At least 2,200 people, including women and children, have been reported killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, according to a new study by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism in conjunction with The Express Tribune.
The dead include up to 21 alleged militants that were killed in North Waziristan on Wednesday.
The fundamental reassessment of US drone strikes has revealed there have been many more CIA attacks on alleged militant targets than previously reported. At least 291 US drone strikes are now known to have taken place since 2004.
The Bureau’s analysis also reveals that at least 2,292 people are credibly reported to have died – some 40% more deaths than generally claimed.
The intended targets of the CIA campaign – militants in the tribal areas – appear to make up the largest proportion of those killed. There are 126 named militants among the dead since 2004. But as many as 168 children have also been killed among at least 385 civilians.
More than 1,100 people are also revealed to have been injured in the US drone attacks – the first time this number has been gathered.
A counter-terrorism official revealed to the Bureau that internal US government figures record an estimated 2,050 people killed by the drone strikes, of whom all but 50 were militants. No ‘non-combatants’ – civilians – have been killed in Pakistan in the last year, the US official claimed.
The Bureau’s investigation took a team of journalists many months to complete. It involved a complete re-examination of all that is known about each US drone strike. More than 2,000 credible Pakistani and international media reports were examined. This was then cross-referenced with field reports from researchers; with details of civilian legal cases; with leaked intelligence documents; and with the writings of politicians, journalists and former intelligence officers.
The result is the clearest public understanding so far of the CIA’s covert drone war against the militants.
Despite this, a US counter-terrorism official told the Bureau that its numbers were ‘way off the mark’. The Washington-based official said: “These actions target militants planning actively to kill Afghans, Pakistanis, Europeans, and Americans among others, and most often the operations occur when they’re training or on the move, getting ready to attack. Over 4,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed by terrorists since 2009—the threat is clear and real.”
With the US military unable to operate overtly inside Pakistan, the Obama administration has come to rely heavily on CIA drone strikes to attack alleged militants in the country’s western tribal areas. To date, at least 236 drone attacks have been ordered in Obama’s name.
The Bureau’s research shows at least 1,842 people have been killed in the Obama strikes, most of them militants.
Recently, Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan reported that the president has ‘insisted’ that Pakistan drone strikes ‘do not put… innocent men, women and children in danger’. Yet at least 218 of those killed in drone attacks in Obama’s time in office may have been civilians.
Civilian casualties do seem to have declined in the past year. Yet the Bureau still found credible evidence of at least 45 civilians killed in some ten strikes in this time. The US continues to insist that it ‘can’t confirm any noncombatant casualties’ in the past year.
In comparison, there were 52 Pakistan drone strikes during President Bush’s years in office. One in three of those attacks resulted in the reported deaths of children.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (www.thebureauinvestigates.com) has a 22,000-word database covering each individual strike in Pakistan in detail. The most recently reported civilian fatality was on July 12. Abdul Jalil, a migrant worker home on leave from Dubai, died as the CIA attacked a car carrying eight alleged militants, the Bureau’s researchers in Waziristan report.
“It is simply unclear what ‘rules of engagement’ the CIA are following in Pakistan. It’s also unclear how the USA is investigating the impact of attacks in order to assess their impact and compliance with international law. Given the failures of US intelligence…in Afghanistan, where conditions are relatively more conducive, there are real grounds for skepticism about the US’ ability to target accurately and to assess the impact of strikes accurately,” said Amnesty International’s Director of Asia Pacific Sam Zarifi.
The Bureau’s key findings
- 291 CIA attacks have taken place in Pakistan – 8 % more than previously reported. Under President Obama alone there have been 236 strikes – one every four days.
- Between 2,292 and 2,863 people are reported to have died in the attacks – most of them militants
- The minimum number of reported deaths is far higher than previously believed – with 40% more recorded casualties. Most of those killed are likely to be low-ranking militants.
- 126 named militants have so far been killed.
- At least 1,114 people have been wounded
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2011.