Is the secret war in Yemen and Somalia secret no longer? (Woods)

Chris Woods writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

In what is being viewed by some as a significant move towards greater transparency, President Obama has officially acknowledged for the first time previously secret US military combat operations in Yemen and Somalia.

The US military has been mounting aggressive combat operations in both countries for some years. Attacks began in Somalia in January 2007, and in Yemen in December 2009. The Bureau monitors operations in both nations, and its data suggests that as many as 180 combat strikes may have taken place in both countries. However until now the US would not even admit that such attacks occurred.

News of the surprise acknowledgment came in a letter from President Obama to Congress on the evening of June 15 – a six monthly obligation under the War Powers Resolution passed in 1973, in which he is required to inform politicians about US military actions abroad. Obama openly described ‘direct action’ – military operations – in both Yemen and Somalia.

The U.S. military has also been working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous affiliate of al-Qa’ida today. Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests.

There were similar references to operations in Somalia, with the President noting that in ‘a limited number of cases, the US military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al-Qa’ida, including those who are also members of al-Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests.’

Previously any such details were reported only in a confidential annex to the reports, with US officials refusing to confirm or deny even the existence of military strikes – an increasingly bizarre stance given the widespread reporting of such operations.

The Wall Street Journal noted that much of the impetus for the partial disclosure came from General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

His spokesman told the paper: ‘When U.S. military forces are involved in combat anywhere in the world, and information about those operations does not compromise national or operational security, Gen. Dempsey believes the American public should be kept appropriately informed.’

But the paper also noted that ‘officials said details about specific strikes in Yemen and Somalia would continue to be kept secret.’

Continued confusion
The Bureau is one of the few bodies to monitor secret US combat activity in the two countries. In Somalia, between 10 and 21 US strike operations have killed up to 169 people. And in Yemen, the Bureau has recorded 44 confirmed US attacks – with as many as 106 additional strikes. Total Yemen casualties are between 317 and 879 people killed. That range is necessarily broad because the Pentagon will presently not clarify whether attacks are the work of US or Yemeni forces.

Until now US officials refused to confirm or deny even the existence of military strikes in Somalia and Yemen

The US military has variously used airstrikes, naval bombardments and cruise missile strikes in the two troubled nations. US military drone attacks only began in 2011. The CIA also operates its own drone fleet in Yemen – and those operations remain classified.

The unexpected move by Obama is the latest in a series of transparency moves by the administration. It came three days after 26 members of the US Congress wrote to the president raising serious concerns about the covert drone strike programme. The politicians – including two Republicans – wrote:

The implications of the use of drones for our national security are profound. They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that the targeted communities have. They can generate powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment.

The American Civil Liberties Union, while welcoming Obama’s partial declassification of military strikes in Yemen and Somalia, called for further disclosure: ‘The public is entitled to more information about the legal standards that apply, the process by which they add names to the kill list, and the facts they rely on in order to justify targeted killings.’

Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists told the New York Times: ‘While any voluntary disclosure is welcome, this is not much of a breakthrough. The age of secret wars is over. They were never a secret to those on the receiving end.’

Mirrored from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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5 Responses

  1. Reason1id comment to
    “David Petraeus, as CIA director, is no doubt sensitive to this dilemma. In 2006, back when he was a three-star general, he wrote in the Army’s counterinsurgency field manual, “An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if collateral damage leads to the recruitment of fifty more insurgents.” Sometimes, as the manual acknowledged, it’s so important to kill those five insurgents, the risk of siring more is worth taking. Still, the gamble should be acknowledged and weighed—and not just by those tossing the dice.”
    The US ignores UN “Laws” “Human Rights” – “collateral damage” are innocents, women and children.
    Your President’s policies and actions are Criminal and Disgusting.
    Wake up; realize why you have more enemies than friends these days.

  2. Although a covert US war in Somalia and Yemen has been an open secret for a long time, it is good that at last it has been officially admitted. A couple of points come to mind in this connection. First of all, the United States strongly condemns the Syrian government for its violent crackdown of the opposition that it calls terrorists and al-Qa’ida affiliates, while in Yemen where the situation is very similar to Syria, US government provides every support to the government to crack down on the opposition and even joins in the action. The second disturbing point is about the fairly widespread use of drones, because it blares the distinction between a war and extra-judicial killing. As a recent article in New Internationalist Magazine asks, “By preying on the weak and flouting all rules and conventions, is drone warfare a manifestation of our more primitive urges?” The article correctly points out: “Paradoxically the more people killed in these wars the more paranoid American leadership becomes about matters of security – a natural outcome of following irrational policies.”
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  3. Speaking as one of the US citizens in the US who is on Obama’s “kill list,” I would be especially grateful for any further clarification of the points raised by the ACLU.

  4. This is simply a continuation of the government revealing what it wants. The official position is still the nonsense that it would compromise national security to confirm or deny the existence of the program. This is the court decision that has forced the ACLU to continue suing for information. The next hearing is in Sept.
    These revelations have nothing to do with accountability and everything to do with rebranding Obama as a Hawk so he can neutralize the Republican hawks.

  5. Good to see the ACLU sees issues about the “kill list” process.

    I can remember a stir created when the NY Times #1 bestseller came out “By Way of Deception” which descibed a secret panel within the Israeli intelligence structure that authorized extrajudicial killings. The panel’s existence was unknown to the Israel Supreme Court.

    Where did the U.S. kill list process originate – by “executive order”? By interpretation of federal statute? How can a chief executive order extrajudicial killings?

    Currenntly in Israel, a Palestinian militant leader can only be killed via approval of the Israeli attorney general. Britain views such actions as illegal, as does Amnesty International.

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