Jack Searle writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
One strike in Pakistan ends 34-day stretch without an attack.
Yemen sees more strikes in a month than any time since March 2012.
A terror alert centred on Yemen gripped the US in August leading to six confirmed drone strikes. The US closed 21 diplomatic missions in the Middle East and east Africa in a move that one counter-terrorism expert called ‘crazy pants‘.
August saw the highest number of confirmed drone strikes since March 2012 when the Sanaa-based government, with considerable US air support, drove al Qaeda out of its southern and central provinces.
Of the 22-43 people killed, three were said to be senior militants. Alleged commanders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Saleh al Tays al Waeli and Saleh Ali Guti (aka Saleh Jouti) reportedly died on August 6, while Qaid Ahmad Nasser al Dhahab, described as AQAP’s ‘spiritual leader’ was killed in a night-time precision attack that was likely to be a drone strike on August 30.
The unusual intensity of the drone strikes appears to support reports suggesting that restrictive new targeting rules, introduced at the time of President Obama’s major speech on drones in May, were relaxed in the face of the ‘elevated threat‘. A senior US official told the New York Times the list of people who could be targeted was increased: ‘Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be an operations director. Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.’
The exact details of the plot – believed to be the work of AQAP – are unknown. However President Hadi told Yemeni police cadets that it involved two huge car bombs, one intended for an oil terminal and the other a target in the capital.
Yemen: August 2013 actions
Confirmed US drone strikes: 6
Further reported/possible US strike events: 2
Total reported killed in US operations: 22-43
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 6
A Bureau investigation appears to confirm the CIA briefly revived its controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers. The Bureau first exposed these so-called ‘double-tap‘ strikes in February 2012. The new study focussed mainly on strikes around a single village in early summer of 2012, aimed at one of the last remaining senior al Qaeda figures, Yahya al Libi.
US Secretary of State John Kerry started the month with a visit to Islamabad in which he said drone strikes in Pakistan would end ‘very, very soon’. This statement was quickly taken back by the Department of State. A spokesman said: ‘In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises.’
On August 31 CIA drones killed four alleged militants from the Islamic Movement of Turkmenistan. Locals said they were foreigners affiliated with militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. It was the only strike in the month.
The lull in strikes this month in Pakistan came as an international security alert centred on Yemen led to a reported shift in focus from Pakistan’s tribal areas to the Middle East. Yemeni officials claimed a Pakistani bomb-maker had been killed in the sudden surge of Yemen strikes after crossing into the country.
Also in August, the Pakistan government said there had been a tacit understanding between Washington and Islamabad over drone strikes, not a written agreement – although it did not say when the understanding had started, or whether it was still in place. This came in response to questions in the National Assembly. The Pakistan government also came under pressure in the Punjab assembly, which adopted a resolution condemning drone strikes.
August 2013 actions
Pakistan: Total CIA strikes in August: 1
Total killed in strikes in August: 3-4, of whom 0 were reportedly civilians
Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism