U.S. operates drones from secret bases in Somalia

Foreign Policy reports: Some say the Americans are everywhere. Some say they are nowhere. Still others say they are everywhere and nowhere at once. But the shadowy U.S. presence in this strategic port city in war-torn southern Somalia has clear consequences for anyone with a share of power here. That includes Somali regional officials who are quick to praise American counterterrorism efforts, African Union forces who rely on U.S. intelligence as they battle back al-Shabab, and even the al Qaeda-linked militants themselves, who are increasingly hemmed in by a lethal combination of AU-led counterinsurgency, airstrikes, and raids by U.S. special operators.

Based out of a fortress of fading green Hesco barriers at the ramshackle airport in Kismayo, a team of special operators from the Joint Special Operations Command, the elite U.S. military organization famous for killing Osama bin Laden, flies drones and carries out other counterterrorism activities, multiple Somali government and African Union sources have confirmed. Their presence in this volatile city, which until 2012 was controlled by al-Shabab, has not previously been reported. Nor has the United States acknowledged operating drones from Somali soil. (Unmanned armed and surveillance flights are said to originate from Camp Lemonnier in nearby Djibouti or from bases in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.)

“They have a base over there,” Abdighani Abdi Jama, state minister for the presidency in the interim regional administration in Kismayo, said of U.S. forces, gesturing to a heavily fortified compound not far from the airport’s small terminal. He confirmed that as many as 40 U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in Kismayo, roughly 300 miles south of the capital of Mogadishu, where he said they operate drones from the airport’s single runway and carry out covert “intelligence” and “counterterrorism” operations. [Continue reading…]

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Former U.S. military personnel urge drone pilots to walk away from controls

The Guardian reports: Forty-five former US military personnel, including a retired army colonel, have issued a joint appeal to the pilots of aerial drones operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere, calling on them to refuse to carry out the deadly missions.

In a joint letter, the retired and former military members call on air force pilots based at Creech air force base in Nevada and Beale air force base in California to refuse to carry out their duties. They say the missions, which have become an increasingly dominant feature of US military strategy in recent years, “profoundly violate domestic and international laws”.

“At least 6,000 lives have been unjustly taken by US drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines, Libya and Syria. These attacks are also undermining principles of international law and human rights,” the authors write. [Continue reading…]

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CIA didn’t know strike would hit al-Qaeda leader

The Washington Post reports: The CIA did not know in advance that al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen was among the suspected militants targeted in a lethal drone strike last week, according to U.S. officials who said that the operation went forward under counter­terrorism guidelines that were eased by the Obama administration after the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Yemen this year.

The officials said that Nasir ­al-Wuhayshi, who also served as ­al-Qaeda’s overall second-in-command, was killed in a “signature strike,” in which the CIA is permitted to fire based on patterns of suspected militant activity even if the agency does not know the identities of those who could be killed.

The disclosure indicates that the CIA continues to employ a controversial targeting method that the administration had signaled in 2013 that it intended to phase out, particularly in Yemen, which U.S. officials have said is subject to more stringent rules on the use of lethal force than in Pakistan. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s humble approach to drone warfare

Following the death of Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen a few days ago, a spokesman for the group made a surprise announcement:

Although there remain several candidates for his replacement, our first choice is a senior fellow from the Brookings Institution who for obvious reasons will henceforth only be referred to by his nom de guerre, al-Moderation.

Much as al-Wuhayshi’s loss is regrettable, it opens up new opportunities for fresh blood, allowing younger, more liberally-minded members of AQAP to now explore non-violent avenues to achieve our objectives.

Hard to imagine that drone strikes might have this effect? No doubt, but what’s equally lacking in credibility is the kind of claim that predictably followed the latest strike.

With a triumphalist tone, the spokesman for the National Security Council, Ned Price, said al-Wuhayshi’s death was a “major blow” to the militant group. He said it “removes from the battlefield an experienced terrorist leader and brings us closer to degrading and ultimately defeating these groups.”

Seriously?

In an effort to perpetuate the grandiose spirit with which Obama began his drone warfare campaign, Price said: “The president has been clear that terrorists who threaten the United States will not find safe haven in any corner of the globe.”

Yet in Yemen, that corner of the globe where Obama’s drone campaign has largely been focused, the assessment of the former U.S. ambassador, Stephen Seche, is that: “If you’re looking for logic here, you’re not going to find much.”

Why? Because as the U.S. launches occasional drone strikes against AQAP, it is also offering logistical support to Saudi Arabia in its attacks against the group’s principal opponents, the Houthi rebels.

With the promotion of Qasim al-Raymi, the group apparently had no trouble in choosing a new leader.

Orlando Crowcroft writes:

“I think if you were going to guess who would replace al-Wuhayshi, this would [be] the guy. It makes a lot of sense,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Although the loss of four key figures in as many months is a blow for AQAP, the group is having a great deal of success in Yemen in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthi rebels. That conflict has largely affected the north and west of the country, allowing al-Qaeda to seize huge swathes of the east, its traditional Sunni tribal heartland.

“It is a great time for AQAP […] when you look at the situation on the ground. As long as the war continues, as long as Yemen continues inching further and further into the abyss of being a failed state, AQAP and other groups will continue to capitalise,” said Baron.

“Celebrating the death of al-Wuhayshi as if it means the death of AQAP is a very flawed way to look at this.”

If the Al Qaeda central leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was ever to come into the sights of an American drone operator, the wisest response would be to hold fire, and yet the simplistic assumption behind President Obama’s strategy of eliminating so-called high value targets, is that terrorist groups suffer potentially crippling blows whenever their leaders are eliminated — an assumption that is nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking.

When it comes to the leadership of terrorist organizations, more often than not, it tends to be a case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

As much as politicians and pundits would prefer terrorists to be seen as extraterrestrial beings, they do in reality exhibit many traits common to their fellow men, one of which is that aging quite often has the effect of curtailing aggression. And even if aging doesn’t lead to moderation, it almost always diminishes the capacities of adaptation.

Even so, over the last decade and a half, a constant refrain from America’s military leaders has been that they struggle against highly adaptable foes. No one seems to recognize that this adaptability is not simply a challenge; it is also an effect of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy.

If Obama’s own mysterious strategy extends further than crossing dates off the calendar as he looks forward to leaving office, it is perhaps one of conflict maintenance — to keep the war on terrorism on a slow simmer. Not too hot, nor too cool, but just hot enough to ensure that national security has its required prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign and that whoever enters the White House in January, 2017, will be able to continue with business as usual in America’s ongoing wars.

If 9/11 was the product of a failure of imagination, so is the war on terrorism.

And if for Obama, drone warfare once looked like a magic bullet whose power derived from its precision, it now represents the impotence of a strategy leading nowhere.

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As stress drives off drone operators, Air Force must cut flights

The New York Times reports: After a decade of waging long-distance war through their video screens, America’s drone operators are burning out, and the Air Force is being forced to cut back on the flights even as military and intelligence officials are demanding more of them over intensifying combat zones in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The Air Force plans to trim the flights by the armed surveillance drones to 60 a day by October from a recent peak of 65 as it deals with the first serious exodus of the crew members who helped usher in the era of war by remote control.

Air Force officials said that this year they would lose more drone pilots, who are worn down by the unique stresses of their work, than they can train. [Continue reading…]

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What to keep secret in a secret war

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor for the New York Times, writes: If you were reading the two sentences by themselves, you might be surprised they appeared in the same newspaper.

One suggested a news organization that is tough-minded, calling its own shots about acceding to government requests for secrecy. It appeared in an article about whether the C.I.A.’s drone-strike program is properly monitored by Congress. The story named the program’s architect, Michael D’Andrea.

“The C.I.A. asked that Mr. D’Andrea’s name and the names of some other top agency officials be withheld from this article,” it said, “but The New York Times is publishing them because they have leadership roles in one of the government’s most significant paramilitary programs and their roles are known to foreign governments and many others.”

The other sentence suggested, by contrast, a news organization that provides anonymous cover for government officials touting the merits of their underexamined war. It appeared in an article on the effectiveness of the drone program, based partly on interviews with American officials. One of them was quoted anonymously: “‘Core Al Qaeda is a rump of its former self,’ said an American counterterrorism official, in an assessment echoed by several European and Pakistani officials.”

As The Times covered the recent unintended deaths of two Western hostages in a drone strike, a split personality was on view.

In many ways, the coverage has been remarkable for straightforward truth-telling.

A front-page news analysis by Scott Shane, for example, included this memorable paragraph, not in a quote but in the author’s own voice: “Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.” (Mr. Shane’s knowledge comes in part from his book, due for September publication, on the 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam.)

But in other ways, drone coverage is still lacking in skepticism about government claims on classified killings — something I criticized in 2012. [Continue reading…]

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One-woman play explores the frightening future of the drone wars

Fred Kaplan writes: A new one-woman play, Grounded, by George Brant — now at New York’s Public Theater in a dazzling production directed by Julie Taymor — captures some of the weird dissonance of a drone pilot’s life. The Odyssey “would be a different book,” she muses at one point, “if Odysseus came home every day, every single day.”

The pilot (played by a convincing, even riveting Anne Hathaway) was once a real pilot, an F-16 fighter jock, psyched on “the speed … the ride … the respect … the danger” of hurling through the sky (“You are the blue”), raining missiles down on the desert, breaking minarets into particles of sand. Now she drives to war, “like it’s shift work,” and stares at a gray screen, watches the “silent gray boom” after she pushes a button, and hovers over the scene long after, watching the body parts fly, then the mourning and anguish of those who retrieve them — sights that she had never stayed around to witness before. She begins to see gray everywhere, melding her life that’s not quite a life with her combat that’s not quite combat, imagining the Nevada desert of her daily drive as the Iraqi desert of her daily surveillance, blurring a jihadi’s daughter that she’s killed with her own daughter, and gradually she goes haywire.

Brant’s play is reminiscent of, and must have been to some degree inspired by, Matthew Power’s 2013 article in GQ, “Confessions of a Drone Warrior,” in which his subject, Airman 1st Class Brandon Bryant, recounts the “zombie mode” and “fugue state” of his shifts in the joystick trailer, watching and killing from so near, yet so far: the dissonance of the godlike power and the gray silence. [Continue reading…]

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Blurry covert lines limit chances of drone program changes

Huffington Post: After last week’s tragic news that an errant CIA drone strike had mistakenly taken out an American and an Italian hostage in Pakistan, critics of the spies’ program — who have long argued the targeted killings should strictly fall in the military’s wheelhouse — are rallying to finally take the drone trigger out of the agency’s hands.

But that effort to transition the program may not be as simple as critics think. After all, drone operations are a lot easier to run when you don’t have to follow all the rules.

The crux of the debate over who should control the drone program has watered down to that one core argument for years. The drone program itself splits off into two arms: the CIA runs a covert program governed by U.S. Title 50, and the military runs a program that can either be overt or clandestine under the military’s Title 10. And simply by virtue of the differences between overt and covert action, the White House has run into hefty roadblocks in its supposed crusade to end the CIA’s covert side of the program.

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Life and death of an al Qaeda spokesman

Iona Craig writes: The voice on the phone was a mere whisper. The spokesman for al-Qaeda’s most notorious affiliate, AQAP, sounded nervous.

The man who scores of reporters around the world came to know over the last year under the alias of “Muhannad Ghallab” was not what I expected. One of the pictures he sent me showed him with long hair, dressed in a blue T-shirt with the words “Men gone surfing” printed across it.

Muhannad first contacted me in 2012 when I was living in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, working as a freelance journalist. I became, as he later joked, his personal “experiment” as AQAP’s initial attempt to reach out to the international media, putting up an English-speaking voice to counter the Washington and Western media narrative. Eventually, Muhannad would be quoted widely in international media outlets — usually just as a nameless spokesman — providing a rare insight into AQAP. [Continue reading…]

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Predator drone strikes: A cure worse than the disease

Bruce Fein writes: Something is rotten in President Barack Obama’s classified, programmatic use of predator drones to target suspected international terrorists for death anywhere on the planet.

The targeting intelligence is suspect.

The program is secret, lawless, and unaccountable to Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American people.

The killings pivot on a principle that will haunt the United States in the future as predator drone capability spreads to China, Russia or otherwise.

And the program is compounding rather than diminishing the international terrorist threat against the United States by creating more revenge-motivated terrorists than are being killing; and, by serving as a calling card for international terrorist recruitment. That explains why high level military and intelligence officials in the Obama administration concede that 14 years after 9/11 the United States is more imperiled by international terrorism than ever before.

Depend upon it. If the predator drone program were suspended for six months on a trial basis, international terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia aimed at the United States would contract. The foundation would be laid for terminating the entire program and making the United States safer. [Continue reading…]

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Why the New York Times named names in CIA drone story

Michael Calderone reports: The New York Times reported across the top of Sunday’s front page that Congress is doing little to oversee the CIA’s targeted killing program. In the process, the paper identified three high-ranking CIA officials with key roles in secret drone operations.

The CIA asked the Times to withhold the names in its report, a request that executive editor Dean Baquet told The Huffington Post on Monday that he took seriously, but decided not to honor.

Baquet said the officials are not undercover agents carrying out clandestine operations in the field, but rather figures with significant roles in “one of the major issues in modern American warfare.” The CIA is now playing a “quasi-military role” through the drone program, a departure from its traditional functions that deserves scrutiny. In order to debate the program, he said, the public needs to know who is making key decisions. In addition, as the Times wrote in its article, the CIA officials’ “roles are known to foreign governments and many others.”

“It would have been weird to not name the guys who run it,” Baquet said. “They’re not undercover. They’re not unknown. They’re sort of widely known.”

A CIA spokesman declined to comment to The Huffington Post.

Baquet’s decision shows the news organization’s increasing willingness to push back against government requests to withhold information, unless officials provide specific reasons why doing so may damage national security. [Continue reading…]

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How candidate of hope and change became president of kill lists, drone strikes, and immunity for torturers

Gregory D. Johnsen writes: Shortly before 9 a.m. on March 11, 2014, Dianne Feinstein, the 80-year-old chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, walked into the Senate chamber with a thick stack of papers and a glass of water. The Senate had just finished a rare all-night session a few minutes earlier, and only a handful of staffers were left in the room. Feinstein had given thousands of speeches over her career, but none quite like this.

“Let me say up front that I come to the Senate floor reluctantly,” she said, as she poked at the corners of her notes. The last two months had been an exhausting mix of meetings and legal wrangling, all in an attempt to avoid this exact moment. But none of it had worked. And now Feinstein was ready to go public and tell the country what she knew: The CIA had broken the law and violated the Constitution. It had spied on the Senate.

“This is a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community,” Feinstein said nearly 40 minutes later, as she drew to a close. This will show whether the Senate “can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

Two hours later and a few miles away at a Council on Foreign Relations event near downtown Washington, the CIA responded. “As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into Senate computers,” CIA Director John Brennan told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, shaking his head and rolling his eyes to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the charges, “nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that.”

Brennan was 58, but that morning he looked much older. He’d hobbled into the room on a cane following yet another hip fracture, and after some brief remarks he eased himself into a chair with obvious discomfort. Two years earlier in a commencement address at Fordham University, his alma mater, Brennan had rattled off a litany of injuries and ailments: In addition to his hip problems, he’d also had major knee, back, and shoulder surgeries as well as “a bout of cancer.” Years of desk work had resulted in extra weight and the sort of bureaucrat’s body that caused his suits to slope down and out toward his belt. “I referred the matter myself to the CIA inspector general to make sure that he was able to look honestly and objectively at what the CIA did there,” Brennan said. “And, you know, when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”

Mitchell, who had already asked him two questions about the allegations, pressed again. “If it is proved that the CIA did do this, would you feel that you had to step down?”

Brennan chuckled and stuttered as he tried to form an answer. Two weeks earlier, he had told a dinner at the University of Oklahoma that “intelligence work had gotten in my blood.” The CIA wasn’t just what he did; it was his “identity.” He had worked too hard to become director to give up without a fight. “If I did something wrong,” Brennan eventually told Mitchell, “I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

But Obama was never going to ask for his resignation. Not then, and not months later when the CIA inspector general’s report came back, showing that the agency had done what Feinstein claimed. Brennan was Obama’s man. His conscience on national security, and the CIA director he’d wanted from the very beginning. Not even a chorus of pleas from Democratic senators, members of Obama’s own party, made any difference. John Brennan would stay, the untouchable head of America’s most powerful intelligence agency. [Continue reading…]

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Obama secretly allowed looser rules for drone strikes in Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports: President Barack Obama tightened rules for the U.S. drone program in 2013, but he secretly approved a waiver giving the Central Intelligence Agency more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The rules were designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. Mr. Obama also required that proposed targets pose an imminent threat to the U.S.—but the waiver exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan.

Last week, the U.S. officials disclosed that two Western hostages, U.S. and Italian aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed on Jan. 15 by a U.S. drone strike aimed at al Qaeda militants in Pakistan. If the exemption had not been in place for Pakistan, the CIA might have been required to gather more intelligence before that strike.

And though support for the drone program remains strong across the U.S. government, the killings have renewed a debate within the administration over whether the CIA should now be reined in or meet the tighter standards that apply to drone programs outside of Pakistan. [Continue reading…]

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Deep support in Washington for CIA’s drone missions

The New York Times reports: About once a month, staff members of the congressional intelligence committees drive across the Potomac River to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., and watch videos of people being blown up.

As part of the macabre ritual the staff members look at the footage of drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries and a sampling of the intelligence buttressing each strike, but not the internal C.I.A. cables discussing the attacks and their aftermath. The screenings have provided a veneer of congressional oversight and have led lawmakers to claim that the targeted killing program is subject to rigorous review, to defend it vigorously in public and to authorize its sizable budget each year.

That unwavering support from Capitol Hill is but one reason the C.I.A.’s killing missions are embedded in American warfare and unlikely to change significantly despite President Obama’s announcement on Thursday that a drone strike accidentally killed two innocent hostages, an American and an Italian. The program is under fire like never before, but the White House continues to champion it, and C.I.A. officers who built the program more than a decade ago — some of whom also led the C.I.A. detention program that used torture in secret prisons — have ascended to the agency’s powerful senior ranks. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Obama’s drone panopticon: A secret machine with no accountability

The Guardian reports: Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.

“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.

The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.

Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill. [Continue reading…]

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Warren Weinstein and the long drone war

Steve Coll writes: Warren Weinstein was the forgotten man of the war against Al Qaeda. He was an Urdu-speaking aid worker on contract with U.S.A.I.D., a man past retirement age, who was kidnapped from his home, in Lahore, in the summer of 2011, days before he was supposed to return to the States. The kidnapping occurred three months after Navy SEALs raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. Yet, despite efforts that the Obama Administration described on Thursday as extensive, no SEALs ever located or attempted to rescue Weinstein, who was seventy-three years old when he died.

Nor did the White House negotiate his release. Last May, after long talks with the Taliban, U.S. Special Forces flew into Waziristan to accept custody of Bowe Bergdahl, an Army soldier who had wandered off his base, on the Afghan border with Pakistan, and been captured by fighters with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. In exchange for Bergdahl’s release, the Obama Administration released four Taliban prisoners held at Guantánamo. Weinstein did not figure into the deal and was left behind. Judging by the videos that his captors released, he was ill and deeply demoralized.

Of course, Al Qaeda, not the Obama Administration, is responsible for Weinstein’s miserable fate. Still, the fact that Weinstein’s own government accidentally killed him — during his fourth year in captivity, and without a rescue ever being attempted — is a disturbing coda to the short history of drone warfare. It reminds us that the problem with drones is not just that their operators sometimes make mistakes. It is that the heavy reliance — in time, dollars, and bureaucratic priorities — on a technological panacea for the problem of terrorism can cause a government to lose sight of the people on the ground.

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Giovanni Lo Porto was known as aid worker drawn to needy

The New York Times reports: When Giovanni Lo Porto was kidnapped by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in January 2012, the nongovernmental organization he worked for was inundated with emails from around the world expressing concern and care.

“It was amazing how many emails we got saying, ‘We hope he’s well,’ ” said Simone Pott, a spokeswoman for the organization, Welthungerhilfe, one of Germany’s biggest agencies specializing in emergency and long-term aid. She remembered him as a “great colleague,” and “vibrant, full of life.”

His kidnapping prompted a huge response, she said. “He had friends all over the world.”

As those friends and colleagues learned Thursday that Mr. Lo Porto, 37, along with an American hostage, had been killed in a United States counterterrorism operation in Pakistan three months earlier, they recalled a driven and experienced aid worker who was drawn to those in need. Italian opposition parties used news of his death to criticize the country’s leadership and its involvement in the Middle East, and some of his supporters questioned whether enough had been done to secure his freedom. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s drone war has the precision of guesswork

The New York Times reports: Barack Obama inherited two ugly, intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when he became president and set to work to end them. But a third, more covert war he made his own, escalating drone strikes in Pakistan and expanding them to Yemen and Somalia.

The drone’s vaunted capability for pinpoint killing appealed to a president intrigued by a new technology and determined to try to keep the United States out of new quagmires. Aides said Mr. Obama liked the idea of picking off dangerous terrorists a few at a time, without endangering American lives or risking the yearslong bloodshed of conventional war.

“Let’s kill the people who are trying to kill us,” he often told aides.

By most accounts, hundreds of dangerous militants have, indeed, been killed by drones, including some high-ranking Qaeda figures. But for six years, when the heavy cloak of secrecy has occasionally been breached, the results of some strikes have often turned out to be deeply troubling.

Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess. [Continue reading…]

Micah Zenko notes: Based upon the averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation, the Long War Journal, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been an estimated 522 U.S. targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 9/11, which have killed 3,852 people, 476 (or 12 percent) of whom were civilians.

However, whenever human rights groups produce credible reports about non-American civilians who are unintentionally killed, U.S. officials and spokespersons refuse to provide any information at all, and instead refer back to official policy statements — which themselves appear to contradict how the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations is supposed to be practiced. Moreover, even within traditional battlefields like Afghanistan or Iraq, the U.S. government refuses to provide information about harm caused to civilians. Last year in Afghanistan alone, the United Nations documented 104 civilian deaths “from aerial operations by international military forces.” There were no statements from the relevant military commanders or White House about any of these victims.

Earlier this month, during a question-and-answer session at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, CIA director John Brennan pledged:

“We, the U.S. government, the U.S. military, are very, very careful about taking action that’s going to have collateral civilian impact. A lot of these stories that you hear about — in terms of ‘Oh my god, there are hundreds of civilians killed,’ whatever — a lot of that is propaganda that is put out by those elements that are very much opposed to the U.S. coming in and helping.”

“Propaganda.” That’s how U.S. officials deride research that challenges their assertions.

Unfortunately, there have been hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. counterterrorism operations, despite the very real precautions that the CIA and military undertake to prevent them. This is why, as I have written often previously, the United States has an obligation to those American and non-American civilians killed by drones to commission a study into U.S. targeted killing policies similar to the extensive one conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Without a full and complete accounting of this lethal tactic that has come to define U.S. foreign policy throughout the world, we will always be forced to rely upon the selective pledges provided by U.S. officials. [Continue reading…]

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