Leaked internal data produced by Pakistani officials documenting drone strikes on the ground reveal a high civilian death toll, countering US claims that the targeted assassination campaign results in “exceedingly rare” fatalities.
A 12-page report, titled ‘Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)’ describes 75 CIA drone attacks between 2006 and 2009, with death tolls compiled by officials in the turbulent border regions for internal use by the government. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a UK news website – says it obtained three identical copies of the classified document from various sources in Pakistan.
The numbers show a death toll of 746 people, 147 of whom were confirmed as civilians. Of those civilian deaths, 94 are children. Statistically, it means at least one in five victims of US precision strikes was a civilian, and more than 12 per cent were minors.
Pakistani tribesmen gather for funeral prayers before the coffins of people allegedly killed in a US drone attack, claiming that innocent civilians were killed during a June 15 strike in the North Waziristan village of Tapi, 10 kilometers away from Miranshah, on June 16, 2011 (AFP Photo)
“There was no benefit in officials ‘cooking the books’ here, since this document was clearly never intended to be seen outside the civilian administration,” said Rauf Khan Khattak, who recently served as Pakistan’s interim finance minister.
The US President and the CIA do not have to disclose details of what is officially considered a classified program to Senate or to the public, so official American estimates have never been released. CIA Director John Brennan, considered to be the architect of the drone program, has said that “we only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances,” and that collateral deaths themselves are “exceedingly rare.” And an internal incomplete official report leaked earlier this year – covering a later period – showed that the CIA thought that only one out of every 482 people it killed was a civilian.
But the Pakistani numbers tally much closer with those provided by outside sources. The bipartisan New American Foundation estimates that at least 12 per cent of drone strike victims are definitely civilians, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism itself claims the number could be as high as 25 per cent.
Rauf Khan Khattak, a long-time opponent of foreign drone strikes, believes the newest figures could be the most reliable obtained so far.
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