The Obama Administration released statistics last Friday on the number of casualties from drone strikes and some human rights organizations have problems with it.
Since 2009, the government said 473 strikes had killed between 2,372 and 2,581 combatants. Additionally, 64-116 non-combatant deaths were also listed. The classified strikes took place in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. These strikes were classified outside of “war zones”.
Many dispute those numbers. The Long War Journal, a think tank that regularly reports on the Global War on Terror, says instead an estimated 207 civilians have been killed during that timeframe (100 killed in Pakistan, 107 in Yemen). New America’s most recent estimates say up to 315 non-combatants have been killed in Pakistan alone. Disputes over how many non-combatants have been killed is nothing new. Reports in 2013 raised the same concerns with US drone program in Pakistan.
Along with the statistics, the Administration also released a Presidential Executive Order on “Pre and Post Strike Measures to Address Civilian Casualties in US Operations Involving the Use of Force”. The Executive Order describes three objectives in an effort to be as transparent as possible regarding drone strikes. First, it lays out best practices to protect civilians. Second, the order allows for the US Government to work with NGO’s in an effort to achieve a credible count of civilian casualties. Third, it directs the Director of National Intelligence to provide an annual report on drone strike casualties.
One thing is clear when discussion how many combatants and non-combatants were killed in drone strikes: no one knows for sure. The Obama Administration’s release of statistics gave only a range and were not exact figures. Additionally, there were was no breakdown of the numbers such as location attacked and what specific targets were hit. This makes analyzing the data unclear at best.
The Administration currently considers areas in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan to be areas of “active hostilities” and not a part of the Executive Order.
You can read the full DNI report here
You can read the associated New York Times article here