The US now has 7,000 drones operating and 12,000 more on the ground: report - Reuters (File Photo)

An investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed that the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to rescue victims or were attending funerals.

The report was published days after US President Barack Obama claimed that the drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” in Pakistan.

However, according to research by the Bureau, it was stated that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. The report claims that: “A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.”

The first confirmed attack on rescuers took place in North Waziristan on May 16, 2009. According to Mushtaq Yusufzai, a local journalist, Taliban militants had gathered in the village of Khaisor and at least 29 people died in total.

The Bureau reports that along with Taliban militants, locals said that six ordinary villagers also died that day. They were identified by Bureau field researchers as Sabir, Ikram, Mohib, Zahid, Mashal and Syed Noor.

Interestingly, the reports also reveal that often when the US attacks militants in Pakistan, the Taliban seal off the site to retrieve the dead. However, “an examination of thousands of credible reports relating to CIA drone strikes also shows frequent references to civilian rescuers. Mosques often exhort villagers to come forward and help, for example – particularly following attacks that mistakenly kill civilians.”

Quoting Christof Heyns, a South African law professor who is United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial Executions, the report states that “Allegations of repeat strikes coming back after half an hour when medical personnel are on the ground are very worrying. To target civilians would be crimes of war.” Heyns is calling for an investigation into the Bureau’s findings.

The Bureau’s report also states that according to Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Initiative at the Brookings Institution, the US now has 7,000 drones operating and 12,000 more on the ground.

Aside from Pakistan, there is also debate over the use of drones in Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The Bureau’s report in the Sunday Times claims that three US citizens were also killed by missiles fired from drones in Yemen last September.