Monday 27 February 2012

Debate on drone casualties continues

The debate about the effectiveness or otherwise of the CIA's secret drone campaign in Pakistan continues. The latest salvo comes from an Associated Press investigation, carried out by an AP reporter who spoke to about 80 villagers at the sites of 10 attacks in North Waziristan - one of the main sanctuaries for militants fighting against the Karzai government and Coalition troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The survey found that 194 people were killed in the ten attacks, of whom at least 138 were militants, according to the villagers. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police. Of these, 38 were killed in a single attack on 17 March 2011 - widely reckoned to have been a major mis-targetting.
If that strike - one of the worst civilian death tolls since the drone campaign began - is excluded, says AP, then nearly 90 per cent of people killed were militants, according to locals.
Neither the CIA nor the US government will provide any figures for deaths caused by a total of more than 300 drone strikes since 2004; but both generally deny that any civilians are killed. In response to criticism, defenders of the drone campaign point to the large number of senior militants killed in such strikes.
Nor is it easily possible to get accurate figures from the region, which is off-limits to foreign journalists. However, the numbers collected by AP were very close to figures given at the time of each strike by Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. These same officials seldom break down the figures into civilians and militants.
The figures differ widely from those often bandied about in Pakistan, where the drone attacks are controversial, with some politicians claiming almost all victims are civilians.
They also differ from those produced by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism whose recent reports suggest somewhere between 70-80 per cent of all drone-related deaths in Pakistan are of militants. 
Last week, Reprieve, the human rights NGO, filed a complaint at the UN against the USA for the killing of innocent civilians in Pakistan in drone attacks. The complaint was filed on behalf of 18 civilians in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas who claim that relatives have been killed or wounded or property has been destroyed by missiles fired by drones.


Anonymous said...

138 Militants/194 Total = 71% Militants, so it actually does fall into the Bureau of Investigative Jounralism's 70-80% range.

Not sure if it's valid to throw out the drone strike with the highest civilian casualties - such strikes are uncommon but have happened in the past as well.

Nick Fielding said...

I think the point AP is trying to make is that missile strikes, such as the one on 17 March last year which killed a large number of civilians, are atypical and therefore should be excluded, or at least adjusted. AP's logic, not mine. The problem with the BoIJ research is that it relies primarily on local press reports. The source of these reports is usually an ISI intelligence officer speaking off the record. Anyone who trusts the Pak military's own figures for militants killed/wounded in its aerial strikes on such places as Orakzai for example, would quickly come to grief. This is an intensely political subject in Pakistan and it is difficult to see how accurate figures can be obtained so long as news reporting is restricted in FATA.