Most drone strikes hit unintended targets, says report

Published October 17, 2015
Nearly 85 per cent of people killed by US drones in recent strikes are unintended targets.—AP/File
Nearly 85 per cent of people killed by US drones in recent strikes are unintended targets.—AP/File

WASHINGTON: Nearly 85 per cent of people killed by US drones in recent strikes were unintended targets, says a report released on Friday.

The report by an online news site The Intercept also says that US drone strikes have killed scores of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.

The Intercept was established in February 2014 by the founders of the multi-billion dollars online auction site, e-Bay founders, to “produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues”.

The news site reports that the US campaign, known as “Operation Haymaker” was meant to target Al Qaeda and Taliban leads and has so far killed more than 200 people. But only 35 of these were enemy targets.

It’s unclear how long this mission lasted, but by the end of 2013, the number of civilian casualties by drones in Afghanistan tripled from the prior year.

The report points out that drone attacks, laser-guided bombs and “nonlethal weapons”, which were supposed to reduce civilian casualties and suffering, have failed to achieve the goal.

The report, compiled from classified documents released by a source in the intelligence community, corroborates the many news accounts of civilian deaths in drone strikes.

The report notes that while US government officials claim the drone strikes rarely harm innocent civilians, strikes can kill or injure anyone in the area, even while focusing on a targeted individual.

“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the source of the documents told The Intercept. When “a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”

In one five-month period of the operation, nearly 90 per cent of those killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets, The Intercept reports.

The report acknowledges that US has better intelligence in Afghanistan than in places like Yemen and Somalia, where the ratios of civilian deaths may be even worse.

US government statements minimising the number of civilian casualties from drone strikes were “exaggerating at best, if not outright lies”, said the source, which provided classified documents to the news site.

Asked about the report, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama “has obviously made a policy decision to try to be as transparent as possible about our counter-terrorism operations all around the world”. Those operations “go to great lengths to limit civilian casualties,” he added.

Published in Dawn, October 17th , 2015

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