Docs Show CIA's Mass Drone Death Strikes Killed Few al-Qaeda Leaders
April 10, 2013 3:16 PM
A broad range of militants were deemed to dangerous to be left alive in recent operations
Under fire over its defense over potential drone
killings of Americans
deemed as "terrorists" on U.S. soil, the Obama administration's
growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
is being intensively scrutinized by both politicians and the media.
I. Deadly, But Not Very Precise
New documents obtained by McClatchy's reveal that of the 95 drone strikes in the Pakistan region between Oct. 2010 and Sept. 2011, many did not target al-Qaeda and those that did were not as accurate as thought.
The drone campaign managed to kill 482 people, but only 6 were high-ranking members of al-Qaeda. Analyst Jonathan Landay reports, "At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were 'assessed' as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists."
[Image Source: McClatchy's]
In the past the Obama administration has claimed that the death strikes by armed Predator and Reaper drones, employed primarily by
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
, were used only on "specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces."
Micah Zenko, an expert with the bipartisan foreign-relations think-tank
Council on Foreign Relations
, says that the administration is misleading Americans, commenting, "[The Obama administration is] misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted."
Reaper drones have been used in numerous Pakistan and Yemen death strikes.
[Image Source: The Real Revo]
But White House national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden says that the administration does not need to specify explicitly who it is targeting and to make no assumptions. She remarks, "You should not assume [CIA Chief John Brennan] is only talking about al-Qaeda just because he doesn’t say ’al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces’ at every reference."
So who was the administration targeting in the 43 out of 95 drone strikes that did not target al-Qaeda? According to McClatchy's, the documents indicate that the strikes in question targeted "Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as 'foreign fighters' and 'other militants.'"
The documents also reveal that U.S. efforts to kill terrorist leaders often accidentally instead killed friends or family members. Drone strikes were even used to target somber occasions, such as individuals leaving funerals.
II. Is the U.S. Killing Civilians, Allies Accidentally?
One major complaint of the administration's critics is lack of transparency in the deadly offensive. The administration has refused to release a list of "terrorist" organizations that it considers "associated forces" of al-Qaeda. So far only Afghanistan's Taliban has been officially acknowledged as an al-Qaeda ally. Also not revealed was whether the administration conducted so-called "signature killings" -- killings of locals who met with al-Qaeda or exhibited other behavior deemed suspicious.
Survivors pick through the rubble looking for relatives after an Oct. 2012 drone strike in Yemen.
[Image Source: Reuters]
New CIA chief John Brennan in February acknowledged that the drone strikes sometimes miss the mark and kill innocent civilians, but he defended the program saying the U.S. paid the families of people it accidentally killed. He
, "Where possible, we also work with local governments to gather facts, and, if appropriate, provide condolence payments to families of those killed."
Condolence payments range from $1,000 to $7,500 according to various reports
, depending on the circumstances.
As CIA director (bottom right) escalated drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan civilian casualties (top, left) have grown.
[Image Source: BIJ (top); The Long War Journal (bottom left); Reuters (bottom right)]
Four American citizens with ties to terrorism -- Kamal Derwish, Anwar al-Awlaki, 16-year-old Abdulahman al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan -- have been killed to date in drone strikes in Yemen. Family members of the dead American citizens have
sued the Obama administration
with the help of the
American Civil Liberties Union
In August 2012, a drone strike in Yemen
a 40-year-old moderate cleric Salem bin Ahmed bin Ali Jaber just two days after he delivered a speech denouncing al-Qaeda. The irony is that the al-Qaeda officers who were targeted in the strike, reportedly came into town to threaten Mr. Jaber for his support of the U.S. and pacifistic leanings.
Some feel the President shouldn't have the power to order the warrantless killings of Americans on U.S. soil. [Image Source: Drone Wars UK]
It's clear more questions need to be asked about the program. But don't expect the answers to come easy from an administration who
explicitly ordered its Press Secretary to dodge questions
about drone strikes.
"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings
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