On Monday, Oct. 28, Al Jazeera reported a "suspected drone strike" that witnesses on the ground blamed the United States for conducting. The strike has been "confirmed" with no additional details by an anonymous U.S. military official, making it the first well-documented U.S. counterterrorism airstrike in Somalia in 20 months, after conducting at least 18 between January 2007 and January 2012. That makes it something of a rarity, these days.
As I noted recently, one of the inherent difficulties with evaluating U.S. targeted killing policies is that there is much we do not know, and we have a human tendency to fill that knowledge gap by over-interpreting observable events. This dilemma is driven by the clandestine or covert nature of targeted killings, the difficulty of conducting independent investigations where they occur, and the Obama administration's decision to repeat soothing adjectives about drone strikes, rather than directly answering clarifying questions. A new administration defense of drone strikes was attempted last week by the State Department spokesperson, who denigrated the accuracy of civilian casualty estimates provided by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International with this unsatisfying rationale: "they don't have a complete picture." The State Department claims that it will review the reports, but it is unlikely the U.S. government will address the charges with any specificity, as they have not with similar reports critical of U.S. foreign policy.