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Drone papers part 3
   
       
       
       
 

Logo panic

Don't fight the system.
Go in the system and take them down on their own faults.

Alle acties komend uit wraak of ego zullen mislukken.
Alleen acties vanuit een hart en ziel zullen slagen.

In deze blog geef ik mijn zienswijze van de huidige wereld weer. 
Ik beroep me op het recht die geldt vanuit het Universum, namelijk: Het recht van respect naar elke energievorm in het Universum. In de menselijke wetten is het omschreven in het UVRM als zijnde: Artikel 1 Alle mensen worden vrij en gelijk in waardigheid en rechten geboren. Zij zijn begiftigd met verstand en geweten, en behoren
zich jegens elkander in een geest van broederschap te gedragen. In de reeds niet meer geldende Nederlandse grondwet staat het beschreven als zijnde: Artikel 1 Allen die zich in Nederland bevinden, worden in gelijke gevallen gelijk behandeld. Discriminatie wegens godsdienst, levensovertuiging, politieke gezindheid,
ras, geslacht of op welke grond dan ook, is niet toegestaan.
   
       
 
 
   
       
 

05 Manhunting in the Hindu Kush


Civilian casualties and strategic failures in America’s longest war

Article 5 of 8 The Drone Papers

From 2011 to 2013, the most elite forces in the U.S. military, supported by the CIA and other elements of the intelligence community, set out to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that remained hidden among the soaring peaks and plunging valleys of the Hindu Kush, along Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan. Dubbed Operation Haymaker, the campaign has been described as a potential model for the future of American warfare: special operations units, partnered with embedded intelligence elements running a network of informants, pinpointing members of violent organizations, then drawing up plans to eliminate those targets from the battlefield, either by capturing or killing them.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY DOCUMENTS obtained by The Intercept, detailing the purpose and achievements of the Haymaker campaign, indicate that the American forces involved in the operations had, at least on paper, all of the components they needed to succeed. After more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, a robust network of intelligence sources — including informants on the ground — had been established in parts of the historically rebellious, geographically imposing provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The operators leading the campaign included some of the most highly trained military units at the Obama administration’s disposal, and they were supported by the world’s most powerful electronic surveillance agencies, equipped with technology that allowed for unmatched tracking of wanted individuals.

Despite all these advantages, the military’s own analysis demonstrates that the Haymaker campaign was in many respects a failure. The vast majority of those killed in airstrikes were not the direct targets. Nor did the campaign succeed in significantly degrading al Qaeda’s operations in the region. When contacted by The Intercept with a series of questions regarding the Haymaker missions, the United States Special Operations Command in Afghanistan declined to comment on the grounds that the campaign — though now finished — remains classified.

The secret documents obtained by The Intercept include detailed slides pertaining to Haymaker and other operations in the restive border regions of Afghanistan, including images, names, and affiliations of alleged militants killed or captured as a result of the missions; examples of the intelligence submitted to trigger lethal operations; and a “story board” of a completed drone strike. The targets identified in the slides as killed or detained represent a range of militant groups, including alleged members of the Taliban and al Qaeda — but also local forces with no international terrorism ambitions, groups that took up arms against the U.S after American airstrikes brought the war to their doorsteps.

An additional slide included in the materials charts mission statistics from September 2011 to September 2012 for Task Force 3-10, which was responsible for special operations across Afghanistan, breaking down in rare detail the more than 2,000 missions conducted by elite U.S. forces in the country over the course of a year.

Together, the materials offer an unprecedented glimpse into the kind of killing that has come to define the war on terror, underscoring the inherent limitations, and human cost, of those operations. With the Obama administration publicly committed to continuing campaigns like Haymaker — special operations missions focused on hunting down specific individuals, not only in Afghanistan but in nations around the world — the documents raise profound questions over the legacy of the longest foreign war in American history and its influence on conflicts to come.

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Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

A village security force commander and coalition special operations forces identify insurgent fighting positions during a daylong firefight in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, April 12, 2012.

THE FREQUENCY WITH which “targeted killing” operations hit unnamed bystanders is among the more striking takeaways from the Haymaker slides. The documents show that during a five-month stretch of the campaign, nearly nine out of 10 people who died in airstrikes were not the Americans’ direct targets. By February 2013, Haymaker airstrikes had resulted in no more than 35 “jackpots,” a term used to signal the neutralization of a specific targeted individual, while more than 200 people were declared EKIA — “enemy killed in action.”

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A summary of operations conducted from January 2012 through February 2013 as part of Operation Haymaker, a U.S. military campaign in northeastern Afghanistan aimed at rooting out elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In the complex world of remote killing in remote locations, labeling the dead as “enemies” until proven otherwise is commonplace, said an intelligence community source with experience working on high-value targeting missions in Afghanistan, who provided the documents on the Haymaker campaign. The process often depends on assumptions or best guesses in provinces like Kunar or Nuristan, the source said, particularly if the dead include “military-age males,” or MAMs, in military parlance. “If there is no evidence that proves a person killed in a strike was either not a MAM, or was a MAM but not an unlawful enemy combatant, then there is no question,” he said. “They label them EKIA.” In the case of airstrikes in a campaign like Haymaker, the source added, missiles could be fired from a variety of aircraft. “But nine times out of 10 it’s a drone strike.”

The source is deeply suspicious of those airstrikes — the ones ostensibly based on hard evidence and intended to kill specific individuals — which end up taking numerous lives. Certainty about the death of a direct target often requires more than simply waiting for the smoke to clear. Confirming a chosen target was indeed killed can include days of monitoring signals intelligence and communication with sources on the ground, none of which is perfect 100 percent of the time. Firing a missile at a target in a group of people, the source said, requires “an even greater leap of faith” — a leap that he believes often treats physical proximity as evidence.

The documents include slides focused specifically on Haymaker operations from January 2012 to February 2013, distinguishing between raids, described as “enabled” and “combined” operations, and airstrikes, which are described as “kinetic strikes.” In both cases, raids and airstrikes, the source said the target was always an individual person. “Every mission that’s triggered begins as an objective to find one person for whatever reason,” the source said, adding, “Every jackpot is one person off the list.”

According to the documents, raids performed on the ground during Haymaker were far less lethal than airstrikes and led to the capture of scores of individuals. Research by Larry Lewis, formerly a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, supports that conclusion. Lewis spent years studying U.S. operations in Afghanistan, including raids, airstrikes, and jackpots, all with an eye to understanding why civilian casualties happen and how to better prevent them. His contract work for the U.S. military, much of it classified, included a focus on civilian casualties and informed tactical directives issued by the top generals guiding the war. During his years of research, what Lewis uncovered in his examination of U.S. airstrikes, particularly those delivered by machines thought to be the most precise in the Pentagon’s arsenal, was dramatic. He found that drone strikes in Afghanistan were 10 times more likely to kill civilians than conventional aircraft.

“We assume that they’re surgical but they’re not,” Lewis said in an interview. “Certainly in Afghanistan, in the time frame I looked at, the rate of civilian casualties was significantly higher for unmanned vehicles than it was for manned aircraft airstrikes. And that was a lot higher than raids.”

The limited point of view of the drone’s camera, what Lewis describes as the “soda straw effect,” together with the globally dispersed operational network that supports drone strikes, can lead to mistakes, he argues, including the loss of innocent lives. The materials obtained by The Intercept make just one explicit mention of civilian casualties, in the Task Force 3-10 mission statistics from September 2011 through September 2012. The document reveals the U.S. conducted more than 1,800 “night ops” at a time when President Hamid Karzai was calling for an end to American involvement in controversial night raids. Of those operations — which resulted in 1,239 targets captured or killed and 709 “associates” of targets captured or killed — the military reported “shots fired” in less than 9 percent of its missions, with a total of 14 civilian casualty “events” for the year.

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A breakdown of 2011 to 2012 mission statistics for Task Force 3-10, a U.S. special operations task force responsible for missions in Afghanistan at the time.

“The 14 civilian casualties is highly suspect,” said the source, who reviewed after-action reports on raids and other operations in Afghanistan. “I know the actual number is much higher,” he added. “But they make the numbers themselves so they can get away with writing off most of the kills as legitimate.”

The Haymaker documents reveal little about whether the deaths reflected in the materials were “legitimate” or not. They do, however, offer an illustrative window into how the killing has been done in the past — and how it may be done in the future.
U.S. Special Operations personnel take cover to avoid flying debris as they prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 25, 2012. The Soldiers were conducting reconnaissance for a future village stability platform, a site Afghan forces and coalition Special Operations Forces will use to live and work with villagers. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Clayton Weiss, U.S. Navy/Released)

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Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

U.S. special operations personnel prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 25, 2012.

THE REQUEST WAS UNAMBIGUOUS. Dated October 30, 2012, and stamped with the seal of the United States Central Command, the title read, “Request for Kinetic Strike Approval.” The “desired results” listed at the top of the document included just three words: “Kill Qari Munib.”

Munib, whose objective name was “Lethal Burwyn,” was described as a Taliban subcommander operating in the Pech district of Kunar province. He allegedly exercised command and control over a specific portion of the organization, was responsible for numerous attacks on both coalition and Afghan security forces, and communicated with Taliban officials in Pakistan. Specifically, the request reported, Munib had been implicated in recent plots to carry out improvised explosives attacks.

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A 2012 U.S. military request for an airstrike targeting Qari Munib, an alleged Taliban subcommander operating in northeastern Afghanistan.

The Americans considered the consequences of taking Munib’s life, including media coverage, possible political fallout, and potential “population blowback.” In all three categories, it was determined that negative repercussions were “unlikely,” and that Munib’s death would “decrease attacks on” coalition and Afghan forces. Going through with the operation, the request asserted, would require a signals intelligence “correlation,” followed by a full motion video lock, visual identification within 24 hours of the strike, and a “low” probability of collateral damage. Two maps were featured in the document intended to seal Munib’s fate, one of which included coordinates of his last known location. In the bottom right hand corner of the document was a bar, numbered one to 10, and fading in color from red to green. It was titled “Confidence Level.” A red triangle sat between the numbers nine and 10.

Less than a week after the briefing was completed, the kill mission was underway. Signals intelligence had been picked up from a compound where Munib was known to sleep, according to a storyboard detailing the operation. Images relayed from the scene revealed the presence of five military-age males in the area. Floating above the site, an MQ-9 Reaper drone, known as “Skyraider,” captured the image of a man dressed in a drab, flowing robe, with a white cap on his head, casting a long shadow in the dirt. According to the storyboard, the image was “correlated” to signals intelligence linked to Munib.

Skyraider loitered above as the man, joined by two others, walked up a ridgeline before heading back into the compound. The figure again emerged from the building. The drone’s camera registered a positive identification. Skyraider “engaged.” A screen grab from the scene shows a cloud of smoke where the individual had been. Task force personnel watched as a group of people collected the target’s remains.

“RESULTS: JP — Pending EKIA, 1 x TOTAL EKIA,” the storyboard reported. An enemy had been killed in action. Confirmation that he was indeed Munib, the jackpot, or JP, was still pending.

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A storyboard detailing a 2012 U.S. drone strike targeting Qari Munib, an alleged Taliban subcommander.

On Friday, November 9, 2012, NATO issued one of its standard updates on missions around the country, including two short lines about an operation carried out the day before in eastern Afghanistan. “An Afghan and coalition security force killed Taliban leader Qari Munib during a security operation in Kunar province Thursday,” the statement read. “Qari Munib was responsible for directing attacks against Afghan and coalition forces and coordinating the movement of weapons and ammunition for the attacks.”

The announcement appeared five days after the drone strike described in the intelligence community storyboard, which made no mention of Afghan forces involved in the operation. Was Munib killed in a unilateral U.S. drone strike, later obfuscated by NATO? Or did the drone strike fail to jackpot, resulting in a subsequent joint operation that succeeded in eliminating him? If so, who was it that Skyraider engaged that day? Whose body parts did the American analysts watch the first responders collect?

Those questions remain unanswered. A more fundamental question suggests itself, however. How did the most powerful military in history come to devote its elite forces and advanced technology to the hunt for a man like Qari Munib — a mid-level Taliban figure in a remote corner of the planet, half a world away from the White House and ground zero in Manhattan, more than 11 years after the September 11 attacks?

WHEN THE AMERICANS set out to kill Qari Munib with a drone in 2012, an intelligence document purporting to lay out his bona fides as a target listed local insurgency figures alongside regional actors. In a graphic titled “Link Analysis,” Munib’s name appears under a generic cartoon of an Afghan male, surrounded by six other headshots. Half of them are described as “Salafists,” a conservative faction that has existed in Kunar for decades and, for a period, resisted Taliban presence in the province.

One of the Salafists pictured was Haji Matin, a timber trader from the Korengal Valley. In the early years of the war, one of Matin’s business rivals wrongly fingered him as a militant to the Americans. U.S. forces responded by bombing Matin’s home. While Matin survived, several members of his family were killed. The Americans then appropriated one of his lumberyards as an outpost, thus turning one of the most powerful men in the area into a formidable insurgent leader. The transformation of men like Matin and the Salafists, once locally minded powerbrokers, into anti-U.S. fighters, was hardly unique.

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A “Link Analysis” purporting to detail alleged Taliban subcommander Qari Munib’s ties to other militant figures.

“When viewed from absolutely the wrong metric, the Americans were very successful at hunting people,” said Matt Trevithick, a researcher who in 2014 made more than a dozen unembedded trips to some of Kunar’s most remote areas in an effort to understand the province, and American actions there, through the eyes of its residents. The problem, he said, is that savvy, opportunistic strongmen maneuvered to draw U.S. forces into local conflicts, a dynamic that played out again and again throughout the war. “We knew nothing about who we were shooting at — specifically in Kunar,” Trevithick said. He understands the frustration of conventional U.S. forces who were dropped in places like Kunar. “I don’t blame them,” he said. “They’re put in an impossible situation themselves. But what happens is everyone starts looking like the enemy. And that means you start shooting. And that means people actually do become the enemy.”

In September 2010, nine years after the terrorist attacks in New York City, the U.S. military and coalition forces were working their way through a list of 744 people slated for death or capture in Afghanistan. According to the so-called Joint Prioritized Effects List (JPEL), provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Kunar, with 44 targets, had the third-highest total in the country. Few of the Kunar targets represented core al Qaeda-linked figures, and many were associated with local groups like the Salafists, whose listed offenses typically included attacks on Western and Afghan government forces in the province. The targets on the 2010 list were prioritized with rankings of one to four, in terms their significance, with one being the most significant. In Kunar, a single target rose to the level of priority one, while more than 80 percent were designated priority three. Seven of the JPEL targets appear in the Haymaker slides, though just three had been linked to al Qaeda. Regardless of their associations, the U.S. ultimately devoted the same resources to picking off locally affiliated militants as it did to the campaign against the group responsible for 9/11.

After nearly a decade of war, thousands of operations, and thousands of deaths, some within the special operations community began to question the quality of the United States’ targets in Afghanistan. “By 2010, guys were going after street thugs,” a former SEAL Team 6 officer told the New York Times recently. “The most highly trained force in the world, chasing after street thugs.” Concerns that the U.S. was devoting tremendous resources to kill off a never-ending stream of nobodies did little to halt the momentum.
Uniformed and civilian cyber and military intelligence specialists monitor Army networks in the Cyber Mission Unit’s Cyber Operations Center at Fort Gordon, Ga. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

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Photo: U.S. Army Cyber Command

Cyber and military intelligence specialists monitor Army networks in the Cyber Mission Unit’s Cyber Operations Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

THE SECRET DOCUMENTS obtained by The Intercept, which include a slide on “Manhunting Basics,” reflect the combination of U.S. military personnel and spies who have hunted targets along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan for years. According to one of the slides, the Haymaker “functional teams” included the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NSA, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The Air Force’s uniquely designed 11th Intelligence Squadron also played a role. The Florida-based squadron was reactivated in August 2006 for the express purpose of supporting “find, fix, finish” operations to capture or kill targets through analysis of aerial intelligence.

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A slide detailing Operation Haymaker’s “functional teams,” which included personnel from a range of U.S. military units and intelligence agencies.

The drone operations that supported campaigns like Haymaker also included personnel stationed at Camp Alpha, a secure facility at Bagram populated by teams from the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), as well as contractors manning stations at U.S. bases like Fort Gordon, a lesser-known though crucial node in the war on terror that supports tactical NSA operations abroad from Augusta, Georgia. The hunting and killing operations relied on advanced technology to zero in on targets, including the cellphone geolocation system known as GILGAMESH. As The Intercept reported in 2014, the GILGAMESH system employs a simulated cellphone tower to identify and locate targeted SIM cards.

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A slide on “Manhunting Basics” takes a lighthearted approach to the core mission of the Haymaker campaign: finding and killing specific individuals.

ABI = Activity Based Intelligence; F3EA = Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze; HUMINT = Human Intelligence; IMINT = Imagery Intelligence; IPB = Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace; SIGINT = Signals Intelligence; SNA= Social Network Analysis

While signals intelligence and electronic surveillance clearly contributed to Haymaker’s kinetic operations — like the drone strike that targeted Qari Munib — there was evidently more to the missions than advanced technology. Unlike some other arenas in which the war on terror has touched down — Yemen or Somalia, for example — the documents point to the robust presence of U.S. intelligence agencies and human sources on the ground in northeastern Afghanistan. In Nuristan’s Waygal district, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA had “myriad complementary sources,” a slide laying out “targeting criteria” in the district noted, “some of whom may be able to trigger our operations.” A third of the “active targets” in Waygal had “good selectors” — phones the Americans could target in the run-up to a raid or airstrike — and the NSA had “taken on [signals intelligence] development in Waygal, greatly enhancing our understanding of the [signals intelligence] environment.”

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A slide reporting a robust presence of human intelligence sources (HUMINT or HI) in the district of Waygal, a “historic” al Qaeda sanctuary in northeastern Afghanistan.

According to the slide, Waygal, described as a “historic” al Qaeda sanctuary, included more than a half-dozen NAIs, “named areas of interest,” the identification of which was attributed to similarly “historic” levels of human and signals intelligence cultivation, as well as surveillance provided by drones scanning the district. There were “over a dozen active targets” in three villages, the slide said, adding that most of the targets were already on a targeting list, or “easily could be.” “The targets there are not only senior-level Taliban facilitators and hosts, but Arabs themselves,” the slide noted, underscoring the presence of suspected foreign fighters in the district. “Elimination of these targets,” it continued, “will provide demonstrable measures of success.”

The documents indicate that U.S. forces launched just one airstrike as part of the Haymaker campaign in the early months of 2012, killing two people. In May 2012, however, the tempo of operations picked up dramatically, an increase that coincided with a strategic shift in Afghanistan emanating from the White House. As the military’s focus shifted to hunting down specific targets from 2011 to 2012, drone strikes in Afghanistan increased by 72 percent.

Over the course of five months, stretching through the summer of 2012, Haymaker operations included 27 raids and 27 airstrikes. The raids resulted in the capture of 61 people, 13 of them jackpots, the actual targets of the missions. A total of two people were reportedly killed in these ground operations. In the airstrikes, meanwhile, a total of 155 people were killed and labeled as enemies killed in action, according to a table presented in the documents. Just 19 were jackpots. The table does not say whether the jackpots are reflected in the EKIA total. It does, however, appear to present a success rate: the number of jackpots divided by the number of missions. In the case of raids, a figure of 48 percent is presented; for airstrikes it’s 70 percent.

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A comparison of raids (described as “enabled ops”) and airstrikes (described as “kinetic strikes”) reveals significant differences in the total number of prisoners taken versus individuals killed during an intensified period of Haymaker operations.

EKIA = Enemy Killed in Action; JP = Jackpot.

The scores of unnamed people killed in the hunt for jackpots, and the intelligence opportunities lost by failing to capture targets alive, do not appear to factor into the calculation. The apparent success rate, in other words, depends solely on killing jackpots, and ignores the strategic — and human — consequences of killing large numbers of bystanders.

While the source conceded there could be scenarios in which women and children killed in an airstrike are labeled as EKIA, in the case of the Haymaker strikes he believed it was “more likely” that the dead included “groups of men or teenaged boys” killed because “the intel says the guy JSOC is going after may be in that group of men.” In the event that a target is identified in such a group, he said, “They’ll go through with the strike.”

The materials also include a chart revealing that airstrikes killed 219 people over a 14-month period in 2012 and 2013, resulting in at least 35 jackpots. The document includes thumbnail images of individuals, representing a range of groups, who were captured or killed during Haymaker — in total 30 men, 24 of them stamped EKIA, five detained, and one wounded in action. The deaths of just over half the individuals were noted in NATO’s press releases or media reports.

THE HAYMAKER FILES also point to the psychological impact of living under the constant threat of death from above — an effect human rights workers have documented among civilians living in areas populated by militants. A quote attributed to a Taliban detainee identified as “Ahmad,” aka “Objective Brandywine,” features prominently on three of the documents. “Hands down, the scariest/most intimidating message for the Taliban, at any level, from fighter to Taliban senior leadership, is anything to do with drones or aerial bombings,” Ahmad purportedly said. “The Taliban has no way to defend against them and they are certain to end in absolute destruction of whatever their target is.”

A quote attributed to an alleged Taliban detainee describes the psychological impact of living under the threat of U.S. airstrikes.

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Still, the documents’ assessment of Haymaker’s effectiveness was frank. A slide detailing the campaign’s “effects” from January 2012 through February 2013 included an assessment of “Objectives & Measures of Effectiveness.” The results were not good. Disruptions in al Qaeda’s view of northeastern Afghanistan as a safe haven and the loss of “key” al Qaeda members and enablers in the region were deemed “marginal.” Meanwhile, a comparison of Haymaker 1.0 (August 2011) with Haymaker 2.0 (February 2013) noted that al Qaeda faced “little to no local opposition” and enjoyed “relatively free movement” to and from Pakistan. Kinetic strikes, the slide reported, “successfully killed one [al Qaeda] target per year,” allowing the organization to “easily” reconstitute.

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A slide reveals the Haymaker campaign’s limited strategic achievements.

By 2013, Haymaker was amassing a significant body count but making little headway against al Qaeda forces in the region. According to the “Success Criteria” slide, “sporadic reporting of concern over [the] viability” of northeastern Afghanistan as a safe haven had been “overshadowed” by the group’s senior leadership discussing the establishment of a “post-2014 sanctuary.” Individuals continued to return to Pakistan to support operations in and outside of Afghanistan, the slide asserted. While “nascent developments in some valleys” indicated that locals were “tiring” of al Qaeda’s efforts to “root out spies as a perceived method to stopping strikes,” the strikes and raids themselves had “succeeded in killing/capturing few [al Qaeda] targets.” As slides detailing its effectiveness noted, Haymaker’s impact on al Qaeda and Taliban enablers in Kunar and Nuristan was “considered temporary without a long-term, persistent campaign.”

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Photo: Namatullah Karyab/AFP/Getty Images

A wounded Afghan boy receives treatment at a hospital in Kunar province on Feb. 13, 2013, after a NATO airstrike killed 10 civilians.

ON FEBRUARY 18, 2013, while Haymaker was still underway, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree: Afghan military forces were barred from calling in U.S. airstrikes for support on missions. The order followed an operation in Kunar in which NATO and Afghan forces were blamed for the deaths of 10 civilians — including one man, four women, and five children. In 2012, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan had documented a number of other incidents involving civilian deaths resulting from U.S. operations, including a raid that left seven civilians dead, an “aerial attack” that killed seven children and one adult, and a drone strike targeting “two insurgents” that killed a teenage girl.

The most recent date included in the Haymaker materials is February 28, 2013. Whether the date marked the end of the campaign is unclear. What does seem clear, however, is that Haymaker coincided with an increase in drone strikes and civilian casualties across Afghanistan. By the end of 2013, the U.N. reported the number of civilian casualties from drone strikes in Afghanistan had tripled from 2012, with “almost one-third of the civilian deaths from aerial operations” reported in Kunar, the heart of the Haymaker campaign. Records of condolence payments disbursed by the U.S. military, obtained by The Intercept, show more than $118,000 distributed in 45 disbursements to Kunar in fiscal years 2011 through 2013. In addition to numerous injuries, the payments also cover the deaths of 27 people, including at least four children. The records do not indicate whether the incidents were linked to the Haymaker campaign or whether they were the result of mistaken ground raids or airstrikes.

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Until recently, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan had largely receded from public conversations in the U.S. This month, an American airstrike on a hospital run by the international organization Médecins Sans Frontières, offered a forceful reminder that the war, despite the Obama administration’s declaration in 2014, is far from over. Unleashed in the early morning hours of October 3, in the province of Kunduz, the U.S. attack killed at least a dozen members of the humanitarian group’s medical staff and 10 patients, including three children. A nurse on the scene recalled seeing six victims in the intensive care unit ablaze in their beds. “There are no words for how terrible it was,” the nurse said. MSF denounced the strike as a war crime and demanded an independent investigation.

The Kunduz attack underscored an ugly reality: After nearly a decade and a half of war, more than 2,300 American lives lost, and an estimated 26,000 Afghan civilians killed, the nature of combat in Afghanistan is entering a new, potentially bloodier, phase. In August, the United Nations reported that civilian casualties in Afghanistan “are projected to equal or exceed the record high numbers documented last year.” While most civilian casualties in the first half of 2015 were attributed to “anti-government” forces, 27 deaths and 22 injuries were attributed to airstrikes “by international military forces,” a 23 percent increase over last year, most of them, unlike the air raid in Kunduz, carried out by drones.

Despite the rise in civilian casualties and the well-documented failure of drone strikes to achieve the military’s broader objectives, there is every indication that unmanned airstrikes will play an increasing role in U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, as they have in war zones across the world. Less than two weeks after the U.N. issued its report, Foreign Policy revealed that JSOC has drastically reduced the number of night raids it conducts in Afghanistan, while dramatically increasing its reliance on airstrikes, and is currently “on pace to double the rate at which it kills ‘high-value individuals’ using kinetic strikes, compared to how many it was killing that way five years ago.”

Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan remains an active area of focus for the remaining U.S. special operations forces in the country. The Pech Valley, once a hotspot during the Haymaker campaign, continues to host a constellation of armed groups. Al Qaeda, the organization used to justify both the invasion of Afghanistan and the Haymaker campaign, reportedly enjoys a more pronounced presence in the valley than ever. “The al Qaeda presence there now,” according to a report by the United States Institute for Peace, “is larger than when U.S. counterterrorism forces arrived in 2002.”

With JSOC and the CIA running a new drone war in Iraq and Syria, much of Haymaker’s strategic legacy lives on. Such campaigns, with their tenuous strategic impacts and significant death tolls, should serve as a reminder of the dangers fallible lethal systems pose, the intelligence community source said. “This isn’t to say that the drone program is a complete wash and it’s never once succeeded in carrying out its stated purpose,” he pointed out. “It certainly has.” But even the operations military commanders would point to as successes, he argued, can have unseen impacts, particularly in the remote communities where U.S. missiles so often rain down. “I would like to think that what we were doing was in some way trying to help Afghans,” the source explained, but the notion “that what we were part of was actually defending the homeland or in any way to the benefit of the American public” evaporated long ago. “There’s no illusion of that that exists in Afghanistan,” he said. “It hasn’t existed for many years.”

 


06
Firing Blind


Flawed Intelligence and the Limits of Drone Technology

Article 6 of 8 The Drone Papers

The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.

THOSE SHORTFALLS STEM from the remote geography of Yemen and Somalia and the limited American presence there. As a result, the U.S. military has been overly reliant on signals intelligence from computers and cellphones, and the quality of those intercepts has been limited by constraints on surveillance flights in the region.

The documents are part of a study by a Pentagon Task Force on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. They provide details about how targets were tracked for lethal missions carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, in Yemen and Somalia between January 2011 and summer 2012. When the study was circulated in 2013, the Obama administration was publicly floating the idea of moving the bulk of its drone program to the Pentagon from the CIA, and the military was eager to make the case for more bases, more drones, higher video quality, and better eavesdropping equipment.

Yet by identifying the challenges and limitations facing the military’s “find, fix, finish” operations in Somalia and Yemen — the cycle of gathering intelligence, locating, and attacking a target — the conclusions of the ISR study would seem to undermine the Obama administration’s claims of a precise and effective campaign, and lend support to critics who have questioned the quality of intelligence used in drone strikes.

The study made specific recommendations for improving operations in the Horn of Africa, but a Pentagon spokesperson, Cmdr. Linda Rojas, declined to explain what, if any, measures had been taken in response to the study’s findings, saying only that “as a matter of policy we don’t comment on the details of classified reports.”


The Tyranny of Distance

One of the most glaring problems identified in the ISR study was the U.S. military’s inability to carry out full-time surveillance of its targets in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Behind this problem lies the “tyranny of distance” — a reference to the great lengths that aircraft must fly to their targets from the main U.S. air base in Djibouti, the small East African nation that borders Somalia and sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.

Surveillance flights are limited by fuel — and, in the case of manned aircraft, the endurance of pilots. In contrast with Iraq, where more than 80 percent of “finishing operations” were conducted within 150 kilometers of an air base, the study notes that “most objectives in Yemen are ~ 500 km away” from Djibouti and “Somalia can be over 1,000 km.” The result is that drones and planes can spend half their air time in transit, and not enough time conducting actual surveillance.

Drone49

A Pentagon chart showing that as of June 2012 manned spy planes accounted for the majority of flights over Yemen, even though drones were more efficient, since they could spend more time over a target. Over Somalia, the military used a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft.

AP = Arabian Peninsula; EA = East Africa.

Compounding the tyranny of distance, the ISR study complained, was the fact that JSOC had too few drones in the region to meet the requirements mandated for carrying out a finishing operation. The military measures surveillance flights in orbits — meaning continuous, unbroken coverage of a target — and JSOC chronically failed to meet “minimum requirements” for orbits over Yemen, and in the case of Somalia had never met the minimum standards. On average, 15 flights a day, by multiple aircraft relieving or complementing one another, were needed to complete three orbits over Yemen.

The “sparse” available resources meant that aircraft had to “cover more potential leads — stretching coverage and leading to [surveillance] ‘blinks.’” Because multiple aircraft needed to be “massed” over one target before a strike, surveillance of other targets temporarily ceased, thus breaking the military’s ideal of a “persistent stare” or the “unblinking eye” of around-the-clock tracking.

Drone50

When the military was focused on a “finish” — meaning kill — operation, drones were taken off the surveillance of other targets.

JSOC relied on manned spy planes to fill the orbit gap over Yemen. In June 2012 there were six U-28 spy planes in operation in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as several other types of manned aircraft. The U-28s in Djibouti were “referred to as the ‘Chiclet line,’” according to the ISR study, and “compounded Djiboutian air control issues” because of their frequent flights.

Only in the summer of 2012, with the addition of contractor-operated drones based in Ethiopia and Fire Scout unmanned helicopters, did Somalia have the minimum number of drones commanders wanted. The number of Predator drones stationed in Djibouti doubled over the course of the study, and in 2013, the fleet was moved from the main U.S. air base, Camp Lemonnier, to another Djibouti airstrip because of overcrowding and a string of crashes.

“Blinking” remained a concern, however, and the study recommended adding even more aircraft to the area of operations. Noting that political and developmental issues hampered the military’s ability to build new bases, it suggested expanding the use of aircraft launched from ships. JSOC already made use of Fire Scout helicopter drones and small Scan Eagle drones off the coast of Somalia, as well as “Armada Sweep,” which a 2011 document from the National Security Agency, provided by former contractor Edward Snowden, describes as a “ship-based collection system” for electronic communications data. (The NSA declined to comment on Armada Sweep.)

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from July 2012 to August 2014, told The Intercept that the surveillance requirements he outlined for tracking al Qaeda while in office had never been met. “We end up spending money on other stupid things instead of actually the capabilities that we need,” he said. “This is not just about buying more drones, it’s a whole system that’s required.”

According to Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has closely studied the drone war, resource constraints in Africa “mean less time for the persistent stare that counterterrorism analysts and commanders want, and got used to in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.”
Find, Fix, Finish

The find, fix, finish cycle is known in the military as FFF, or F3. But just as critical are two other letters: E and A, for “exploit and analyze,” referring to the use of materials collected on the ground and in detainee interrogations.

F3EA became doctrine in counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in his memoir that the simplicity of those “five words in a line … belied how profoundly it would drive our mission.” In 2008, Flynn, who worked closely with McChrystal before becoming head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote that “Exploit-Analyze starts the cycle over again by providing leads, or start points, into the network that could be observed and tracked using airborne ISR.”

Deadly strikes thus truncate the find, fix, finish cycle without exploitation and analysis — precisely the components that were lacking in the drone campaign waged in East Africa and Yemen. That shortfall points to one of the contradictions at the heart of the drone program in general: Assassinations are intelligence dead ends.

The ISR study shows that after a “kill operation” there is typically nobody on the ground to collect written material or laptops in the target’s house, or the phone on his body, or capture suspects and ask questions. Yet collection of on-the-ground intelligence of that sort — referred to as DOMEX, for “document and media exploitation,” and TIR, for “tactical interrogation report” — is invaluable for identifying future targets.

Drone51

A slide from a Pentagon study notes that deadly strikes in Yemen and Somalia reduce the amount of intelligence for future operations.

AUMF = 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force; FMV = Full Motion Video; F3EA = Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze; HOA = Horn of Africa

Stating that 75 percent of operations in the region were strikes, and noting that “kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available from detainees and captured material,” the study recommended an expansion of “capture finishes via host-nation partners for more ‘finish-derived’ intelligence.” One of the problems with that scenario, however, is that security forces in host nations like Yemen and Somalia are profoundly unreliable and have been linked to a wide variety of abuses, including the torture of prisoners.

A report last year by retired Gen. John Abizaid and former Defense Department official Rosa Brooks noted that the “enormous uncertainties” of drone warfare are “multiplied further when the United States relies on intelligence and other targeting information provided by a host nation government: How can we be sure we are not being drawn into a civil war or being used to target the domestic political enemies of the host state leadership?”

In 2011, for example, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that they had killed a local governor because Yemeni officials didn’t tell them he was present at a gathering of al Qaeda figures. “We think we got played,” one official said. (The Yemeni government disputed the report.)

Despite such warnings, the drone program has relied heavily on intelligence from other countries. One slide describes signals intelligence, or SIGINT, as coming “often from foreign partners,” and another, titled “Alternatives to Exploit/Analyze,” states that “in the reduced access environment, national intelligence partners often have the best information and access.”

Drone52

The military relies heavily on intelligence from electronic communications, much of it provided by foreign governments, but acknowledges that the information is “neither as timely nor as focused as tactical intelligence.”

One way to increase the reliability of host-nation intelligence is to be directly involved in its collection — but this can be risky for soldiers on the ground. The study called for “advance force operations,” including “small teams of special force advisors,” to work with foreign forces to capture combatants, interrogate them, and seize any written material or electronic devices they possess. According to public Special Operations guidelines, advance force operations “prepare for near-term” actions by planting tracking devices, conducting reconnaissance missions, and staging for attacks. The documents obtained by The Intercept did not specify an optimum number of advisors or where they should be based or how exactly they should be involved in capture or interrogation operations.

Although the study dates from 2013, current Special Operations Commander Joseph Votel echoed its findings in July 2015. Votel noted that his troops were working closely with African Union forces and the Somali government to battle al Shabaab. He added, “We get a lot more … when we actually capture somebody or we capture material than we do when we kill someone.”

Drone53

Photo: Sami-al-Ansi/AFP/Getty Images

A man walks past destroyed buildings in Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province in southern Yemen on Dec. 5, 2012.


The Poverty of Signals Intelligence

With limited ability to conduct raids or seize materials from targeted individuals in Yemen and Somalia, JSOC relied overwhelmingly on monitoring electronic communications to discover and ultimately locate targets.

The documents state bluntly that SIGINT is an inferior form of intelligence. Yet signals accounted for more than half the intelligence collected on targets, with much of it coming from foreign partners. The rest originated with human intelligence, primarily obtained by the CIA. “These sources,” the study notes, “are neither as timely nor as focused as tactical intelligence” from interrogations or seized materials.

Making matters worse, the documents refer to “poor” and “limited” capabilities for collecting SIGINT, implying a double bind in which kill operations were reliant on sparse amounts of inferior intelligence.

The disparity with other areas of operation was stark, as a chart contrasting cell data makes clear: In Afghanistan there were 8,900 cell data reports each month, versus 50 for Yemen and 160 for Somalia. Despite that, another chart shows SIGINT comprised more than half the data sources that went into developing targets in Somalia and Yemen in 2012.

Drone54

Cellphone data was critical for finding and identifying targets, yet a chart from a Pentagon study shows that the military had far less information in Yemen and Somalia than it was accustomed to having in Afghanistan.

DOMEX = Document and Media Exploitation; GSM = Global System for Mobile communication; HOA = Horn of Africa; IIRs = Intelligence Information Reports; SIGINT = Signals Intelligence; TIRs = Tactical Interrogation Reports.

Flynn told The Intercept there was “way too much reliance on technical aspects [of intelligence], like signals intelligence, or even just looking at somebody with unmanned aerial vehicles.”

“I could get on the telephone from somewhere in Somalia, and I know I’m a high-value target, and say in some coded language, ‘The wedding is about to occur in the next 24 hours,’” Flynn said. “That could put all of Europe and the United States on a high-level alert, and it may be just total bullshit. SIGINT is an easy system to fool and that’s why it has to be validated by other INTs — like HUMINT. You have to ensure that the person is actually there at that location because what you really intercepted was the phone.”

In addition to using SIGINT to identify and find new targets, the documents detail how military analysts also relied on such intelligence to make sure that they had the correct person in their sights and to estimate the harm to civilians before a strike. After locating a target, usually by his cellphone or other electronics, analysts would study video feeds from surveillance aircraft “to build near-certainty via identification of distinguishing physical characteristics.”

A British intelligence document on targeted killing in Afghanistan, which was among the Snowden files, describes a similar process of “monitoring a fixed location, and tracking any persons moving away from that location, and identifying if a similar pattern is experienced through SIGINT collect.” The document explains that “other visual indicators may be used to aid the establishment of [positive identification]” including “description of clothing” or “gait.” After a shot, according to the British document and case studies in the Pentagon’s ISR report, drones would hover to determine if their target had been hit, collecting video and evidence of whether the cellphone had been eliminated. (The British intelligence agency, GCHQ, declined to comment on the document.)

Drone55

A chart comparing the surveillance capabilities of the various drones and aircraft flying over Yemen and Somalia in 2012.

APG = Aerial Precision Geolocation; DNR COMINT = Dial Network Recognition Communications Intelligence; ISR = Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; FMV = Full Motion Video; PTT COMINT = Push-to-Talk Communications Intelligence.

Yet according to the ISR study, the military faced “critical shortfalls of capabilities” in the technologies enabling that kind of precise surveillance and post-strike assessment. At the time of the study, only some of the Reaper drones had high-definition video, and most of the aircraft over the region lacked the ability to collect “dial number recognition” data.

The study cites these shortcomings as an explanation for the low rate of successful strikes against the targets on the military’s kill list in Yemen and Somalia, especially in comparison with Iraq and Afghanistan. It presents the failings primarily as an issue of efficiency, with little mention of the possible consequence of bad intelligence leading to killing the wrong people.

 

With a special thanks to: Ryan Devereaux, Cora Currier, Peter Maass and the people who made the amages
Bron:
https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/manhunting-in-the-hindu-kush/
https://theintercept.com/drone-papers/firing-blind/

 

 

 

 

 

 
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