ISLAMABAD, Oct 30: The Ministry of Defence claimed on Wednesday that US drone attacks over the past five years had resulted in 67 non-combatant deaths, while 2,160 terrorists were killed by the much-criticised America’s weapon of choice against terrorism.

Importantly, the defence ministry said in a written statement in Senate that the collateral damage caused by the drone strikes had reduced to nil since 2012.

It is the first time that the so far jealously guarded date has been officially released by the government. The statement by the defence ministry came in response to a question submitted by PML-N lawmaker Senator Nisar Mohammad in February this year.

The release of the data follows intense criticism of the US drone war by human rights activists.

The Amnesty International had in its report said the strikes amounted to war crimes because some of them killed people who posed no threat to the US national security interests.

UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson in his annual report submitted to the General Assembly in September had raised the issue of civilian casualties caused by America’s lethal extra-territorial counter-terrorism operation and had asked Washington to make public the information on collateral damage.

The critics of drone attacks had relied on the narrative that it killed thousands of civilians and consequently fomented extremism in the country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who last week met President Obama, made the drone attacks a central point of his meeting agenda.

Secret CIA and diplomatic memos leaked to media after the criticism of drone programme suggested that the Pakistan government had been on board with regard to drone attacks at least over the four-year period from 2007-11.

The figures presented in Senate contradicted the numbers shared by the government with UN Rapporteur Emmerson, who had been told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March this year that of the 2,200 people killed by drones the government could confirm that at least 400 were civilians, and another 200 were likely non-combatants.

The figure of hundreds of civilians having been killed by drones, Emmerson was then told, was an “underestimate”.

The defence ministry’s statement corroborates US stance that drones are the most effective way of targeting terrorists with minimal collateral damage.

President Obama had in his policy speech on counter-terrorism in May had said that he was making the drone campaign more transparent and accountable and that the frequency of strikes would decrease with 2014 drawing closer.

The figures provided by the defence ministry confirmed that the strikes by drones were down to 14 this year against peak of 115 in 2010. The US carried out 34 strikes in 2008, 47 in 2009, 115 in 2010, 62 in 2011, 45 in 2012 and 14 in 2013.

Of the 2,160 terrorists killed so far by drones, 283 were eliminated in 2008, 451 in 2009, 751 in 2010, 356 in 2011, 235 in 2012 and 84 in 2013.

Drones are known to have got rid of some top high-profile targets including Mullah Sangeen Zadran, deputy operational commander of the Haqqani Network; Waliur Rehman, the deputy emir of TTP; Mullah Nazir, who led the TTP in South Waziristan; Hassan Gul, the one-time Osama bin Laden emissary to Abu Musab al Zarqawi; Abu Yahya al Libi, who served as Al Qaeda's chief of staff; Abu Usman Adil, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; Badr Mansoor, Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan; Senior Al Qaeda leaders Abu Miqdad al Masri, Abd al Rahman al Yemeni, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, Ilyas Kashmiri, Baitullah Mehsud, during this period, just to name a few.

Non-combatant casualties occurred in 2008 (21), 2009 (09), 2010 (02), and 2011(35). Since then, the defence ministry said no civilian has been killed in drone attacks hinting to an increase in precision of the pilotless aircraft.

But, there are doubts that this disclosure would result in immediate shift in policy that for long time promoted anti-drone sentiments due to domestic political compulsions.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid told reporters that the government had not changed its tack on drones and continues to be hopeful of getting them stopped.

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