An assessment produced by the Pakistan government on dozens of drone strikes conducted by the CIA that was not intended to be released to the public has leaked. The document shows that dozens of children were killed by drones between 2006 and 2009.
The report titled, “Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA,” was “obtained from three independent sources,” according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). It covers seventy-five drone strikes that occurred from January 13, 2006, to October 24, 2009.
Drawn from field reports by local officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the document lists over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009, alongside a small number of other incidents such as alleged Nato attacks and strikes by unspecified forces.
Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.
Some CIA strikes are missing from the document. None of the five reported strikes for 2007 are listed, for example. Also missing are any biographical details of those killed, although the genders of many victims are reported and – where known – whether any children died.
The document also fails to mention details of a number of senior militant commanders known to have died in the attacks. [emphasis added]
Yet again, here is an example of how a leak can be immensely valuable to the public’s understanding of government operations.
The US, as the TBIJ rightfully points out,
The numbers recorded are much higher than those provided by the US administration, which continues to insist that no more than 50 to 60 ‘non-combatants’ have been killed by the CIA across the entire nine years of Pakistan bombings. New CIA director John Brennan has described claims to the contrary as ‘intentional misrepresentations‘.
During a Google+ Hangout event on January 30, 2012, President Barack Obama claimed the government had only been using “precise” strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates. He said there’s a “perception” that the US is engaging in a bunch of strikes “willy nilly” when what is happening is a “targeted effort” to get people on a list, who want to hit Americans and American facilities.
Obama also said, according to a September 2012 report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict:
As a general proposition…I want to make sure that people understand that actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part they have been precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates and we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.
Also, “In 2009, Leon Panetta, then-director of the CIA and current Secretary of Defense, said that airstrikes in Pakistan were ‘very limited in terms of collateral damage.’”
These were Brennan’s remarks throughout 2011:
January 2011: According to an unnamed official, “since the drone program
accelerated in mid-August [we] have killed several hundred militants without causing any deaths among civilian non-combatants.”161
February 2011: According to an unnamed official, no civilian had been killed in more than 75 strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas since August 22,
June 2011: US counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said that “nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”
August 2011: Brennan stated: “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the US government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from US counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq, and we will continue to do our best to keep
it that way.”
This, as the Center explained, has “led to the stigmatization of civilians mistakenly targeted,” and the “fabled precision of drones can mean that civilian victims of drone strikes are assumed by their community to be connected to militancy. Victims face the double burden of dealing with the physical attack and also clearing their name.”
The same report further noted, “Most strikingly, US officials estimated in June 2010 that drone strikes had caused 50 civilian casualties to that date, but a half-year later they revised their estimate downward to 30 casualties.”
Remarks previously mentioned and secrecy have combined to make it seem like there is no reason for human rights groups to be upset. Naureen Shah, Advocacy Advisor for Amnesty International USA, commented, “More than four thousand people have been killed in drone strikes, but for the most part the US has stayed silent about precisely who they are. The United States government should be investigating any credible allegations of unlawful killings and going public with its own casualty numbers.” (Shah worked on the Center for Civilians in Conflict report.)
The Pakistan government has demanded the US end drone strikes, but the Obama administration has shown unremitting indifference to this demand, which has been made multiple times.
A high court in Pakistan previously ruled that drone strikes being carried out in Pakistan were “absolutely illegal” and constituted “war crimes.” It found “considerable damage to properties, livestock, wildlife & killing of infants/ suckling babies, women and preteen children” was an “uncondonable crime on the part of US authorities including the CIA.”