Remote even by the standards of Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Shawal Valley is surrounded by steep mountains that descend into thick forests interspersed with boulder-strewn alpine rivers. The valley is one of the final redoubts of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion. Numerous Pakistani military offensives have so far failed to dislodge the militants, although their ranks have been depleted by hundreds of American drone strikes.
In the weeks leading up to an operation in the Shawal Valley on January 2015, CIA-operated drones filmed four men coming and going from a building, who appeared to of military service age. Anonymous U.S. officials later told
The New York Times. Among the dead were two hostages: Warren Weinstein, an American humanitarian, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker. It took the CIA several weeks to confirm that the two hostages had been killed in the strike. Afterward, the agency notified President Barack Obama, who then called the families and apologized.
The deaths of the two Western hostages succeeded in doing what the killing of thousands of innocent Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Yemenis in U.S. drone strikes had failed to accomplish. It prompted Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times to act. Frustrated with the lack of congressional oversight over the drone program, Mazzetti defied the CIA and published the name of the man, who as head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), was a key “architect of the targeted killing program.” His name is Michael D’Andrea.