US Releases First Estimate of Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes

At least 64 since 2009, a figure lower than independent estimates
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2016 6:22 AM CDT
In this 2010 photo, an unmanned Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

(Newser) – After years of pressure, the White House has released details about the number of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes—though the information comes with plenty of asterisks. The official estimate is that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed in such strikes since 2009, reports USA Today. Some of those asterisks: That range is much lower than estimates by independent groups—their figures go from about 200 to more than 1,000—and the White House doesn't specify when or where the fatalities occurred except to say they were in non-war zones. That means strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria were not counted, but those in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and LIbya were, reports the Washington Post. The US also says that it killed about 2,500 enemy militants in those same non-combat zones.

As part of the release—most coverage notes that the White House did this on a Friday before a holiday weekend—President Obama made a significant policy change: He issued an executive order requiring that future presidents make this information public in an annual list, notes the New York Times. "This is a remarkable shift, even if you’re skeptical of numbers this reports," writes Naureen Shah at the Guardian. But Shah also sees a downside: "The drone data could be completely misleading—and provide a veneer of legitimacy to unlawful killings." The reaction from Human Rights Watch: “Unless details are provided on specific incidents, it’s not possible to determine if individuals killed were civilians, and thus whether the US is complying with its own policy and with international law." (Read more drones stories.)

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