US Drone Strike Kills American Citizen
On April 23, President Obama announced that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in January accidentally killed two hostages. Officials confirmed that the hostages, Warren Weinstein, an American kidnapped in 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national seized in 2012, were killed by a U.S. military drone strike in Pakistan (The New York Times, “Obama Apologizes After Drone Kills American and Italian Held by Al Qaeda, 04.13.15).
In addition to the hostage casualties, officials confirmed the death of two targets through similar methods. The White House disclosed on Thursday that two American al Qaeda leaders, Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn, were also killed by U.S. counterterrorism operations in the same region.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that prior to the strike, U.S. officials felt confident that there were no hostages at the target site and that the strike was carried out after hundreds of hours of surveillance on the al Qaeda compound and near continuous surveillance in the days leading up to the operation. U.S. officials also did not know that Farouq or Gadahn were present at the targeted sites and neither had been specifically targeted (CNN, “U.S. drone strike accidentally killed 2 hostages,” 04.23.15).
The inaccuracy of drone strikes is not unprecedented, though rarely publicized. According to a recent analysis by human rights group Reprieve, it was estimated that U.S. drone strikes intending to kill 41 men had killed 1,147 people as of November 2014. In Pakistan specifically, around 24 men targeted resulted in the death of 874 people. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24, only six of whom died from the drone strikes (The Guardian, “41 men targeted by 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes—the facts on the ground,” 11.24.14).
Although Earnest said there was no evidence that these most recent strikes deviated from normal practice, the death of the hostages has led some to question the protocol of counterterrorism operations. “To put it more bluntly,” Earnest said, “we have national security professionals who diligently followed those national security protocols…and yet it still resulted in this unintended but very tragic consequence and that’s why the President has directed his team to conduct a review to see if there are lessons learned, reforms that we can implement to this process” (CNN).
Obama said that the full review would identify any changes that should be made to avoid similar errors. “We will do our utmost to ensure it is not repeated,” he said (The New York Times).
Earthquake in Nepal Kills Thousands
On April 25, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, and officials have reported a death toll rising to more than 4,000. Current reports place the number of injured at more than 6,500, and another 56 people are reported dead in India, 25 in Tibet and 20 in China (CNN, “Nepal earthquake: Death toll passes 3,200 as nation struggles with devastation,” 04.27.15). The earthquake stands as the most deadly in Nepalese history over the last 80 years.
On Sunday, the situation worsened due to rainfall and aftershocks that forced more residents from their homes. Post-disaster rescue efforts face challenges as well. The government’s chief secretary and the rescue coordinator Lila Mani Poudyal said recovery was being slowed because many key workers had all gone home to be with their families (The Guardian, “Nepal earthquake: what the thousands of victims share is that they are poor,” 04.27.15).
“In my neighborhood, the police are conspicuous by their absence,” said Sridhar Khatri of the South Asia Center for Policy Studies in Katmandu. “There is not even a show of force to deter vandalism, which some reports say is on the rise” (The New York Times, “Nepal Terrorized by Aftershocks, Hampering Relief Efforts,” 04.26.15).
While some rescue efforts have been successful, they have proven challenging given the level of damage wrought by the earthquake. Lack of constant electricity harms communication across the country, and aftershocks remain fatal to those residing within the same areas as the initial shock (The New York Times).
With limited economic capacity and existing political discord, many in the international community believe that Nepal will require significant foreign aid. Yet although international efforts are in full swing, the mountains that define Nepal make it difficult to deliver relief, with aftershocks complicating operations.
-Yifan Wang, Reporter