Outrage at CIA's deadly 'double tap' drone attacks

Report claims just one in fifty victims of 'surgical' US strikes in Pakistan  are known militants. Jerome Taylor reports on a deadly new strategy

Late in the evening on 6 June this year an unmanned drone was flying high above the Pakistani village of Datta Khel in north Waziristan.

The buzz emitted by America's fleet of Predators and Reapers are a familiar sound for the inhabitants of the dusty hamlet, which lies next to a riverbed close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and is a stronghold for the Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

As the drone circled it let off the first of its Hellfire missiles, slamming into a small house and reducing it to rubble. When residents rushed to the scene of the attack to see if they could help they were struck again.

According to reports at the time, three local rescuers were killed by a second missile whilst a further strike killed another three people five minutes later. In all, somewhere between 17 and 24 people are thought to have been killed in the attack.

The Datta Khel assault was just one of the more than 345 strikes that have hit Pakistan's tribal areas in the past eight years but it reveals an increasingly common tactic now being used in America's covert drone wars – the "double-tap" strike.

More and more, while the overall frequency of strikes has fallen since a Nato attack in 2011 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and strained US-Pakistan relations, initial strikes are now followed up by further missiles in a tactic which lawyers and campaigners say is killing an even greater number of civilians. The tactic has cast such a shadow of fear over strike zones that rescuers often wait for hours before daring to visit the scene of an attack.

"These strikes are becoming much more common," Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who represents victims of drone strikes, told The Independent. "In the past it used to be a one-off, every now and then. Now almost every other attack is a double tap. There is no justification for it."

The expansive use of "double-tap" drone strikes is just one of a number of more recent phenomena in the covert war run by the US against violent Islamists that has been documented in a new report by legal experts at Stanford and New York University.

The product of nine months' research and more than 130 interviews, it is one of the most exhaustive attempts by academics to understand – and evaluate – Washington's drone wars. And their verdict is damning.

Throughout the 146-page report, which is released today, the authors condemn drone strikes for their ineffectiveness.

Despite assurances the attacks are "surgical", researchers found barely 2 per cent of their victims are known militants and that the idea that the strikes make the world a safer place for the US is "ambiguous at best."

Researchers added that traumatic effects of the strikes go far beyond fatalities, psychologically battering a population which lives under the daily threat of annihilation from the air, and ruining the local economy.

They conclude by calling on Washington completely to reassess its drone-strike programme or risk alienating the very people they hope to win over. They also observe that the strikes set worrying precedents for extra-judicial killings at a time when many nations are building up their unmanned weapon arsenals.

The Obama administration is unlikely to heed their demands given the zeal with which America has expanded its drone programme over the past two years. Reapers and Predators are now active over the skies of Somalia and Yemen as well as Pakistan and – less covertly – Afghanistan.

But campaigners like Mr Akbar hope the Stanford/New York University research may start to make an impact on the American public.

"It's an important piece of work," he said. "No one in the US wants to listen to a Pakistani lawyer saying these strikes are wrong. But they might listen to American academics."

Reprieve, the charity which is trying to challenge drone strikes in the British, Pakistani and American courts, said the report detailed how the fallout from the extra-judicial strikes must be measured in terms of more than deaths and injuries alone.

"An entire region is being terrorised by the constant threat of death from the skies," said Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith.

"Their way of life is collapsing: kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meeting or anything that involves gathering in groups."

Some of the most harrowing personal testimonies involve those who have witnessed "double-tap" strikes.

Researchers said people in Waziristan – the tribal area where most of the strikes take place – are "acutely aware of reports of the practice of follow-up strikes", and explained that the secondary strikes have discouraged ordinary civilians from coming to one another's rescue.

One interviewee, describing a strike on his in-laws' home, said a follow-up missile killed would-be rescuers. "Other people came to check what had happened; they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people."

A father of four, who lost one of his legs in a drone strike, admitted: "We and other people are so scared of drone attacks now that when there is a drone strike, for two or three hours nobody goes close to [the location of the strike]. We don't know who [the victims] are, whether they are young or old, because we try to be safe."

Testimonies

"The villagers brought us the news."

Khairullah Jan, whose brother was killed in a drone attack.

"I was ... going to my house. That's when I heard a drone strike and I felt something in my heart. I thought something had happened, but we didn't get to know until the next day. That's when all the villagers came and brought us news that [my brother] had been [killed]... I was drinking tea when I found out. [My] entire family was there."

"My father's body was scattered in pieces."

Waleed Shiraz, who was studying for a BA before he was injured by a strike.

"My father was asleep … and I was studying near by … [When we got hit], [my] father's body was scattered in pieces and he died immediately, but I was unconscious for three to four days … [Since then], I am disabled. My legs have become so weak and skinny that I am not able to walk."

"Children, women, they are all affected."

Firoz Ali Khan, a shopkeeper in the town of Miranshah.

"I have been seeing drones since the first one appeared about four to five years ago … [We see drones] hovering [24 hours a day but] we don't know when they will strike … People are afraid of dying … Children, women, they are all psychologically affected. They look at the sky to see if there are drones… [They] make such a noise that everyone is scared."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

SharePoint Engineer - Bishop's Stortford

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering