October 22, 2013

U.S. covert drone program has violated international law, reports say

Featuring Michèle Flournoy

Source: Foreign Policy

Journalists Bailey Cahall, Emily Schneider

Unlawful killings 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, two human rights organizations investigating the covert U.S. drone program, released reports on Tuesday that highlight civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and allege that the United States has been involved in unlawful killings (AJAMBBCDawnETRFE/RLVOA).  Amnesty's report, "Will I be next?' US drone strikes in Pakistan," reviews 45 drone strikes that occurred in North Waziristan and the surrounding regions of Pakistan between 2012 and 2013, providing detailed field research into nine drone strikes that occurred during that time and that have raised questions of U.S. compliance with international law.

The report, for example, documents one case of a "rescuer attack," defined as one in which those who came to the aid of an initial drone strike victim were then targeted in a follow-up attack, that killed 18 laborers. It also describes an October 2012 strike that killed a 68-year-old grandmother as she was picking vegetables in the family's garden with her grandchildren (Reuters). Mustafa Qadri, the author of the report, told reporters that: "There are genuine threats to the U.S. and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or a grandmother surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States" (Amnesty).  As such, Amnesty's report concludes that there are many instances where the United States may be breaching international law in its drone strikes. (NYT).  

Amnesty's report was released in a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch, which issueda separate report on drone and air strikes in Yemen (Post).  The 97-page report examines six U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, one from 2009 and five from 2012-2013, that it says killed civilians indiscriminately, targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives, or caused disproportionate civilian deaths (HRW). 

Magnificent delusions

As U.S. and Pakistani officials and observers prepare for the meeting between President Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday, much is being written about this most recent attempt to reset the tense, often fractious relationship between the two countries.  In an interview with the New York Times, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington, who documents this mixed legacy in his new book, Magnificent Delusions, discusses his personal experiences as a Pakistani diplomat in Washington and says that misunderstandings by both Americans and Pakistanis have characterized the relationship from the beginning (NYT).  

Improved ties 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Emomali Rahmon, his Tajik counterpart, in Dushanbe on Monday to discuss bilateral trade, increased economic ties, and joint security efforts between the two countries (PajhwokRFE/RL).  Rahmon pledged to help Afghanistan fight terrorism and extremism, though no further details on what that help would be were provided.  According to reports, the two leaders also discussed the construction of a railway that links Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan; and the CASA-1000 project, which will export electricity from hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Karzai and Rahmon are expected to sign agreements on mine clearance, insurance, and increasing travel between the two countries during the visit. 

The Afghan Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a new U.S.-based Afghan advocacy group launched on Monday, is hoping to sustain the progress made in Afghanistan over the past 12 years by expanding the role of civil society in policymaking (RFE/RL).  Backed by an impressive list of former U.S. government officials, diplomats, and civil society leaders - including former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former Under Secretary of Defense of Policy Michele Flournoy, and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis - the alliance is "dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001" (AfPak).  According to Shafi Sharifi, the alliance's communication director, Afghan civil society leaders created the alliance as a way to highlight some of the key achievements and gains Afghanistan has made in the last decade, and to counter the current security-focused narrative in the media (RFE/RL). 

During a meeting with American business leaders on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured his audience that "Pakistan will do all it can to support the realization of peace and stability in Afghanistan" (Pajhwok).  He went on to say that a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is necessary for a peaceful, stable Pakistan.  Sharif added that regional security was at the top of his agenda, and that he supported an Afghan-led reconciliation process.  Sharif, who is in Washington for a four-day visit, will meet with President Obama on Wednesday, and it is expected that discussions will focus on the security situation in Afghanistan and the 2014 withdrawal of coalition troops. 

Poetry as a sword

While conservative Afghan society largely considers writing poetry a sin, the Mirman Baheer literary society is providing some Afghan women with a safe, creative place to do exactly that (BBCNYT).  Calling poetry "their sword," these women meet each week to recite their poetry and receive feedback and encouragement from each other. "It's our form of resistance," explains one of the society's founders, Sahira Sharif, a member of parliament.  While some women have to keep their writing secret, even from their families, and most write under pen names, the society now boasts a membership of a few hundred people in several Afghan cities.


  • Michèle Flournoy

    Chair, CNAS Board of Directors, Co-founder and Managing Partner, WestExec Advisors

    Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, and former Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), w...