US Drone Strike Targeting Seminary in Settled Area of Pakistan Kills Six
By: Kevin Gosztola
November 21, 2013
Screenshot taken from Guardian video of madrassa after the drone strike
At least six people were killed and several injured in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan early in the morning on November 21 when a CIA drone attacked a seminary.
The drone strike appeared to have targeted militants from the Haqqani network, a group the United States government believes has close ties to al Qaeda and the ISI, Pakistan’s spy agency. However, the strike took place in a settled area of Pakistan when any agreement between the Pakistani government and the US government has only applied to drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), an ungoverned area of the country.
This recent drone attack will likely open settled urban areas of the country up to CIA drone strikes.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that its sources:
…said a drone hit a room in the Madrassa where five senior Haqqani commanders were meeting. Several reports said Maulvi Ahmad Jan was killed. He was reportedly a special adviser to Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, and the group’s spiritual leader and fund raiser. Sirajuddin was reportedly seen at the madrassa a few days before the strike however he was not reportedly killed. Ahmad Jan, in his 60s and a member of the group’s ruling council, was reportedly at the madrassa 'receiving people who were coming to condole the death of Nasiruddin Haqqani’. Nasiruddin was a leading figure in the Haqqani Network. He was shot dead on the streets of Islamabad on November 11 2013.
The Bureau source named four others killed in the strike: Maulvi Hamidullah, an Afghan 'special advisor’ to the Haqqani group; Maulvi Abdullah, an Afghan; Maulvi Abdur Rehman Mengal (aka Abdul Rehman); and Karim Khan. NBC News also identified five alleged Taliban commanders, with one difference to the Bureau source. NBC News said Maulvi Ghazi Marjan (aka Gul Marjan) was killed but did not name a Karim Khan among the dead. And Dawn named Kaleemullah among the dead, as well as Ahmed Jan, Hamidullah, Abdullah, Abdur Rehman, and Gul Marjan.
A report in The Guardian additionally reported, "Residents and police claimed three or four missiles were fired at a section of the mud-built madrassa just before 5am. The seminary’s students, many of whom were sleeping in a nearby room, escaped unhurt."
Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has represented drone victims, suggested this strike was the first drone attack in a settled area of Pakistan.
Based on TBIJ’s prior research, the organization explained:
…[T]hree drone strikes have previously hit outside the main body of FATA, in Frontier Region Bannu. The frontier regions are a 'buffer’ area between the fully tribal regions and the 'settled’ regions – the phrase used to describe the sections of Pakistan that are under provincial control. The most recent of these attacks took place in Jani Khel in March 2009, two months into Barack Obama’s presidency. Previous strikes took place in the same area in November 2008 and, according to less comprehensive reports, December 2007…
The strike occurred weeks after another drone strike on November 1, which killed Pakistan Taliban chief, Hakimullah Mehsud. That drone strike was heavily criticized within Pakistan not because Mehsud was a hero to those in Pakistan but because the country was in the process of peace talks with Pakistan and the strike ruined all that had been accomplished.
This strike that reportedly killed Haqqani militant leaders is likely to have a negative effect as well, breeding more violence as Pakistan struggles to maintain stability in the country.
The people of Pakistan are outraged at Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he cannot stop the US from launching drone strikes in their country. They understandably believe he is complicit and, if he was a better leader, he would be able to stop the drones.
The Haqqani network was not designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012. It may sympathize and have a history of cooperation with al Qaeda forces, but whether it is an "associated force" of al Qaeda is debatable.
As Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers reported in May, based on classified intelligence reports, US drones have not only been deployed against senior al Qaeda leaders and affiliated groups like the administration of President Barack Obama has claimed. They have targeted "suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified 'other’ militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan’s rugged tribal area."
"At least 265 of up to 482 people who the US 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," according to the report by Landay.
"Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts," he further reported. "Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as 'foreign fighters’ and 'other militants.’"
In terms of the Haqqani network, Landay described how the network had cooperated with al Qaeda for "philosophical and tactical reasons" and was "blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks against civilians and US-led forces in Afghanistan." However, when the strikes in the intelligence reports that killed militants from the network took place, it was not on the "US list of international terrorist groups." The group also has never been "directly implicated in a plot against the US homeland."
Whether the US can convincingly argue that members of the Haqqani network are lawful targets or not and whether parts of Pakistan’s government consented to drone strikes in previous years, it could not be more clear that the Pakistani government has moved away from privately offering unconditional support.
Continued strikes without the full consent of the Pakistani government are not just unlawful but dangerous to civilians in the country, who may be killed by militants who retaliate against the government for continuing to allow the US to launch drone strikes.
Law professor Jonathan Turley, debating another professor, Gregory McNeal, gave a good talk at Johns Hopkins University recently on the world the US is creating by advancing a policy that allows countries to unilaterally target and assassinate people it views as threats. He presents Obama’s drone policy as a declared war on the rule of law.
*Screen shot taken from Guardian video of madrassa after the drone strike
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