US releases civilian death toll from drone strikes

Obama administration releases incomplete data of drone strike victims for the first time in seven years. The new policy on drone strikes in countries where the US is not at war has also been made public.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US drone

Updated Jul 3, 2016

The Obama administration has released selective seven-year data of deaths resulting from controversial US drone strikes.

It estimates that there were between 64 and 116 civilian deaths caused by drone strikes from 2009 to 2016.

The Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence, which compiled the report, said that about 2,500 members of terrorist groups were killed during the same period.

The data belongs to drone strikes that were conducted outside the conventional areas of war in violation of the international norms.  

Many of the strikes have been carried out in Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

A man walks past graffiti denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen painted on a wall in Sanna.

This figure is far lower than estimates compiled by independent rights bodies.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the number of civilians casualties from drone strikes was at least 325. 

New America Foundation’s assessment suggests that this figure is 225, while the Long War Journal believes that 212 civilians were killed in the strikes.

However, the government report says that outside groups had published "significantly higher figures," but said their numbers relied on reports about events in remote and inaccessible areas that might be inaccurate or tainted by "terrorist propaganda."

"The government should be releasing information about every strike – the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties," Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union was quoted by the US media as saying.

Without stating the locations and dates of strikes, he said it is impossible to compare the administration’s numbers with independent accounts.

Nabila Rehman holds up a picture she drew depicting the US drone strike on her Pakistan

In the lead up to his departure from the White House later this year, President Barack Obama also issued an executive order that binds governments in the future to disclose the number of civilian deaths from drone strikes each year.

The executive order said that the annual reports from the directorate should address any discrepancy between the official body count and what independent groups estimate.

The administration also issued a policy on drones and it named Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria as “areas of active hostilities” excluded from the policy.

President Obama

A senior administration official told the New York Times that tribal areas in Pakistan — which the government treats as an extension of the Afghan battlefield in certain contexts — is not such an area; casualties there are part of the official civilian death toll.

In a ruling on one of drone lawsuits filed by Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR), a legal aid organisation, the Peshawar High Court categorically ordered Pakistan’s government to defend its citizens’ right to life by demanding that the US halts drone strikes and compensate civilian victims.

Pakistan’s parliament adopted two resolutions, one declaring drone strikes a counterproductive violation of sovereignty and the other requesting the US to stop such strikes.

Parliament of Pakistan

Shahzad Akbar, a legal director at FFR, has long pursued this issue. He also collected data to reveal untold facts about these strikes, bringing the miseries of many drone victims’ families before media.

While recalling the plight of a family from Pakistan’s tribal region, he said that a few days after President Obama’s inaugural address in 2008, a CIA-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi’s home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim. He was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach.

There were no militants present, he said.

A US drone targeted a seminary in Pakistan

A recent book called ‘Kill or Capture’ reveals that President Obama was informed about the erroneous target but did not offer any form of redress because the US at the time did not acknowledge the existence of its drone programme in Pakistan.

Title of the book


TRTWorld and agencies