Drone Attacks in Pakistan - Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

According to unnamed counterterrorism officials, in 2009 or 2010 CIA drones began employing smaller missiles in airstrikes in Pakistan in order to reduce civilian casualties. The new missiles, called the Small Smart Weapon or Scorpion, are reportedly about the size of a violin case (21 inches long) and weigh 16 kg. The missiles are used in combination with new technology intended to increase accuracy and expand surveillance, including the use of small, unarmed surveillance drones to exactly pinpoint the location of targets. These "micro-UAVs" (unmanned aerial vehicles) can be roughly the size of a pizza platter and meant to monitor potential targets at close range, for hours or days at a time. One former U.S. official who worked with micro-UAVs said that they can be almost impossible to detect at night. "It can be outside your window and you won't hear a whisper," the official said. The drone operators also have changed to trying to target insurgents in vehicles rather than residences to reduce the chances of civilian casualties.

A January 2011 report by Bloomberg stated that civilian casualties in the strikes had apparently decreased. According to the report, the U.S. Government believed that 1,300 militants and only 30 civilians had been killed in drone strikes since mid-2008, with no civilians killed since August 2010.

On 14 July 2009, Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution stated that although accurate data on the results of drone strikes is difficult to obtain, it seemed that ten civilians had died in the drone attacks for every militant killed. Byman argues that civilian killings constitute a humanitarian tragedy and create dangerous political problems, including damage to the legitimacy of the Pakistani government and alienation of the Pakistani populace from America. He suggested that the real answer to halting al-Qaeda's activity in Pakistan will be long-term support of Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts.

United States officials claim that interviews with locals do not provide accurate numbers of civilian casualties because relatives or acquaintances of the dead refuse to admit that the victims were involved in militant activities.

The CIA reportedly passed up three chances to kill militant leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, with drone missiles in 2010 because women and children were nearby. The New America Foundation believes that between zero and 18 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since 23 August 2010 and that overall civilian casualties have decreased from 25% of the total in prior years to an estimated 6% in 2010. The Foundation estimates that between 277 and 435 non-combatants have died since 2004, out of 1,374 to 2,189 total deaths.

According to a report of the Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Center (CMC), as of 2011, more than 2000 persons have been killed, and most of those deaths were civilians. The CMC termed the CIA drone strikes as an "assassination campaign turning out to be revenge campaign", and showed that 2010 was the deadliest year so far as regards casualties resulting from drone attacks, with 134 strikes inflicting over 900 deaths.

According to the Long War Journal, as of mid-2011, the drone strikes in Pakistan since 2006 had killed 2,018 militants and 138 civilians. The New America Foundation stated in mid-2011 that since 2004 2,551 people have been killed in the strikes, with 80% of those militants. The Foundation stated that 95% of those killed in 2010 were militants. and that, as of 2012, 15% of the total people killed by drone strikes were either civilians or unknown. The foundation also states that in 2012 the rate of civilian and unknown casualties was 2 percent, whereas the Bureau of Investigative Journalism say the rate of civilian casualties for 2012 is 9 percent.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism based on extensive research found in mid-2011 that at least 385 civilians were among the dead, including more than 160 children.

The CIA has claimed that the strikes conducted between May 2010 and August 2011 killed over 600 militants and did not result in any civilian fatalities; this assessment has been criticized by Bill Roggio from the Long War Journal and other commentators as being unrealistic. Unnamed American officials who spoke to the New York Times claimed that, as of August 2011, the drone campaign had killed over 2,000 militants and approximately 50 noncombatants.

An independent research site Pakistan Body Count run by Dr. Zeeshan-ul-hassan a Fulbright scholar keeping track of all the drone attacks claims that 2179 civilians were among the dead, out of which 12.4% were children and women . A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, released 4 February 2012, stated that from under the Obama administration (2008–2011) drone strikes killed between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 children.

The British human rights group Reprieve filed a case with the United Nations Human Rights Council, based on sworn affidavits by 18 family members of civilians killed in the attacks – many of them children. They are calling on the UNHRC "to condemn the attacks as illegal human rights violations."

A February 2012 Associated Press investigation found that militants were the main victims of drone strikes in North Waziristan contrary to the "widespread perception in Pakistan that civilians... are the principal victims." The AP studied 10 drone strikes. Their reporters who spoke to about 80 villagers in North Waziristan were told that at least 194 people died in the ten attacks. According to the villagers 56 of those were either civilians or tribal police and 138 were militants, with 38 of the civilians dying in a single attack which took place on 17 March 2011. Villagers stated that one way to tell if civilians were killed was to observe how many funerals took place after a strike; the bodies of militants were usually taken elsewhere for burial, while civilians were usually buried immediately and locally.

A September 2012 report by researchers from Stanford University and New York University criticized the drone campaign, stating that it was killing a high number of civilians and turning the Pakistani public against the United States. The report, compiled by interviewing witnesses, drone-attack survivors, and others in Pakistan provided by a Pakistani human rights organization, Foundation for Fundamental Rights, concluded that only 2% of drone strike victims are "high-level" militant leaders. The report's authors did not estimate the numbers of total civilian casualties, but suggested that the February 2012 Bureau of Investigative Journalism report was more accurate than the Long War Journal report (both detailed above) on civilian casualties. The report also opined that the drone attacks were violations of international law, because the US government had not shown that the targets were direct threats to the US. The report further noted the US policy of considering all military-age males in a strike zone as militants unless exonerating evidence proves otherwise. Media outlets were also urged to cease using the term "militant" when reporting on drone attacks without further explanation.

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