By Chris Woods
LONDON — Two U.S. reports published Tuesday provide significant insights into President Obama’s personal and controversial role in the escalating covert U.S. drone war in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
In a major extract from Daniel Klaidman’s forthcoming book Kill Or Capture, the author reveals extensive details of how secret U.S. drone strikes have evolved under Obama – and how the president knew of civilian casualties from his earliest days in office.
The New York Times has also published a key investigation exploring how the Obama Administration runs its secret ‘Kill List’ – the names of those chosen for execution by CIA and Pentagon drones outside the conventional battlefield.
The Times’ report also reveals that President Obama “embraced” a broadening of the term “civilian”, helping to limit any public controversy over “non-combatant” deaths.
As the Bureau’s own data on Pakistan makes clear, the very first covert drone strikes of the Obama presidency, just three days after he took office, resulted in civilian deaths in Pakistan. As many as 19 civilians – including four children – died in two error-filled attacks.
Until now it had been thought that Obama was initially unaware of the civilian deaths. Bob Woodward has reported that the president was only told by CIA chief Michael Hayden that the strikes had missed their High Value Target but had killed “five al Qaeda militants.”
Read more stories from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Now Newsweek correspondent Daniel Klaidman reveals that Obama knew about the civilian deaths within hours. He reports an anonymous participant at a subsequent meeting with the president: “You could tell from his body language that he was not a happy man.” Obama is described aggressively questioning the tactics used.
Yet despite the errors, the president ultimately chose to keep in place the CIA’s controversial policy of using “signature strikes” against unknown militants. That tactic has just been extended to Yemen.
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On another notorious occasion, the article reveals that U.S. officials were aware at the earliest stage that civilians – including “dozens of women and children” – had died in Obama’s first ordered strike in Yemen in December 2009. The Bureau recently named all 44 civilians killed in that attack by cruise missiles.