CATF Reports Jun. 30, 2016, 8:52am


Over the next few weeks, the Obama administration is expected to issue an executive order requiring the United States to reveal official estimates of the number of civilians killed by unmanned ‘drone’ airstrikes in shadow wars around the world. According to several sources, the administration will announce that 100 civilians have died in nearly 500 U.S. drone strikes since January 20, 2009. This shift in U.S. policy is designed to shed light on the details of a controversial drone program that have largely been hidden from the public despite the program’s expansion under Obama. U.S. officials have expressed their hope that disclosing this information will “maintain the legitimacy of our (U.S.) counterterrorism actions and the broad support of our allies.”

Yet, it is the legitimacy of the expected estimate of 100 deaths that has come into question by organizations monitoring civilian deaths caused by the U.S. drone program. While the locations of the semi-official conflicts being monitored vary by organization (often including Pakistan, Yemen, and occasionally Somalia and Libya), most independent estimates are closer to 1,000 civilian deaths. For example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that 1,068 civilians have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, the vast majority since 2009. The administration has yet to acknowledge the figures introduced by these organizations.

Rather than directly countering conflicting statistics, the administration has emphasized the precision of unmanned drones and their role in weakening al Qaeda and preventing the United States from becoming entangled in ground wars against militants. But the widespread allegations challenging the authenticity of the expected U.S. figures jeopardize the administration’s efforts to explain its counterterrorism actions openly, and will allow for terrorist propaganda and suspicion to emerge. It remains uncertain if the first civilian casualty report, which has been delayed by a lengthy internal debate, will address the disputed number of deaths caused by U.S. drones.

From The Daily Beast:

“The order is intended to shed light on the U.S. effort to minimize civilian casualties, amid numerous claims that a 1,000 or more innocents have been killed. But the suggestion that only 100 have died from the thousands of U.S. strikes could reignite debate about whether the U.S. actually knows who it’s killing through its furtive air war.[…]

The administration has called its drone program a precise, effective form of warfare that targets terrorists and reduces the chances of the United States becoming embroiled in quagmires in the war against extremists. But many opponents said the United States often does not know who it is killing—and even worse that it’s evasive about who it’s targeting. Even some defense officials fear the drone program has led some to join extremist groups.”

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