Photo from The White House | (Note: Photos like the one above are released as a substitute for granting photographers from the press access.)
December 26, 2013
For the first time since the United States began to launch drone attacks, a strike was launched late on Christmas Day in Pakistan. Four people who could not be identified but who were allegedly from Afghanistan were killed.
The Pakistani newspaper, The Express Tribune, reported, "Four suspected militants were killed when a US drone fired missiles at a compound in North Waziristan Agency in the late hours of Wednesday."
Two missiles were fired at a compound. A local tribesman said he had heard "two huge explosions" in the "outskirts of Miramshah." Tribesmen left their homes in panic.
"We can still hear the sound of drones hovering in the sky," he said, adding that the bodies were being pulled out of the compound.
The Pakistan Tribune also reported, "Panic gripped the area following the attack as unmanned aircraft kept flying over the area till wee hours of Thursday morning." And, "The identity of the deceased couldn’t be ascertained because of their charred bodies."
It had been three weeks since a drone strike had been launched by the US on any individuals in Pakistan.
An intelligence official apparently claimed that the individuals killed were from the Haqqani network.
Attacks targeting the Haqqani network have represented a departure from going after only "senior Al Qaeda leaders." The Haqqani network has also never launched any attacks on the continental United States.
The government of Pakistan strongly condemned the US drone strike. "There is an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end," a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release declared.
"Drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications. Such strikes also set dangerous precedents in inter-state relations," it added. And, "These drone strikes have a negative impact on the government’s efforts to bring peace and stability in Pakistan and the region."
In past years, drone attacks have been launched in Yemen on Christmas Eve. In 2012, two occurred: one attacked a vehicle and killed at least two suspected al Qaeda militants in the southern Bayda province of Yemen. The attack happened in the early evening in the country. It was believed a "mid-level al Qaeda Yemeni operative," Abdel-Raouf Naseeb, was one of the men killed, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).
According to Swiss-based human rights group Alkarama, the second US drone strike took place around 7 pm and targeted men in a "local sports stadium." The Interior Ministry claimed they had been allegedly involved in a massive prison break "that freed dozens of fighters who then took arms against the government and helped administer al Qaeda rule in the south." The men may have simply considered themselves "simply al Qaeda members," and so Alkarama contends they should not have been targeted since "senior operatives" are the only individuals who are supposed to be on the Obama administration’s "kill list."
Muhammed Said Ben Dahman, the uncle of Hamza Hussein Said Ben Dahman, 16 years-old at the time of the strike, recounted, "About 6.30 pm we heard the sound of a drone and Hellfire missiles were fired at a low altitude before exploding against the stadium. After a moment of stupor, families rushed through the streets crowded with children and ran to the stadium. Hamza was in shock; maybe he inhaled fumes from missiles. His body was paralyzed; he lost consciousness and his condition worsened day by day. His father quickly went to Egypt for medical treatment, because doctors here could not identify his illness. We requested assistance from the government, but they ignored it and so far we have received no help. The house had to be sold to meet the expenses."
It had been 47 days since any drones had attacked anyone in Yemen.
Two strikes were launched on Christmas Eve in 2009. One was the "first known US attempt to assassinate American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki." It targeted an Awlaki family home and left at least 30 people dead. The Obama administration had believe he was having a meeting with members of al Qaeda. The second strike occurred in the Abyan province and an unknown number of people were killed.
Daniel Klaidman wrote in his book, Kill or Capture, "On one late evening in late 2009 [General Hoss] Cartwright and [John] Brennan met with Obama in the Oval Office to consult with him on a target in Yemen that the president had previously declined to approve. The two men had General David Petreaus, at the time head of Centcom, on the phone. Petraeus wanted to add the target for whom they unexpectedly had a clear shot, to an operation in mid-execution. To Cartwright’s surprise Obama, after assuring himself that the man in question was a legal target and the operation had been suitably vetted, reversed himself and gave approval for the hit." (Awlaki was not actually assassinated by a drone until September 30, 2011, and he was not approved for Obama’s "kill list" until the US Office of Legal Counsel signed off formally in June 2010.)
Finally, Dawn, a Pakistani-based media group, reported that North Waziristan is "close to full-blown conflict." There are an estimated 43 local militant groups, including the Haqqani network.
The Pakistani government has sought to initiate peace talks with leaders of these militant groups, but the Obama administration continues to authorize drone attacks that are increasingly viewed as a part of an effort to "sabotage" such talks.
In a time of year when peace and reconciliation should be a value that is promoted, the Obama administration seems to be starting an American holiday tradition of launching drone strikes.
While Americans gather with family and friends, eating turkey, exchanging presents and sharing time with one another, the president and his national security team mark the holiday by continuing to wage war on countries where populations wholly oppose such action.