US Govt to “exclude” 3/4 of drone strikes from civilian casualty numbers

May 23, 2016

Image of a drone flying

The Obama administration is set to “exclude Pakistan” from its publication of total casualties resulting from covert drone strikes, according to a report in the Washington Post.

If accurate, this would mean that as many as 72% of known covert drone strikes would be excluded from the tally, along with 84% of recorded casualties, according to figures from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In March this year, the White House announced that in “the coming weeks” it would release an assessment of civilian casualties resulting from strikes taken outside of warzones.  Drones operated by the CIA and US Special Forces are believed to have carried out hundreds of these strikes in secret, in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, where the US is not at war.  However, to date, the US Government has provided no public estimates of the resulting civilian death toll.

Yesterday’s report in the Post, based on anonymous sources in the US Government, claims that the tally  is “likely to exclude Pakistan” because the Obama administration “still does not publicly acknowledge CIA attacks inside Pakistan.”

This would mean not only excluding the bulk of known drone strikes outside of warzones, but also some of the worst reported errors of the program, including an attack on a funeral in June 2009 that killed as many as 50 civilians and a strike on a meeting of tribal elders in March 2011 that killed 41.

Pakistan has also reportedly seen the use of some of the most controversial aspects of the program, including “signature strikes,” where groups of people are killed on the basis of patterns of behaviour rather than being individually identified as targets.

The Post’s report also raises questions over whether CIA strikes will be excluded en bloc from the assessment, which would mean that a significant number of strikes undertaken in Yemen and elsewhere would not be assessed.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at international human rights organization Reprieve said:

“Over three years ago, President Obama promised the world more transparency about his deadly covert drone programme, because, in his words ‘no one should take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way.’ Yet, once again, that’s exactly what he’s asking us to do.

“Excluding the vast majority of drone strikes from this assessment means that it will hardly be worth the paper it is printed on.

“Numbers, without faces, were never going to tell us the true cost of this deadly programme, but they were a step in the right direction. Now it looks like even that little step into the light was one too many for this administration.”