Obama 2013 Pakistan drone strikes


President Barack Obama chairs a Cabinet meeting (White House/ Pete Souza)

The events detailed here occurred in 2013. These have been reported by US or Pakistani government, military and intelligence officials, and by credible media, academic and other sources, including on occasion Bureau researchers. Below is a summary of CIA drone strikes and casualty estimates for 2013. Please note that our data changes according to our current understanding of particular strikes. Below represents our present best estimate.

You can access a complete spreadsheet of all strike and casualty data for Pakistan here.

CIA strikes – Obama 2013
Total CIA drone strikes 27
Total reported killed: 109-195
Civilians reported killed: 0-4
Children reported killed: 0-1
Total reported injured: 43-89


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Who is dying in Pakistan drone strikes? See the Naming the Dead project.

January 2013

Ob306 – January 2 2013
♦ 6-11 reported killed
♦ Unknown injured
In one of their most significant recent strikes, CIA drones killed Maulvi Nazir, the powerful leader of a so-called ‘good Taliban’ faction, in a late evening (1035pm) attack near Wana in South Waziristan. The Express Tribune said the attack was ‘perhaps the most prized feather in [the] cap’ of the drone programme. Also reported killed were Nazir’s five sub-commanders, including deputies Maulvi Atta Ullah and Rafey (or Rapa) Khan, Allauddin, Ihsan and up to six others. The Tribune also named two local commanders, Kochai and Chewantee, among the dead.

Taliban commander Eynollah Khan told Express Tribune: ‘Mullah Nazir became a target of the American drone [strikes] when he was coming back to Wana after completing a survey on [an] American base in Afghanistan.’ The New York Times reported that Nazir’s vehicle was struck as it travelled on the Birmal-Wana road. A senior Pakistani intelligence official told the paper: ‘He has been killed. It is confirmed. The vehicle he was travelling in was hit.’ However other sources including the Guardian said Nazir died when a house was struck during a meeting of senior leaders. Wana mosques announced the death of the popular leader over loudspeakers, and as many as 10,000 people reportedly attended Nazir’s funeral the next day, local sources told AP. Bahwal Khan aka Ayubi was named as his successor.

Maulvi Nazir had long been a target of the United States, and almost all recent drone strikes in South Waziristan were aimed at his forces. While Nazir maintained peaceful relations with Islamabad (leading to the ‘good Taliban’ label) he had used Waziristan as a base to launch attacks on US, Nato and Afghan forces across the border for many years. Some analysts predicted that Nazir’s death, although a tactical success for the CIA, might increase instability and violence in the region, at least initially.

AFP reported that senior Pakistani security officials were locked in talks about the implications of Nazir’s death. One told the agency: ‘There will be a setback in a way. He was one of those who were keeping his area under effective control and preventing the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] from operating there. So it will make a difference.’ Dawn reported that ‘thousands’ protested in Wana against US drone strikes on January 5.

On the same day as Nazir’s killing a US court rejected a Freedom of Information request by the New York Times and ACLU calling for the US government to reveal the legal basis of covert drone strikes. US District Court Judge Colleen McMahon said in a written statement that an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ situation presently exists in which the US can claim such strikes to be legal, while keeping secret the basis of such claims:

I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.

Three weeks after Nazir’s death a ‘bullet-riddled‘ body was dumped by a road in South Waziristan. The victim was responsible for the deaths of five high-ranking Taliban militants including Maulvi Nazir, a note found on the corpse claimed. The alleged spy was Afghan national Asmatullah Kharoti. ‘He presented Nazir and others digital Holy Quran as a gift which were fitted with chips which help US drones strike their targets,’ a Taliban fighter told AFP. Kharoti’s body was dumped next to the Ajab Noor Mosque in Wana Rustham Bazaar, where Nazir survived a suicide bombing in December 2012.

Location: Sara Khwara, South Waziristan
Reference: Reuters, Associated Press, Al Arabiya, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, RTT News, Wired, New York District Court (pdf), Sky News, PTI, Los Angeles Times, Voice of America, Frontier Post, Dawn, Guardian, BBC, The News, AFP, NBC News, Bureau, UPI, TelegraphExpress Tribune, Al Jazeera, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Times (£), Xinhua/ANI, The NewsDawn, Bureau

Mauvli Nazir interviewed by al Jazeera before his death.

Ob307 – January 3 2013
♦ 3-6 reported killed
♦ 1 reported injured
A double missile strike on a vehicle near Mir Ali, North Waziristan, reportedly killed four people, reportedly including Faisal Khan, a local leader of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). Also killed with him, according to the Washington Post, were two ‘Uzbek militants’; Express Tribune put the toll at six and named two more of the dead as Israr Mehsud and Latif. According to Associated Press, ‘one missile hit a vehicle near the town, followed by another missile when people rushed to the vehicle to help people in the car.’ CNN also reported that drones targeted rescuers. The deliberate targeting of first responders by the CIA is controversial, and is presently being investigated by UN experts as a possible war crime. However The News reported instead: ‘Tribal sources said the drone fired four missiles on the speeding pick-up truck. Three missiles missed the target but the fourth hit it.’

Location: Murbarak Shahi, North Waziristan
Reference: Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Frontier Post, Dawn, AFPUPI, Express Tribune, Al Jazeera, The News, Reuters, New York Times, BBC, AFP, al Jazeera, LA Times, Bureau

Ob308 – January 6 2013
♦ 8-18 reported killed
♦ 3-7 reported injured
The CIA continued its New Year offensive with the third strike in five days – possibly the bloodiest attack in 88 days (Ob297). Between 8 and 18 people were reported killed when up to five US drones fired multiple missiles in a pre-dawn strike (2.30am). The unmanned aircraft battered the Babar Ghar area of South Waziristan according to several reports. The target was reportedly an alleged militant training camp run by Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). One of the commanders present was reportedly a cousin of the TTP leader. Pakistani intelligence officials told Associated Press he was Wali Muhammad Mahsud (aka Toofan); Dawn reported he died in the attack. They alleged he trained TTP suicide bombers. Others killed were described as ‘Punjabi Taliban’. Two or three locations were reportedly targeted in the strike – the buildings were said to have caught fire leaving bodies burnt beyond recognition. NBC News cautioned the death toll could rise as ‘dozens’ of alleged militants were present. Civilians who rushed to the site to search for survivors reported several drones remaining over the area.

This was the second drone strike in three days that reportedly targeted TTP militants. These strikes followed the January 2 killing of powerful militant leader Maulvi Nazir. His group had been labelled ‘good Taliban’ as they focused their operations on Nato and Afghan targets in Afghanistan. The TTP – so-called ‘bad Taliban’ – reportedly focus attacks on the Pakistani government and military. Associated Press reported this latest strike ‘may be less likely to anger the Pakistani military and public… because it targeted militants believed to have been going after targets in Pakistan and not in neighbouring Afghanistan.’ Cricketer turned presidential-hopeful Imran Khan condemned the strike. He said the government had turned Pakistan into a banana republic and called on Islamabad to ‘take the nation into confidence about the details and identify those killed in drone attack[s]’.

The TTP attacked a Pakistani Army outpost on February 2. A Taliban spokesman said the attack was in retaliation for the drone strikes that killed Wali Muhammad Mahsud and Faisal Khan. He added thatthe Pakistani state was supporting the US drone strikes. Up to 35 people died: 13 soldiers, 12 militants and at least 10 civilians, including three children. The TTP contested the death toll, saying only four suicide bombers took part in the attack although an ensuing fire-fight reportedly lasted for up to four hours. The circumstances of the civilian deaths were unclear. Reports conflicted over whether a suicide bomber destroyed a civilian home or if the house was hit by Pakistani rocket fire.

Location: Babar Ghar, South Waziristan
Reference: Associated Press, AFP, The News Tribe, Express Tribune, KUNA, Xinhua, Voice of America, PTI, NBC News, Times of India, RFE/RL, Zee News, Pakistan Today, Reuters, NBC News, BBC, Dawn, Dawn, CNN, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Press Release, Reuters, New York TimesBBCAFPal JazeeraLA Times, Bureau

Ob309 – January 8 2013
♦ 4-9 reported killed
♦ 0-2 civilians, 0-1 child
♦ 1-4 reported injured
The civilian casualty figures included in this summary are based on the following reports: Unnamed senior Pakistani security official (Dawn).

In twin strikes CIA drones killed at least six people, including up to two reported civilians. There were conflicting accounts of the events that night. Some sources reported a single strike that killed up to nine people. But multiple sources reported up to 17 missiles were fired on two nearby but separate targets at least 15 minutes apart. The first attack killed at least four in Haider Khel village shortly after midnight. A mud house, home to an ‘important Taliban leader‘, was reportedly destroyed. One report stated two Taliban commanders were killed, although without clarifying in which strike.

An al Qaeda operative was reportedly killed in the strike – a tactical trainer from Somalia or the United Arab Emirates according to Reuters. The alleged al Qaeda militant was named as Sheikh Yaseen al Somali, the deputy commander of al Qaeda training in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He reportedly fled across the Afghan border to North Waziristan two years earlier. Dawn named him as Sheikh Yaseen al Kuwaiti. Citing a senior security official, the paper said he had married a local tribesman’s daughter who also died in the strike along with their daughter. The official added:

Eight missiles were fired on the compound he was living in with his family. His house has been turned into rubble.

An anonymous US intelligence official told the Long War Journal al Kuwaiti was a ‘key al Qaeda paramilitary commander’ who was ‘very high up the food chain’. He was reportedly a top commander and trainer for al Qaeda’s military wing the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army.

Militants cordoned off the area after the attack, removing the bodies. The News cautioned ‘there was no confirmation’ that ‘a foreign militant was among the slain people’. There were also reports that two Uzbeks had died. The drones attacked before President Obama announced his nominee for CIA director was John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism advisor and a leading proponent of the drone programme. And the attack came after retired General Stanley McCrystal told Reuters: ‘What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world.’ He added:

The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes… is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.

Michael Boyle, an Obama security adviser from the 2008 election campaign, also expressed misgivings about the drone programme. He said the use of armed drones needed to be challenged and the civilian casualty count was likely far higher than officially acknowledged, according to the Guardian. He said drones were ‘encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.’

Location: Haider Khel near Mir Ali, North Waziristan
ReferenceAssociated Press, Reuters, BBC, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, AFP, Xinhua, The News Tribe, Ghana News Agency, PakTribune, Press Trust India, Punjab Newsline, Reuters, Guardian, Press Trust India, CNN, Dawn, The News, Express Tribune, Express Tribune, Long War Journal, Bureau

Ob310 – January 8 2013
♦ 0-9 reported killed
♦ 1-4 reported injured
The Agency’s drones killed at least two people in the second strike in nearby Hesso Khel village. Up to 11 missiles were fired on a ‘two room house‘ belonging to Noor Mohammed – his fate was not reported. An October 2013 Amnesty International field investigation found 4-9 people died in the attack, all ‘Taliban and/or al Qaeda’. Villagers said there was no way to tell the identity or nationality of the ‘mutilated bodies’. Many drones were reportedly seen overhead after the strike making tribesmen panic. They ‘rushed to the site and pulled out the bodies from the debris’. Three of the missiles failed to explode, reportedly a frequent occurrence. The unexploded ordinance was collected by ‘unknown people’ who took it ‘to an unknown location’.

However in January 2014 the Bureau published an internal record of drone strikes and casualties, collected by the local political administration. It listed no casualties in this attack.

Location: Hisokhel near Mir Ali, North Waziristan
ReferenceAssociated PressBBCVoice of AmericaAl JazeeraAFPXinhuaThe News TribeGhana News AgencyPakTribunePress Trust IndiaPunjab NewslineReutersGuardianPress Trust IndiaCNNDawnThe NewsExpress TribuneExpress TribuneAmnesty International, Bureau

Ob311 – January 10 2013
♦ 3-6 reported killed
♦ ‘Several’ reported injured
At least four were killed in Hesso Khel, the second strike on the village in three days. A house was destroyed in the strike. According to AFP two missiles destroyed the house and two further missiles hit a nearby motorcycle. Four people died in the house and two on the motorbike, the agency added. None of the casualties were identified. ‘Six drones were in the sky at the time of the attack,’ a security official said, adding: ‘The compound was completely destroyed, bodies of all those killed were badly mutilated.’ A witness reported militants were seen collecting the burnt bodies.

The area is reportedly dominated by militant Hafiz Gul Bahadur, ‘who is believed to be in a nonaggression pact with the Pakistani military.’ CIA drones have struck the village at least six times since 2004. Although this was the sixth strike in 10 days, the Pakistani government remained noticeably quiet, according to Associated Press. Throughout 2012 drone strikes were met with loud condemnation from Islamabad. The Pakistani government called in the US Chargé d’Affaire to officially complain in June. And senior Pakistani diplomats told the Bureau the strikes were illegal and were undermining Pakistani democracy. Religious hardliners were also silent, Associated Press reported, adding:

It’s unclear whether the current uptick has been caused by particularly valuable intelligence obtained by the CIA, or whether the warming of relations between the two countries has made strikes less sensitive.

Location: Khushali, North Waziristan
Reference: Pakistan Today, Xinhua, RFE/RL, CNNExpress Tribune, Associated Press, Press Trust India, AFP, The News

February 2013

Ob312 – February 6 2013
♦ 3-5 killed
♦ 0-2 civilians
♦ ‘Several’ reported injured
The civilian casualty figures included in this summary are based on the following reports: Unnamed local Pakistani officials (Pakistan Today)

After a 27-day pause, CIA drones reportedly destroyed a house and damaged others nearby, killing at least three people. Between two and six missiles reportedly hit the building, which caught fire, at noon. The strike injured an unknown number of people in one of several nearby houses that were damaged by the blast. One report said the strike killed five, including ‘three suspected militants’. The house was occupied by alleged TTP militants. The strike coincided with a Pakistan Air Force attack on TTP targets in Orakzai Tribal Agency.

However the following month three anonymous US officials said this and the subsequent strike (Ob311) were not carried out by the US. They told the New York Times it was a Pakistan Air Force strike that was attributed to the CIA to avoid criticism from the Pakistani public. One official said: ‘We haven’t had any kinetic activity since January.’ They said the Pakistan Air Force was responsible for at least the February 6 strike. And they said the second strike ‘could have been the Taliban fighting among themselves. Or it could have been simply bad reporting.’ A Pakistan military source told the New York Times: ‘The Pakistan Air Force does not generally undertake stand-alone strikes such as these because it is not equipped with the appropriate strike weapons.’ The paper also reported the US gives the Pakistani military 30 minutes notice of drone strikes in South Waziristan.

But a Pakistani military spokesman strongly denied Pakistan carried out the strike, saying: ‘Such an accusation is a distortion of the facts and seems to be aimed at diluting Pakistan’s stance on drone strikes.’ The Long War Journal subsequently reported ‘US intelligence officials involved with the drone program in Pakistan’ said both strikes were ‘US operations’.

Anonymous officials in Miranshah told Pakistan Today that three people died instantly when the building was ‘razed to the ground’. A Pakistan intelligence official said militants surrounded the site and moved the bodies to an unidentified location. However it was also reported that locals recovered five bodies from the debris. Express Tribune reported civilians immediately rushed to the site. This was contradicted by a report that said residents were initially reluctant to ‘leave their houses’ because drones hovered over the area after the strike, delaying the rescue effort.

The previous day, US Department of Justice memo was leaked to the press, explaining some of the secret legal justification for drone strikes. The day of the strike, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington denied her government secretly allows CIA drone strikes.

Location: Spinwan, North Waziristan
Reference: AFP, Xinhua, Dawn, KUNA, IANS, The Nation (Pakistan), PTI, Pakistan Today, Long War Journal, Pakistan Today, CNN, EFE, BNO, New York TimesDawnInter-Services Public Relations Press Release

Ob313 – February 8 2013
♦ 6-9 killed
♦ 2-6 injured
CIA drones reportedly killed at least six in a strike on the North-South Waziristan border. Two senior al Qaeda commanders, Abu Majid al Iraqi and Sheikh Abu Waqaswere reportedly killed. Abu Waqas (35) was said to be a Yemeni bombmaking expert who was involved in ‘high profile attacks on US and Isaf forces’. Four alleged Uzbek militants also reported died. Pakistan security officials and tribal sources said drones hit one or two houses in the attack.

There were confused reports of the immediate aftermath. A Miranshah security official said militants surrounded the area after the attack, while News Tribe reported that drones lingering overhead delayed rescue work. But Xinhua said locals ‘rushed to the site and pulled out the bodies and injured from the rubble.’ The area was reportedly ‘inhabited by the Hakimullah Mehsud-led TTP fighters and also foreigners’. This strike came the day after incoming CIA director John Brennan’s senate hearing. Brennan is viewed as one of the chief architects of the rapid expansion of the drone programme under Obama.

The following month conflicting reports of the attack emerged. Three anonymous US officials told the New York Times this and the previous strike (Ob310) were not carried out by the US. One official said: ‘We haven’t had any kinetic activity since January’. Sources told the paper the first strike had been carried out by the Pakistani military while the second could be ‘militants fighting among themselves’. A Pakistani military spokesman strongly denied the report, and the Long War Journal later cited US intelligence officials saying both strikes were ‘US operations’.

Location: Babar Ghar, South Waziristan
Reference: Dawn, AFP, Xinhua, PTI, Associated Press, Al Jazeera, News Tribe, NBC, AFP, Parda Phash, PTI, News Tribe, AFP, Express Tribune, The News, Gulf Today, Associated Press, Dawn, Xinhua, New York Times, Dawn, Inter-Services Public Relations Press ReleaseLong War Journal, Bureau

March 2013

Ob314 – March 10 2013
♦ 1-3 killed
♦ ‘Several’ others reported injured
Up to three people died in a drone strike, although reports differed on the circumstances. Several reports said men riding on a horse were attacked, killing them and the horse instantly. However three unnamed officials told the Associated Press that a single horse-borne alleged ‘foreign militant’ was killed. Other reports said two alleged militants were killed when drones destroyed a house. Rescue work was reportedly delayed as drones hovered over the area after the strike. AFP reported a house and a man on horseback were targeted. And The News initially reported a house was targeted but subsequently said two alleged militants were killed on a motorcycle.

Pakistani official said: ’We don’t know the identity of those killed, and our local contacts say the bodies were unrecognisable.’ And a Taliban source said: ‘I cannot confirm their nationality and group affiliation at the moment’. The News reported ’there were strong indications that both were foreign fighters’. The drones reportedly struck at either 8.35am or 8.50am. Shortly after the strike ‘unrest erupted among local and foreign militants’ in the area, according to one report. The strike hit the day before UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s three-day visit to Islamabad.

Location: Mohammad Khel, North Waziristan
ReferencesNews TribeAssociated PressThe NationPTINew York TimesVoice of AmericaRFE/RLPakistan TodayDawnAFPExpress TribuneThe NewsAFPThe NewsThe NationPakistan TodayXinhua, UN OHRC Statement, Bureau

Ob315 – March 21 2013
♦ 1-4 killed
♦ 1 reported injured
Drones killed up to four people in an attack on either a house or a vehicle. Most sources said three or four people died. However in January 2014 the Bureau published an internal assessment of drone strikes compiled by the local political authority. It listed three people killed in a strike on a ‘double cab pickup laden with ammunition’.

According to AP, CIA drones destroyed a vehicle in a bazaar, killing three occupants. It was travelling from the Afghan border to Datta Khel. Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur dominates the area but ‘it was not clear if the drone strike had targeted his group.’ The New York Times reported that four men were killed driving through a bazaar. The missiles hit just before midnight – an unusual hour for people to be moving about in the volatile region, the paper’s tribal source added. An intelligence official told the paper only one person was killed. AFP and PTI also reported a vehicle was destroyed.

However DawnThe News Tribe and Xinhua reported a house was hit. A drone fired two missiles at the building, killing four and injuring one, according to Xinhua. The strike reportedly destroyed the house completely and damaged nearby buildings. Neighbours rushed to the site soon after the attack to start rescue work.

It was the first reported drone attack since UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson said the strikes violate Pakistani sovereignty because Islamabad does not consent to the attacks. The strike came amid speculation the White House planned to shift control of the drone programme from the CIA to the Pentagon. The day of the strike, General James Cartwright, the former vice-chairman of Obama’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the ‘aggressive campaign of drone strikes could be undermining long-term efforts to battle extremism.’

Location: Datta Khel, North Waziristan
References: Dawn, PTI, Radio Pakistan, Associated Press, BBCAFPThe News, QNAThe News Tribe, Xinhua, Voice of America, New York Times, RTT News, The Nation (Pakistan), Bureau

April 2013

Ob316 – April 14 2013
♦ 4-6 killed
♦ ‘Several’ reported injured
At least four people were killed in the first drone strike for 24 days. Tribesmen reported as many as six drones hovering over the area ‘since the afternoon, spreading panic among the residents’. One drone ‘fired two missiles at the time of sunset’, a local security official said. They reportedly hit 15 minutes apart, although intelligence officials said three missiles hit the building. Hashim Khan, a local tribesman, told NBC News five bodies were recovered from the debris ‘when two drones flying over the area disappeared’.

The missiles hit a house in the Manzarkhel area of Datta Khel. Officials and witnesses said the strike hit ‘after a double-cabin pickup truck entered the premises’. Haji Gul Badin, a local shopkeeper, said: ‘The bodies of the militants were severely burnt and it was hard to identify them.’ However two Pakistan intelligence officials said: ‘Two foreign militants believed to have been residing in the house were among those killed.’ After the strike militants reportedly moved the bodies to an unknown location. This was the third consecutive strike to hit a target in Datta Khel, a village close to the Afghan border and around 40km from Miranshah, the main population centre in North Waziristan. Sources within the political administration told Dawn the four dead were members of a militant group controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

This was the first CIA drone strike since Mir Hazar Khan Khoso (84) was selected as caretaker prime minister, running an interim administration until elections on May 11. In a statement, the Pakistani government said it ‘strongly condemns [the] US drone attack’. It added: ‘Such unilateral attacks are in contravention of International Law and count