Obama releases official figures of civilian casualties from drone strikes

The Obama administration has finally released figures on the number of civilians killed in non-combat areas including Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.

The figures exclude Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence claims that between 2009 to 2015 airstrikes killed between 64 and 116 civilians in the four countries. This is the first time that the Obama administration has provided official estimates of the death toll from drones. He also issued that an executive order report on drone strikes annually including the number of combatants and non-combatants killed. The order also instructs the government to increase efforts to avoid civilian casualties and acknowledge them when they do occur. Hina Shamsi, the director of the National Security Project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that the order was a "positive step but riddled with caveats and weak formulations."
The official numbers are much lower than those estimated by journalists and researchers. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London estimates that at least 325 civilians have been killed in drone strikes outside of war zones by the Obama administration. The New America Foundation estimates are somewhat lower at 247 to 294. Neither estimate included Libya. The estimates are still more than double those of the official statistics. The government insists that the US government is better informed as it has classified information unavailable to outside investigators. The report notes: . "The U.S. Government uses post-strike methodologies that have been refined and honed over the years and that use information that is generally unavailable to non-governmental organizations."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism actually gives much higher casualty figures than those attributed to it above by Mother Jones.
Bureau article says of the US official figures:This is a fraction of the 380 to 801 civilian casualty range recorded by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from reports by local and international journalists, NGO investigators, leaked government documents, court papers and the result of field investigations.
At the same time, the estimates of the total number killed are much less different. The US government total is 2,436 killed, while the Bureau's total is 2,753. The official data has been a long time coming as the White House announced three years ago it would release casualty figures. It comes four months after Obama's counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco promised the data would be released.
The figures do not include those killed under the administration of George Bush who carried out an estimated 58 strikes which were estimated to have killed 174 civilians. The newly released figures are not broken down by year, nor do they provide any detail on controversial strikes. Jamel Jaffer of the ACLU said:“While any disclosure of information about the government’s targeted-killing policies is welcome, the government should be releasing information about every strike—the date of the strike, the location, the numbers of casualties, and the civilian or combatant status of those casualties. Perhaps this kind of information should be released after a short delay, rather than immediately, but it should be released. The public has a right to know who the government is killing—and if the government doesn’t know who it’s killing, the public should know that.”Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve noted that back in 2011 the US administration claimed to have only killed 60 civilians but now its estimates lead one to conclude that it is possible that there have only been four more since then to arrive at the 64 number at the low end of their estimates.
Obama said as the figures were released: “All armed conflict invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.” The statement is similar to that made by John Brennan in June 2011 who said the drone strikes were "exceptionally precise and surgical" and had not killed a single civilian since August 2010.
A Bureau investigation concluded that there had been 213 civilian killed in Pakistan alone during Obama's presidency. An investigation into a drone strike in Yemen revealed that the US hid its responsibility for a strike on a camp that killed 41 civilians many of them children and 5 pregnant women. Often the US has little idea of who was killed in a strike and the dead often remain unidentified. The situation is made worse by the use of signature strikes which target people on the basis of their behavior and double-tap strikes that target those who come to help those hit by an earlier strike. Leaked records from CIA strikes show that not only did they not know who they killed but did not know what group they belonged to. They are listed as "other militants" or "foreign fighters."
According to the figures released between 2,372 and 2,581 militants were killed. An anonymous administration official did admit to reporters that exact figures were difficult to determine since the strikes often took place in "non-permissive environments". In the past, the administration has refused even to acknowledge the drone program existed in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.


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