U.S. drones haven’t killed a civilian in Pakistan since 2011, according to data from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government that runs counter to other tallies showing more deaths of innocent bystanders.
Civilians have accounted for 3 percent of the 2,227 people killed in drone strikes since the beginning of 2008, according to data from Pakistan’s defense ministry. None have died since 35 were killed in 2011, the figures showed, supporting President Barack Obama’s assertion that the program eliminates militants while limiting civilian casualties even as his administration declines to reveal information on the attacks.
“If the strikes are as accurate as claimed by the administration, then it should have no problem disclosing videos of the strikes and their legal rationale,” said Polly Truscott, deputy Asia-Pacific director of London-based Amnesty International, referring to the White House. “The USA is carrying out its drones campaign without revealing the most basic information and the Pakistani authorities have failed to properly investigate drone strikes.”
Sharif, who won a May election after campaigning to end the strikes, called for the U.S. to stop using drones in Pakistan during a meeting with Obama at the White House last week. His government condemned a U.S. strike today in the mountainous northeast region near the Afghanistan border that killed three suspected militants, according to Dawn newspaper.
“There is an across-the-board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement today. “Drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications.”
Prior to today’s attack, strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas fell to 14 this year after peaking at 115 in 2010, according to the defense ministry’s data released yesterday in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker. A total of 67 civilians were killed in the strikes from 2008 to 2013, the figures showed, without specifying exact dates.
The Long War Journal, which tracks drone strikes based on media reports, says 15 civilians have died since the beginning of 2012. Altogether 133 have been killed since 2008, accounting for 5 percent of deaths from the attacks, it said.
The New America Foundation, a U.S. based policy research group, found that 181 civilians were killed by drones in that time, making up at least 7 percent of deaths. It said five civilians died in 2012 and four this year.
Ben Emmerson, a United Nations envoy, called last week for countries to release data on civilian casualties from drone strikes. The U.S. has failed to reveal data on civilian casualties through drone strikes, as well as its methodology for evaluating them, according to a Sept. 18 UN report.
Pakistan’s government confirmed to the UN earlier this year that drone strikes killed at least 400 civilians since 2004, accounting for 18 percent of deaths in that time, the report said. Another 200 people were regarded as “probable non-combatants,” it said, without breaking down the years in which the deaths occurred.
U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are launched sometimes without legal justification and may amount to war crimes, Amnesty International said in an Oct. 22 report. The Obama administration should fully disclose the facts and legal basis for each drone strike and investigate any “potentially unlawfully killings,” the human rights group said.
Mamana Bibi, a 68-year-old grandmother, was killed by a missile in October 2012 as she picked vegetables, Amnesty International said in the report, which reviewed 45 known drone strikes in Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013. Another 18 laborers were killed in a July 2012 strike, including a 14-year-old boy, it said.
The drone program was started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Obama’s administration to thwart al-Qaeda’s operations. The attacks have killed militants belonging to al-Qaeda, Taliban and allied groups.
Obama “would strongly disagree” that the U.S. has acted outside of international law, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Oct. 22. He cited a May speech by Obama in which the president said the U.S. has a process to ensure targets are selected carefully to avoid civilian casualties.
“By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life,” Carney said. “U.S. counter-terrorism operations are precise, they are lawful and they are effective.”