Ground All Drones is a committee of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) created to address the use of drones, particularly armed drones. Drones are developed worldwide, not only by the U.S. but by other nations as well. In the U.S.unarmed surveillance drones could be used to spy on citizens, a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment Rights. The current focus of this committee is on the use of weaponized drones.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground

From an article found in The Guardian 

‘Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise.’ But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them.'
Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

Monday 24 November 2014

New analysis of data conducted by human rights group Reprieve shared with the Guardian, raises questions about accuracy of intelligence guiding ‘precise’ strikes.

The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur.
Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.

However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.

Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.

A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.

Reprieve, sifting through reports compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, examined cases in which specific people were targeted by drones multiple times. Their data, shared with the Guardian, raises questions about the accuracy of US intelligence guiding strikes that US officials describe using words like “clinical” and “precise.”

The analysis is a partial estimate of the damage wrought by Obama’s favored weapon of war, a tool he and his administration describe as far more precise than more familiar instruments of land or air power.

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.

Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.

In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.

Available data for the 41 men targeted for drone strikes across both countries indicate that each of them was reported killed multiple times. Seven of them are believed to still be alive. The status of another, Haji Omar, is unknown. Abu Ubaidah al-Masri, whom drones targeted three times, later died from natural causes, believed to be hepatitis.

The data cohort is only a fraction of those killed by US drones overall. Reprieve did not focus on named targets struck only once. Neither Reprieve nor the Guardian examined the subset of drone strikes that do not target specific people: the so-called “signature strikes” that attack people based on a pattern of behavior considered suspicious, rather than intelligence tying their targets to terrorist activity. An analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations tally assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.

As well, the data is agnostic on the validity of the named targets struck on multiple occasions being marked for death in the first place.

Like all weapons, drones will inevitably miss their targets given enough chances. But the secrecy surrounding them obscures how often misses occur and the reasons for them. Even for the 33 named targets whom the drones eventually killed – successes, by the logic of the drone strikes – another 947 people died in the process.

There are myriad problems with analyzing data from US drone strikes. Those strikes occur under a blanket of official secrecy, which means analysts must rely on local media reporting about their aftermath, with all the attendant problems besetting journalism in dangerous or denied places. Anonymous leaks to media organizations, typically citing an unnamed American, Yemeni or Pakistani official, are the only acknowledgements that the strikes actually occur, or target a particular individual.

Without the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command declassifying more information on the strikes, unofficial and imprecise information is all that is available, complicating efforts to independently verify or refute administration assurances about the impact of the drones.

What little US officials say about the strikes typically boils down to assurances that they apply “targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us,” as John Brennan, now the CIA director, said in a 2011 speech.

“The only people that we fire a drone at [sic] are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level after a great deal of vetting that takes a long period of time. We don’t just fire a drone at somebody and think they’re a terrorist,” the secretary of state, John Kerry, said at a BBC forum in 2013.

A Reprieve team investigating on the ground in Pakistan turned up what it believes to be a confirmed case of mistaken identity. Someone with the same name as a terror suspect on the Obama administration’s “kill list” was killed on the third attempt by US drones. His brother was captured, interrogated and encouraged to “tell the Americans what they want to hear”: that they had in fact killed the right person. Reprieve has withheld identifying details of the family in question, making the story impossible to independently verify.

“President Obama needs to be straight with the American people about the human cost of this programme. If even his government doesn’t know who is filling the body bags every time a strike goes wrong, his claims that this is a precise programme look like nonsense, and the risk that it is in fact making us less safe looks all too real,” Gibson said.

Click to see graphics included in original article. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't ground this one!

Warning! 

This post is not one that will make you angry or motivate you to organize a protest. 

Just enjoy. 



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Only 4% of drone victims in Pakistan named as al Qaeda members

by Jack Serle
CIA drones targeted but missed al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in this strike in 2006 (AFP/Getty)
As the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan hits 400, research by the Bureau of Investigative
Journalism finds that fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified by available records as named members of al Qaeda. This calls in to question US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim last year that only “confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level” were fired at.

The Bureau’s Naming the Dead project has gathered the names and, where possible, the details of people killed by CIA drones in Pakistan since June 2004. On October 11 an attack brought the total number of drone strikes in Pakistan up to 400.

The names of the dead have been collected over a year of research in and outside Pakistan, using a multitude of sources. These include both Pakistani government records leaked to the Bureau, and hundreds of open source reports in English, Pashtun and Urdu.

Naming the Dead has also drawn on field investigations conducted by the Bureau’s researchers in Pakistan and other organisations, including Amnesty International, Reprieve and the Centre for Civilians in Conflict.

Only 704 of the 2,379 dead have been identified, and only 295 of these were reported to be members of some kind of armed group. Few corroborating details were available for those who were just described as militants. More than a third of them were not designated a rank, and almost 30% are not even linked to a specific group. Only 84 are identified as members of al Qaeda – less than 4% of the total number of people killed.

These findings “demonstrate the continuing complete lack of transparency surrounding US drone operations,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher for Amnesty International.

Pakistan drone strike
deaths in numbers
Total killed 2,379
Total named as militants 295
Total named as al Qaeda 84
Total named 704

When asked for a comment on the Bureau’s investigation, US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that strikes were only carried out when there was “near-certainty” that no civilians would be killed.

“The death of innocent civilians is something that the U.S. Government seeks to avoid if at all possible. In those rare instances in which it appears non-combatants may have been killed or injured, after-action reviews have been conducted to determine why, and to ensure that we are taking the most effective steps to minimise such risk to non-combatants in the future,” said Hayden.

“Associated forces”

The Obama administration’s stated legal justification for such strikes is based partly on the right to self-defence in response to an imminent threat. This has proved controversial as leaked documents show the US believes determining if a terrorist is an imminent threat “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

The legal basis for the strikes also stems from the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (Aumf) – a law signed by Congress three days after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. It gives the president the right to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against those behind the attacks on the US, wherever they are.

The text of Aumf does not name any particular group. But the president, in a major foreign policy speech in May 2013, said this includes “al Qaeda, the Taliban and its associated forces”.

Nek Mohammed speaks at a Jirga three weeks before he died in a CIA drone strike (Reuters/Kamran Wazir)

It is not clear who is deemed to be “associated” with the Taliban. Hayden told the Bureau that “an associated force is an organised armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda and is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

The CIA itself does not seem to know the affiliation of everyone they kill. Secret CIA documents recording the identity, rank and affiliation of people targeted and killed in strikes between 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2011 were leaked to the McClatchy news agency in April 2013. They identified hundreds of those killed as simply Afghan or Pakistani fighters, or as “unknown”.

Determining the affiliation even of those deemed to be “Taliban” is problematic. The movement has two branches: one, the Afghan Taliban, is fighting US and allied forces, and trying to re-establish the ousted Taliban government of Mullah Omar in Kabul. The other, the Pakistani Taliban or the TTP, is mainly focused on toppling the Pakistani state, putting an end to democracy and establishing a theocracy based on extreme ideology. Although the US did not designate the TTP as a foreign terrorist organisation until September 2010, the group and its precursors are known to have worked with the Afghan Taliban.

According to media reports, the choice of targets has not always reflected the priorities of the US alone. In April last year the McClatchy news agency reported the US used its drones to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas in exchange for Pakistani help in targeting al Qaeda members.

Three days before the McClatchy report, the New York Times revealed the first known US drone strike in Pakistan, on June 17 2004, was part of a secret deal with Pakistan to gain access to its airspace. The CIA agreed to kill the target, Nek Mohammed, in exchange for permission for its drones to go after the US’s enemies.

“Judging by the sheer volume of strikes and the reliable estimates of total casualties, it is very unlikely that the majority of victims are senior commanders” Mustafa Qadri Amnesty International

The “butcher of Swat”

Senior militants have been killed in the CIA’s 10-year drone campaign in Pakistan. But as the Bureau’s work indicates, it is far from clear that they constitute the only or even the majority of people killed in these strikes.

“Judging by the sheer volume of strikes and the reliable estimates of total casualties, it is very unlikely that the majority of victims are senior commanders,” says Amnesty’s Qadri.

The Bureau has only found 111 of those killed in Pakistan since 2004 described as a senior commander of any armed group – just 5% of the total. Research by the New America Foundation estimated the proportion of senior commanders to be even lower, at just 2%.

Among them are men linked to serious crimes. Men such as Ibne Amin, known as the “butcher of Swat” for the barbaric treatment he and his men meted out on the residents of the Swat valley in 2008 and 2009.

Others include Abu Khabab al Masri, an al Qaeda chemical weapons expert. Drones also killed Hakimullah and Baitullah Mehsud, and Wali Ur Rehman – all senior leaders of the TTP.
There are 73 more people recorded in Naming the Dead who are described as mid-ranking members of armed groups. However someone’s rank is not necessarily a reliable guide to their importance in the organisation.

“I think it really depends on what they are,” Rez Jan, a senior Pakistan analyst at the American Enterprise Institute think tank told the Bureau. “You can be a mid-level guy who is involved in [improvised explosive device] production or training in bomb making or planting, or combat techniques and have a fairly lethal impact in that manner.”

Rashid Rauf, a British citizen killed in a November 2008 drone strike in Pakistan, is one al Qaeda member who appears to have had an impact despite not rising to the organisation’s highest echelons.
He acted as a point of contact between the perpetrators of the July 7 2005 attacks on the London Underground and their al Qaeda controllers. He also filled a similar role linking al Qaeda central with the men planning to bring down several airliners flying from London to the US in the 2006 “liquid bomb plot”.

The Bureau has only been able to establish information about the alleged roles of just 21 of those killed. Even this mostly consists of basic descriptions such as “logistician” or “the equivalent of a colonel.

Note: This story contains a clarification. 4% of people who have been killed by CIA drone strikes have been named and positively identified as members of al Qaeda by available records. Of the drone strike victims who have been named, 12% are identified as al Qaeda. 

Follow Jack Serle on Twitter. Sign up for monthly updates from the Bureau’s Covert War project, subscribe to our podcast, Drone News from the Bureau, and follow Drone Reads on Twitter to see what the team is reading.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fly Kites, Not Drones

In Minneapolis, MN, USA, the WAMM-Ground All Drones Committee closed the week of counter-drone activities around the world with our "Fly Kites, Not Drones" event near the shores of Lake Harriet, one of the urban Chain of Lakes. WAMM-GAD provided small light-weight kites that children and their adults could decorate with symbols, words, "No Killer Drone" stickers, and colorful drawings. Our accessible activity drew some passersby, though it was a chilly autumn day. An unusual and, I think, important connection was made with three young adults (two women and one man) who are mechanical engineers from Iran, apparently attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota. They told us they were unaware of any opposition among Americans to drone warfare, and they were overjoyed to join our playful protest. We gave them copies of WAMM's current newsletter featuring a cover article written by a WAMM member who recently returned from a visit with her husband's family in Iran. In addition to signing postcards -- denouncing the US drone program -- to be sent to President Obama, the Iranian grad students flew kites and took many photos, which I'm hoping will be seen within Iran and around the world.

Lucia Smith
for WAMM-Ground All Drones

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What is it like to be a drone operator?

“It’s very odd” – a former UK drone operator speaks. 

An article from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
See sidebar for a theater performance about a pilot.

“You’re absolutely there, you’re in the fight,” recalls former UK drone operator Paul Rolfe in this week’s Drone News podcast. “You’re hearing the guys on the ground and you’re hearing their stress, so when you finish your shift it’s very odd to then step outside… it’s the middle of the day and you’re in Las Vegas.”

For several years Rolfe helped fly Reaper and Predator drones over Afghanistan from both a launch and recovery base in Kandahar and the mission control complex in Creech, Nevada, where RAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) operators are embedded.

In an exclusive interview with Bureau journalists, the former sensor operator gives a rare detailed account of how drones operate in combat.

His account highlights the amount of intelligence, analysis, and support needed for remotely piloted aircraft to be effective.

The drones’ sensors allow image analysts to assess an individual’s age, gender and whether or not they are carrying a weapon, according to Rolfe. But he said he had never been able to make out anyone’s face.

Not all aspects of the drones’ sorties can be operated from as far away as Nevada. There is a two second delay in the satellite links through which drones are remotely operated, Rolfe said, which means that a team is needed closer to the ground to manage the take off and landing of the aircraft. He has served in both environments, and found them very different experiences.
“When you come out of the ground control station you’re there in your body armour, you’re on a base which is full of people who are there at war and doing a job, and you have the mortar alarm going off every now and again, so you’re very clearly somewhere which isn’t nice, but you’re able to decompress with all the other guys that are there at the time.”

When operating drones out of Nevada however, the stress of the job caught Rolfe unaware.

I didn’t even realise I was stressed… I had my last sortie, I stepped away and the following day I came out in hives
- Paul Rolfe, former drone operator

He has operated drones that have fired at targets, but never on a pre-planned mission. Rolfe said that in his experience the authorisation process for striking was no less rigorous for a remotely piloted aircraft than for a manned one.

If they saw a situation on the ground in which they might be required to strike, they would have to request an authorisation from the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, he said.

The doctrine of so-called courageous restraint under which they were operating meant that civilian casualties were unacceptable, Rolfe said, and they had to make sure they could divert a weapon somewhere safe if a mythical “busful of nuns” came in to the picture.

Rolfe now works for a private firm called Unmanned Experts which offers consultancy services to people interested in using or understanding UAVs. While his clients used to be mainly military, demand from the civilian sector has soared in recent months, he said.

Listen to the full interview here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014