup truck. Inside, he said, he saw blackened shapes — people whose torsos had been sheared off. He recognized the smoking remains of his brother, his brother’s wife and their 18-month-old son. Jan and other villagers say 14 people were killed in the attack; U.S. and Afghan officials place the toll at 11.

“There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Jan, recalling the deadly Sept. 7 late afternoon incident in an interview last week. “I picked up those pieces from the road and from the truck and wrapped them in a sheet to bury them.

“Do the American people want to spend their money this way, on drones that kill our women and children?” he asked.

Where Is the Moral Rectitude When Political Retaliation Drone Strike Hits Settled Area, Misses Target? | Jim White

Early this morning, just hours after the US had assured Pakistan that drone strikes would be curtailed if Pakistan is able to restart peace talks with the Taliban (after the US disrupted them with a drone strike), John Brennan lashed out with one of his signature rage drone strikes that seems more calculated as political retaliation than careful targeting. Earlier documentation of political retaliation strikes can be seen here and here.

Here is how Dawn described the assurance from the US late on Wednesday:

The United States has promised that it will not carry out any drone strikes in Pakistan during any peace talks with Taliban militants in the future, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Wednesday.

Briefing a session of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Aziz said a team of government negotiators was prepared to hold talks with former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov 2, the day after he was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had told reporters last week that the process of peace talks could not be taken forward unless drone attacks on Pakistani soil are halted.

Nisar had said that the drone attack that killed Mehsud ‘sabotaged’ the government’s efforts to strike peace with anti-state militants.

Bill Roggio, writing in Long War Journal, is convinced that the Haqqani network’s leader was the target of today’s strike:

The US launched a drone strike at a seminary in Pakistan’s settled district of Hangu, killing eight people in what appears to have been an attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operations commander of the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network.

But see that bit about the strike being in “Pakistan’s settled district”? One of the many unwritten “rules” of US drone strikes in Pakistan is that they are restricted to the FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Area, of Pakistan where Pakistani security or military personnel have little to no freedom of movement. In fact, the ability of drones to enter these otherwise forbidden territories is touted as one of their main justifications for use.

Just over a week ago, the chief fundraiser for the Haqqani network was killed near Islamabad. That killing involved a gunman, though, not a drone. If Nasiruddin Haqqani could be taken out by a gunman near Islamabad, why couldn’t Sirajuddin also have been taken out by a gunman in Hangu rather than missed in a drone strike?

Various reports on this drone strike place the death toll at anywhere from three to eight and say that either three or four missiles were fired into the seminary. [continue]

US Drone Strike Targeting Seminary in Settled Area of Pakistan Kills Six | The Dissenter

November 21st, 2013

At least six people were killed and several injured in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan early in the morning on November 21 when a CIA drone attacked a seminary.

The drone strike appeared to have targeted militants from the Haqqani network, a group the United States governmentbelieves has close ties to al Qaeda and the ISI, Pakistan’s spy agency. However, the strike took place in a settled area of Pakistan when any agreement between the Pakistani government and the US government has only applied to drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an ungoverned area of the country.

This recent drone attack will likely open settled urban areas of the country up to CIA drone strikes.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that its sources:

…said a drone hit a room in the Madrassa where five senior Haqqani commanders were meeting. Several reports said Maulvi Ahmad Jan was killed. He was reportedly a special adviser to Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, and the group’s spiritual leader and fund raiser. Sirajuddin was reportedly seen at the madrassa a few days before the strike however he was not reportedly killed. Ahmad Jan, in his 60s and a member of the group’s ruling council, was reportedly at the madrassa ‘receiving people who were coming to condole the death of Nasiruddin Haqqani’. Nasiruddin was a leading figure in the Haqqani Network. He was shot dead on the streets of Islamabad on November 11 2013.

The Bureau source named four others killed in the strike: Maulvi Hamidullah, an Afghan ‘special advisor’ to the Haqqani group; Maulvi Abdullah, an Afghan; Maulvi Abdur Rehman Mengal (aka Abdul Rehman); and Karim Khan. NBC News also identified five alleged Taliban commanders, with one difference to the Bureau source. NBC News said Maulvi Ghazi Marjan (aka Gul Marjan) was killed but did not name a Karim Khan among the dead. And Dawn named Kaleemullah among the dead, as well as Ahmed Jan, Hamidullah, Abdullah, Abdur Rehman, and Gul Marjan.

A report in The Guardian additionally reported, “Residents and police claimed three or four missiles were fired at a section of the mud-built madrassa just before 5am. The seminary’s students, many of whom were sleeping in a nearby room, escaped unhurt.”

Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has represented drone victims, suggested this strike was the first drone attack in a settled area of Pakistan.

Based on TBIJ’s prior research, the organization explained:

…[T]hree drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a ‘buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the ‘settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007…

The strike occurred weeks after another drone strike on November 1, which killed Pakistan Taliban chief, Hakimullah Mehsud. That drone strike was heavily criticized within Pakistan not because Mehsud was a hero to those in Pakistan but because the country was in the process of peace talks with Pakistan and the strike ruined all that had been accomplished.

This strike that reportedly killed Haqqani militant leaders is likely to have a negative effect as well, breeding more violence as Pakistan struggles to maintain stability in the country.

The people of Pakistan are outraged at Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he cannot stop the US from launching drone strikes in their country. They understandably believe he is complicit and, if he was a better leader, he would be able to stop the drones.

The Haqqani network was not designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012. It may sympathize and have a history of cooperation with al Qaeda forces, but whether it is an “associated force” of al Qaeda is debatable.

Air strikes, probably CIA drone strikes, kill five people in southern Yemen | Reuters

November 8th, 2013

Five “suspected al Qaeda fighters” have been killed by two air strikes in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, the country’s interior ministry said on Friday.

A ministry statement said the militants were killed on Thursday but did not say whether the strikes were launched by Yemen or the United States.

However, local officials in Abyan, which was a stronghold for Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other militant groups during an uprising that ousted veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year, told Reuters the strikes were carried out by American drones.

Pakistan Taliban chief killed (again) in US drone strike

November 1st, 2013

A US drone strike in Pakistan has killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani sources have told Al Jazeera.

“We can confirm Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in the drone strike,” said the source on Friday.

Four security officials confirmed his death to Reuters news agency. His bodyguard and driver were also among the dead, they said.

“Among the dead, who are in large numbers, are Hakimullah’s personal bodyguard Tariq Mehsud and his driver Abdullah Mehsud, two of his closest people,” said one intelligence source, adding at least 25 people were killed in the strike.

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamad, said that Pakistan’s Taliban has also confirmed Mehsud’s killing.

As leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Mehsud was the most wanted man in Pakistan and the US had a $5m bounty on his head.

Mehsud, who had been reported dead several times before, became the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in August 2009 after a drone strike killed the previous leader, his mentor.