Drone campaign: Unsuspecting victims of a ‘precise’ warfare

Published: August 12, 2011
A majority of 168 children reportedly killed in the seven-year CIA campaign were less than 17 years old.

A majority of 168 children reportedly killed in the seven-year CIA campaign were less than 17 years old.


Din Mohammad had the misfortune to live next door to militants in Danda Darpakhel, North Waziristan. His neighbours were reportedly part of the Haqqani Network, a group fighting US forces in nearby Afghanistan.

On September 8, 2010, the CIA’s Reaper drones paid a visit. Hellfire missiles tore into the compound killing six alleged militants. One of the Hellfires missed its target, and Din Mohammad’s house was hit. He survived. But his son, his two daughters and his nephew all died. His eldest boy had been a student at a Waziristan military cadet college. The other three children were all below school age.

Although the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s field researchers have verified the details of this strike, the US continues to deny civilians are being killed in Pakistan strikes, while one in seven of all US strikes may have resulted in child fatalities.

Children have been killed throughout the seven years of CIA strikes. The Bureau has identified credible reports of 168 children killed in CIA drone attacks in the tribal areas. (For this research, the UN’s definition of a child as being someone aged between 0 and 17 years old has been adopted. The majority of children killed have been younger than 17, according to the Bureau’s reports.)

Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency, said in response to the findings: “Even one child death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child death too many.”

‘One in three’

The highest number of child deaths occurred during the Bush presidency, with 112 children reportedly killed. More than a third of all Bush drone strikes appear to have resulted in the deaths of children.

On only one occasion during Bush’s time in office did a single child die in a strike. Multiple deaths occurred every other time. On July 28 2008, for example, CIA drones struck a seminary in South Waziristan, killing al Qaeda’s chemical weapons expert Abu Khabab al Masri along with his team. Publicly the attack was hailed a success.

But the Agency’s strike also killed three young boys and a woman. Despite the secrecy surrounding the drones campaign, details emerged in May of this year that not only was the US aware of this ‘collateral damage’, but that the then-CIA chief Michael Hayden personally apologised to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for the error.

Escalating war

President Obama, as commander-in-chief, has ultimately been responsible for many child deaths in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has identified 56 children reported killed in drone strikes during his presidency – although child deaths have dropped significantly in recent months.

On February 14 2009, the eight-year-old son of Maezol Khan reportedly lost his life. More than 25 alleged militants were killed in a massive strike on a nearby house. But flying shrapnel killed the young boy as he slept next door. His grandfather later asked: “How can the US invade our homes while we are sleeping, and target our children?”

But one 2009 incident in which children died gives a chilling insight into the tactics of those the CIA are hunting. On August 11 of that year drones attacked an alleged Pakistan Taliban compound, killing up to 25 people. At the time there were reports of women and children killed.

Two years later, young survivor Arshad Khan, now in Pakistani police custody, told reporters that the compound was a training camp for teenage suicide bombers. He named four young victims. Arshad says he was recruited without realising he was to be a suicide bomber.

Commenting on children killed by drone strikes, Unicef’s south Asia regional spokesperson Sarah Crowe told the Bureau: “Even one child death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child death too many. Children have no place in war and all parties should do their utmost to protect children from violent attacks at all times.”

Reducing deaths

There are indications that the Obama administration is making efforts to reduce the number of children being killed. Following the incident in September last year that killed Din Mohammad’s children, and another strike just weeks earlier in which a further three children died, there has been a steep fall in the number of child fatalities reported by media.

That is partially in line with claims by some US intelligence officials that drone targeting strategies have been altered to reduce civilian casualties. Although the Bureau has demonstrated that CIA claims of ‘zero casualties’ are false, there are far fewer reports of child casualties since August last year.

Along with two undefined reports of ‘children killed’, a 17-year-old student was killed in November last year. And on April 22 this year, two drones destroyed a house and guesthouse in Spinwan, North Waziristan. A 12-year-old boy, Atif, was killed in that strike, according to researchers working with the Bureau in Waziristan.

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, an Islamabad-based lawyer representing a number of families caught up in drone strikes said: “All these children are a big recruitment agent for militants in the area. When you can show people that children are being killed in the drone strikes, all those who are so far non-aligned, that gets them onto the other side. That is what most worries me as a Pakistani.”

A US counter-terrorism official, commenting generally on the Bureau’s findings, denied that civilians were now being killed and said: “Nobody is arguing perfection over the life of the programme, but this remains the most precise system we’ve ever had in our arsenal.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (48)

  • Mirza
    Aug 12, 2011 - 9:10AM

    You said: “A majority of 168 children reportedly killed in the seven-year CIA campaign were less than 17 years old.”
    What a ridicules and paradoxical statement? Majority of 168 children reportedly killed were under 17. Isn’t it the very definition of a child that they are under 17-18? If all of the 168 were not under age then they cannot be called children. Knowing what we know, most of the suicide bombers are about this age and in active acts of war.
    No innocent child should die and it is the duty of their parents to keep them safe and away from trouble. However, the terrorists hide and locate themselves with their multiple wives and many children. The drones usually target the vehicles which is carrying the militant parties.


  • Aug 12, 2011 - 9:26AM

    We think the price is worth it‘ – Madeleine Albright (former Secretary of State of USA) when questioned about the death of half a million children in Iraq due to sanctions imposed by UN (I: read US)

    So Americans are being very ‘gentle’ here. 168 is the humane face of US.


  • Frank
    Aug 12, 2011 - 9:33AM

    There are indications that the Obama
    administration is making efforts to
    reduce the number of children being

    No! No children are being killed in the drone attacks! Who do you think you are? Zaid Hamid? You must get your information from ISPR. Asma Jahangir Zindabad! Ayesha Siddiqa Paindabad! God Bless America!


  • faraz
    Aug 12, 2011 - 9:42AM

    At least the Pakistan government should demand compensation from US. Raymond Davis paid 20 crore to the relatives who are now reportedly leading a more prosperous life. Similarly compensation should be paid for those killed in military operations. Currently the compensation to relatives of victims of suicide blasts is much less for tribals than for those who live in settled areas!


  • mf hussain
    Aug 12, 2011 - 9:56AM

    Every day, about 1,100 Pakistani children under the age of five die of diarrhoea and diseases related to water, sanitation and hygiene.
    If 168 died in 7 years its worth the price of killing the terrorists. And if you live with terrorists you will die like terrorists.


  • Exposed
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:04AM

    Pakistani foreign funded NGOs will never uttera single word against these attacks. Only Foreign independent NGOs or people like Imran Khan can speak on these issues which have been covered by our puppets.


  • biryani
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:26AM

    our military and political leadership is being saying covertly and overtly that drones are highly precise machines and are in long term strategic advantage of pakistan…. infact our cheap sab supported CIA’s drone campaign, moreover its as evident as sun that drones are operated from within pakistan, with consent of our leadership….

    all of a sudden 20 odd haqqani men get killed and we start crying about civilian and children casualties hit by drones….

    168 or 1, the point is if u got spine like the afghan taliban, hit the chinooks n drones down and you wont see them fly again !!


  • Pan Mat
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:36AM

    The author failed to appreciate the fact that the lone survivor of Mumbai attacks (26/11). Ajmal Kasab and few others were also less than 17 years old at the time, these so called Pakistani children killed over 166 innocent people.


  • Ali Wazir
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:41AM

    So the assumption all the adult males killed were terrorists. How can the Americans Drone operators in Nevada tell? Is it the beard and weapons? If it is that pretty much describes every person in the tribal areas.
    Well as far I am concerned all the victims of Drone strikes are 100% innocent. I would want to be considered innocent till proven guilty if I ever had a run in with the law, and not be dragged to an open ground (along with my neighbors and family) and be bombed instead. Please tell me how is this any different than the rangers killing Sarfaraz Shah, or the mob lynching the boys in Sialkot. The principle is the same assume guilt and administer instant “Justice”.

    Also lets be honest these are NOT “American drone strikes”, these are Pak-American drone strikes.All the anti americansim in the world cant wash the blood from our hands…


  • faraz
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:05AM


    Why dont you talk about the army which formulates our defense and foreign policy instead of blaming people who hold no political power


  • ali
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:16AM

    More people from this area will become suicide bombers!
    To counter them the US will increase the number of drone strikes!
    and then..
    EVEN MORE people will become suicide bombers!!
    I am surprised how the civilized and intelligent western world fails to understand this simple phenomena!


  • Hassan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:19AM

    @ mf hussain, i wonder if you would be this flippant if it was your child amongst the 168!!!!!


  • Pragmatist
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:35AM

    Somehow I don’t trust the numbers that are presented. The ISI will ensure that it creates propaganda of this nature so that its strategic assets are not whittled away. Recently, a report in NY Times and Washington Post mentioned that it was an ISI officer who gave away the location of Osama Bin Laden in exchange for US Citizenship for his entire family and the reward money of $25 million. It clearly proves the complicity of the Pakistani establishment in protecting terrorists.


  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:46AM

    Normally these terrorists move around with not less than 3-4 wives and around 15 children and most are used as suicide bombers. It has often been observed that male and female under the age of 17 are used for their nefarious designs. This has already been revealed by a Senator from FATA and adjoining areas in a talk show of Mr. Hamid Mir of Geo network.


  • Khalid Rahim
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:52AM

    @ Chris Wood, The US Congress would have been in uproar had one ” Zionist Child ” had
    been killed by 80 years old veteran driving his 1960 Ford Cutlass in upper Manhattan. Why!
    lament over the killing of 168 Pashtun children when the people in power both in Islamabad
    and Peshawar abet such killings both rowing in the same boat.


  • Hasan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 12:01PM

    Your research is incomplete:

    Albright replied “we think the price is worth it.” Albright later criticized Stahl’s segment as “amount[ing] to Iraqi propaganda”; said that her question was a loaded question; “I had fallen into a trap and said something I did not mean”; and regretted coming “across as cold-blooded and cruel.”


  • Arshad Mahmood
    Aug 12, 2011 - 12:17PM

    The number of children victims of drone attacks can be much higher than what is reported however, it is good that these statistics have been made public as it was never admitted publicly that civilians particularly children are victims of these attacks. The legal minimum age for children under UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is 18 years not 17.

    If the US, the State actors and the non-state actors strictly observe international human rights and humanitarian laws, the number of civilian casualties and particularly those of women and children can be reduced to great extent in the so called war on terror. It has time and again been highlighted by the human rights experts that the drone attacks are against international law.

    The Geneva Convention IV guarantees special care for children and the Additional Protocol I lays down the principle of special protection which reads that children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault.

    Despite the fact that the drone attacks are allowed by the government of Pakistan except a couple of occasions where the government mildly protested against civilian casualties, the attacks are in clear violation of international law. Some supporters of the drone attacks in Pakistan are of the opinion that for clearing the area from terrorists some collateral damage is worth it however, they fail to understand that the civilian casualties are not only grave human rights violation but are also counterproductive and resulting in creating breeding grounds for the terrorists.

    The US should review its drone policy in light of international law, human rights principles and the counter effects it is going to have.


  • FootballPakistan.Com
    Aug 12, 2011 - 12:22PM

    and what about the number of children killed in last 7 years thanks to Taliban suicide bombings and 2 decades of sectarian terror attacks across Pakistan?Recommend

  • Aug 12, 2011 - 12:28PM

    I did no research. I quoted you a source. Of course she fell for trap. Poor her. No children died during that sanction. Half a million kids died of malnourishment? Ridiculous! And the Japanese threw the atomic bombs on themselves to blame the americans.



  • M.Akthar
    Aug 12, 2011 - 1:19PM

    All blame is on the military (right from Busharraf) who started this war. IK is a stooge of the ISI & that`s the reason why IK wont find fault with the Army and yet blame the drone attack on the politicians who have no role to play.

    Ofcourse, the politicians are equally dumb & match the Generals in incompetence. The Army killled us (Supporting the Drones, Raymond davis, Saleem shehzad etc), the politicians kills us (Karachi Violence), Militants kills us (Taliban, SSP, JeM etc).

    Wholl do justice? Allah! one & only Allah. Theres no one for the ordinary pakistani in this wretched nation. HuT is the only way to realize our dream called Pakistan, till then, we have not gained independence.


  • Age?
    Aug 12, 2011 - 1:35PM

    Its not about AGE along, its about killing of the INNOCENT!! Whatever their age/gender/residence may be!!! Just because someone lives next to terrorists, doesn’t make them one too!!! If your neighbours were terrorists and you were harmed when they get raided – would that be justified.. and how would you feel.. pretty victimized i’d imagine.. and even if you had the offenders in your good books before.. your opinion is sure to change when you’ve been personally affected by their “precision”… what a farce!


  • Rational Mind
    Aug 12, 2011 - 2:44PM

    They are not terrorist and did not cause any terrorism in USA……..Remember all the people named in Sep-11 attack were Saudis not Pakistanis (Even that is not proven).
    where as George Bush and US administration can be proven as Terrorist in the court of law with the evidence present.


  • Maulana Diesel
    Aug 12, 2011 - 2:56PM

    Some comments here are blaming the dead for living amongst the terrorists. Should they move to some posh hotel in Karachi until the war on terror lasts? What kind of idiots write such comments? These are very poor people and all they have is their mud house in the village. They did not “choose” to live amongst the terrorists.


  • Faisel Hafeez
    Aug 12, 2011 - 3:25PM

    “The USA is having fun with the joystick, playfully concentrating on droning the Pakistani tribal areas to death.”


  • Hasan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 3:41PM

    Your source was incomplete and has misinterpreted the words of Madeleine Albright. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of doing adequate research prior to replying to online articles.


  • bhai
    Aug 12, 2011 - 3:50PM

    “There are indications that the Obama administration is making efforts to reduce the number of children being killed. Following the incident in September last year that killed Din Mohammad’s children, and another strike just weeks earlier in which a further three children died, there has been a steep fall in the number of child fatalities reported by media.”

    are they dogs or cats you american idiots? shame on you all who are supporting such a mass murder. These drone strikes are adding fuel to the fire and are causing normal civilians turn into suicide bombers in revenge.


  • Javed
    Aug 12, 2011 - 3:58PM

    But people like Imran Khan never utter a word when the suicide bombers kill hundreds in minutes which is ok with you. Don’t tell me that you find killing of 35000 Pakistanis a trivial matter which Imran and his likes also always forget to mention.


  • Javed
    Aug 12, 2011 - 4:06PM

    @FootballPakistan.Com: We Pakistanis dont mind if the Taliban kill our children, so it not relevant how many they have killed. Just focus on the Drone attacks.


  • Basit
    Aug 12, 2011 - 4:51PM

    It is true that we live in a profoundly sick society.
    How would you feel if drone strikes a house next to your, just because the suspect a millitant live there and you lose your daughter, son, brother, sister as a collateral damage. Just ask yourself.
    The difference between us and terrorist is that although we fighting terrorist but we should not never become one.


  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Aug 12, 2011 - 8:23PM

    And we forget about the children, men and women which are being killed in our cities and villages by the Taliban and their mercenaries. Maulana Imran Khan, Amir Hassan and others will hold rallies to condemn the killings of these childrens killed in drone attacks. I think they should hold such rallies. But what about our soldiers, policemen, children and women who are killed routinely by the shaggy barbarians?


  • Aug 12, 2011 - 9:34PM

    @ MIRZA: Allah says in quran if u kill an innocent person means u killed the whole humanity. consider if some terrorists live near u. and drone strike ur home, who would u feel and what would u do. will u be satisfied. would u not think for revenge. fear Allah not america mr mirza.Recommend

  • Aug 12, 2011 - 9:45PM

    I am astonished at the collateral arguments.The whole
    anti-terror war on ground or from the sky is about
    saving children from self destruction. The nature of
    war was irreversibly changed during the last century.
    Civilian deaths can be avoided in accidents as well.
    Do human rights watchers care about bad drivers,
    about men who tie explosive belts on women and
    Taravadu Taranga Trust for Media Monitoring TTTMM
    India —Kulamarva Balakrishna


  • FAZ
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:35PM

    A question for USgov and “Human Rights activistis”. “Is the child of a terrorist, a terrorist?”


  • Basit Siddiqui
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:36PM

    @Ishtiaer Hussain:
    Regardless of his (IK) other political view. His stand on drone has very little to do with politics, but more to do with common sense. You dont kill suspected people. You bring them to courts. If you dont you are a Taliban.
    If someone kills your brother you dont go out and kill every suspected person.


  • Javed
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:46PM

    @Mushtaq Ahmad: You will sermonise everybody about drone attacks but will keep silent about the Taliban who have killed thousands. The Quran says this about anyone who kills. It’s not drone specific. For God sake!


  • Mirza
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:32PM

    @Rational Mind:
    Thanks for personal attack and not keeping it civil and to the point. I would appreciate if you point out anything wrong about my posting. The generalize hatered is not going to help the sitution. God has given me enough not to be an agent of anybody. That menality is not here. It is not like Paksitan that most top people are on foreign payroll.
    Be that as it may, why would Pak army not take charge of its own area and people? Once the army expels all foreign terrorists the attacks would stop. Our tribal areas are “free for all” war zones. During the war lots of innocent lives are lost. That is why there are regular armies and they follow the Geneva Convention. However, sad to say that in this kind of religious war no laws are followed and the enemy is unknown. What kind of laws the Taliban and their terrorist brothers following when they are targeting Pakistani citizens.
    I have been raised in a slum of Pakistan by a single mother. However, she made sure that I do not associate with questionable peope. It is the job of parents to keep their kids safe and away from the trouble makers. On the contrary many parents hand their kids over to the terrorists for “all kinds of training”. Some Pakistani parents are too busy and proud of making babies and not to protect them.
    Why there are no drone attacks in all the large cities of Pakistan? If the US is targeting Pakistani kids, then what is stopping them from taking a shot at our schools and population centers?
    On my part I have been very vocal in the US against its foreign policies, against the invasion of Iraq, or action in Libya, to name a few. Nobody can stop me from telling the truth, which is my right under first amendment.


  • najib moha
    Aug 13, 2011 - 12:23AM

    spot on, Mirza. thanks for speaking some truth. it is ok for taliba to kill and you would never hear any protests then, sadly. here in Us, pakistani muslims are up in arms against US for drone strikes but they fail to condemn attack by taliban, attack on other minorities or killing of innocents by islamic terrorism which is our biggest import from arabs.


  • raza
    Aug 13, 2011 - 12:24AM

    @mf hussain:
    that is very stupid of you to say that the killing of 168 children is not a matter of concern. If hundreds of children die annually due to natural diseases this means we should forget about those 168 killed in 7 years ?!? moreover, these people are not fond of living with terrorrists, the latter hide in different places without anyone knowing, just like many of TTP’s terrorrists are caught from different areas of Karachi and the neighbors dont even have a hint about their presence.

  • Cynical
    Aug 13, 2011 - 1:24AM


    Well said.The problem is, the moment you oppose the religious fundamentalists, you are labelled as pro US.


  • Cynical
    Aug 13, 2011 - 1:28AM

    Fight against the infidel US,if you must, just don’t hide among civilians.


  • MS - Mariya
    Aug 13, 2011 - 2:45AM

    How conveniently we Pakistanis blame the Americans for killing these children. Yes Americans arm the drone..yes they fly it..yes they press the trigger but these kids are getting killed because

    It’s not our kid..some poor illiterate child with no future anyway
    We refuse to stand up to corrupt politicians and dictator like Egyptians did it.
    We refuse to stand up against the intolerant mullahs who end up creating terrorist organizations.
    Too busy playing the blame game…my neighbor is an Ahmadi and he is the biggest treat to Islam.
    Canadian visa process is easier than coming on streets against corrupt

    These kids are getting killed by Pakistanis and not Americans. Why can’t we eliminate Tehreek-i-taliban who are the cause of suicide bombs and reason behind American drone attacks.


  • Farzana
    Aug 13, 2011 - 3:16AM

    I dont believe comments coming from this page are made by Pakistani Muslims. For God’s sake think what would you do if a foreign country attacked your house and killed your children and your government and army did nothing about it. America declared war on Pakistan the first day they attacked our soil. All you people supporting this crime are just as bad as the Americans killing these children.


  • Farzana
    Aug 13, 2011 - 4:42AM

    @Mirza: You are not a liberal. Real liberals want freedom and liberty for all, including the innocent men, women, and children of Waziristan. Real liberals are those in the west protesting against Bush’s and Obama’s war on the Afghanis, Pakistanis, Iraqis, and Libyans. You are just one of the thousands of South Asians with an inferiority complex who still thinks the goraiy engraiz are your masters and you must do anything to please them. For God’s sake have some self esteem.


  • Aug 13, 2011 - 9:25AM

    @Hasan: ‘Your source was incomplete and has misinterpreted the words of Madeleine Albright.’

    I gave the link to the complete source. It has everything including the ‘I was trapped! I was trapped!‘ statement. Focus on what actually happened instead of whether she was trapped or not.


  • Basit Siddiqui
    Aug 13, 2011 - 2:57PM

    and you oppose killing of suspected talibans and their children and you labelled as Taliban.I dont know what you call it we call it Bi-polar disorder.

    Both could be wrong and both are wrong


  • Basit Siddiqui
    Aug 13, 2011 - 3:07PM

    I am struggling to understand your point. Are you saying American can behave like Taliban if it is easier. If not what makes us different ?
    Why not American just simply fully accept that they carrying out drone attacks ? Simply, because they know it is illegal by international laws.

    Making babies has nothing to do with drones.

    Are you a liberal ? No, I dont think so.

    And the drone attacks are not in large cities because media will show the damage.


  • Basit Siddiqui
    Aug 13, 2011 - 3:15PM


    A failed US war, which is struggling to find moral support even in its own country, has many, if not all, well wishers in the country where they committing crimes. No wonder they had many in Vietnam when they killed in millions.


  • G. Din
    Aug 13, 2011 - 11:27PM

    @Basit Siddiqui:
    *”Why not American just simply fully accept that they carrying out drone attacks ? Simply, because they know it is illegal by international laws.

    Making babies has nothing to do with drones.”*

    How did it escape you, sir, that:
    1. Americans have sought facilities for those drone attacks from Pakistan and been given those;
    2. Americans are the only ones with such precision technology.
    3. they are not illegal by international laws unless you show how?;
    4. if they were illegal, isn’t it Pakistan’s duty to bring it to the attention of the world? Instead Pakistan has made its facilities available without which it would not have been possible to fire those drones. And, if Pakistan does do that, that would be your fault, per se.
    5. you must not have heard the expression everything is fair in love and self-defence. If Agent Orange was not illegal in Viet Nam, how can such precision strikes be illegal?

    So, where is the need to accept on America’s part when it is clear as daylight to the whole world. You don’t think that they are frightened that you might expose them, do you?
    As far as making babies is concerned, when you have a bountiful supply of such bomb-carriers, you don’t value each one of them as you would if you had only one. They wouldn’t be near their parents, the terrorists, in large numbers to be killed collaterally. You would protect that one instead of selling him or handing him to mullahs, which is not much different! So, making babies with abandon without caring about them has much to do with drone-strikes!


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