ISLAMABAD, July 18: A UK-based organisation has dismissed as untrue a recent claim by a senior US official that there has not been any civilian death in drone strikes in Pakistan since August last year.
An analysis of 116 drone strikes that took place between August 2010 and June 29 this year, conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, reveals that at least 45 civilians – six children among them – were killed in 10 strikes. At least 15 other predator attacks are believed to have killed more civilians, it says.
The research shows that the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has risen from one in 2004 to one every four days under President Barack Obama.
The US continues to insist that drone strikes are ‘the most accurate weapon in history’.
The report comes less than a month after President Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said: “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. 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.”
For more than six months, US intelligence sources have insisted that there have been no civilian deaths since a drone strike on Aug 23 last year killed seven women and children.
A US official told the bureau: “There haven’t been any non-combatant 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.” Clive Stafford Smith of a campaigning law firm, Reprieve, said: “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.”
Prof Anatol Lieven, who recently authored a book titled `Pakistan: A hard country’, and Chair of International Relations and Terrorism Studies at King’s College London, said: “These commanders don’t live in separate military headquarters or barracks; they live very often in their own houses with their own families. If you’re going to hit these people in their own houses at their headquarters you’re virtually bound to kill women and children.”
Chris Woods, who led the bureau’s investigation into drone strikes, said: “Washington believes that no civilians are dying in Pakistan drone strikes. Our evidence directly contradicts this. So it is unfortunate that the CIA chooses not to share its ‘accurate information’ with the world.”
Iain Overton, editor of the bureau, said: “A senior US official’s reaction to our findings was that drone attacks protected America from ‘terrorists who continue to seek to kill innocents around the world’. Our investigation, however, has shown it is these drones that killed innocents. The US has to answer for its actions.”
The Guardian carried a story on Sunday based on interviews of local people in Waziristan saying more civilians were being killed in drone strikes than terrorists.The story contains quotes of one Noor Behram, who has photographed and documented the impact of drone strikes in the area for three years. He says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in the tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit.
“For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant,” he said. “I don’t go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people are killed.”
According to Behram, the strikes not only kill the innocent but injure untold numbers and radicalise the population. He said even when the drones hit the right compound, the force of the blast was such that neighbours’ houses, often made of baked mud, were also demolished, crushing those inside.