> our title:

Study Counts Civilian Deaths Caused by UAV Strikes

> original title:

Covert Drone War

(Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism; published July 27, 2011)

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has embarked on a detailed study of civilian deaths caused by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

Our analysis comes less than a month after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan publicly stated: ‘…that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop’.

The Bureau’s Investigation

The US military’s emphasis has shifted dramatically towards covert operations in recent years. Special Forces troops on the ground and unmanned CIA planes in the air, are now key instruments in the US military arsenal.  The killing of Osama bin Laden and the use of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are evidence of this new warfare.

As the ‘War on Terror’ enters its second decade, public scrutiny and accountability remain critical.  The first ten years saw significant military excess uncovered by journalists: Abu Ghraib; rendition; torture and secret prisons; and financial scandal.  Some of these were the work of covert forces, others by the regular military.

As the war becomes more covert, so scrutiny becomes ever more necessary – and more complex. The Bureau intends to examine aspects of the covert global war on terror – and will be directed by the evidence, and not by doctrine.

Our analysis and what is has revealed

The Bureau’s analysis of 116 drone strikes that took place between August 2010 and Brennan’s speech on June 29 reveals:

- 10 drone strikes in which a total of at least 45 civilians have been killed.

- Six named children killed by these strikes.

- At least 15 additional strikes are likely to have killed many more civilians.

- US drone strikes in Pakistan have risen from one a year in 2004 to one every four days under President Obama.

- The US continues to insist that drone strikes are ‘the most accurate weapon in history’.


US Claims Of ‘No Civilian Deaths’ Are Untrue

(Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism; published July 18, 2011)

Claims by President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan that ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral [civilian] death’ in Pakistan since August 2010 are found to be untrue today, following a major Bureau investigation.

According to Brennan, Barack Obama himself has ‘insisted’ that US drone strikes are ‘exceptionally surgical and precise’ and ‘do not put… innocent men, women and children in danger’.

Yet a detailed examination by the Bureau of 116 CIA ‘secret’ drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2010 has uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died.

The Bureau has identified and can provide the family names for, six children among those killed. At least 15 additional strikes warrant urgent investigation, with many more civilian deaths possible.

Despite the Bureau’s evidence, US intelligence agencies insist that no civilians have died.  A senior official described the Bureau’s data as ‘wildly inaccurate’, but refused to share any evidence.

‘No civilians killed’

For more than six months, US intelligence sources have been insisting that there have been no civilian deaths since a drone strike on August 23 2010. That CIA attack caused the deaths of at least seven civilians, all women and children, and reportedly led to a policy change in how strikes are targeted.

Last month, one of President Obama’s most trusted advisers went on the record with the claim. John Brennan is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism, and former deputy executive director of the CIA.

Asked on June 29 about US ‘targeted killings’, a euphemism which in this case referred to the CIA drone strikes, Brennan responded: ‘One of the things President Obama has insisted on is that we’re exceptionally precise and surgical in terms of addressing the terrorist threat. And by that I mean, if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.’

He was more precise: ‘In fact I can say that the types of operations… that the US has been involved in, in the counter-terrorism realm, that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.’

In recent months, as part of a major investigation of the US covert war on terror, the Bureau has examined 116 reported CIA drone strikes in Pakistan between August 23 2010 and June 29 2011.

Between them, the attacks have killed at least 740 people, among them 36 named fighters from al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups. Hundreds of unnamed low-ranking fighters are also likely to be among the dead.

But civilian deaths have been credibly reported in more than one in five of the strikes.

To date, the Bureau has identified 45-56 civilian victims across 10 individual strikes – the most recent in mid-June 2011. The dead include six children.

Brennan unveiled the US’s global counter-terrorism strategy for the coming decade. This will rely heavily on drone strikes and Special Forces raids in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen.

There is also sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation into at least 15 further strikes, in which 66 or more additional civilians may have died.

Clive Stafford Smith is an American human rights lawyer who lives in Britain and heads up Reprieve, a campaigning law firm. He said the Bureau’s investigation raises major concerns about whether President Obama is being misled about civilian deaths:

‘I voted for President Obama, and had high hopes in his administration. There is the greatest danger here of a falsehood being told by US intelligence services, which misleads President Obama into taking decisions which are manifestly contrary to America’s best interests.’

Get the data: Twenty-five deadly strikes

The Bureau presented a summary of its findings to the White House and to John Brennan’s office, and asked for comment. Both declined.

But a senior US official told the Bureau: ‘There haven’t been any noncombatant casualties for about a year, and assertions to the contrary are wrong. The most accurate information on counter-terror operations resides with the United States, and this list is wildly inaccurate. Those operations are designed to protect America and our allies, including Pakistan, from terrorists who continue to seek to kill innocents around the world.’

Yet civilians continue to die in US strikes. Our researchers have identified that on July 12 Abdul Jalil, a migrant worker on leave from Dubai, died in a drone attack which also killed eight suspected militants.