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One in Three Killed By Drones in Pakistan Is a Civilian

Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 5th, 2010

A new report from the New America Foundation states that one of every three people killed in the U.S.’s not-so-secret drone war in Pakistan is a civilian. The report also discloses that none of the strikes in 2009 targeted Bin Laden, and that they have had little impact on the Taliban’s ability to plan operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To the contrary, the drone strikes serve as a powerful recruiting tool for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

According to New America Foundation’s Peter Bergen and Kathren Tiedemann (emphasis mine):

Our study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the present have killed between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom around 550 to 850 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 percent.

The authors note that the rapidly escalating use of drones by the Obama Administration far exceeds the rate of use by the Bush Administration, with 2009’s 51 strikes exceeding the total number of strikes under the entire Bush Administration.

The report is worth excerpting at length regarding the effect of drone strikes on al Qaeda and the Taliban. In short, they’re not working:

None of the reported strikes has appeared to target America’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

…[T]he U.S. drone strikes don’t seem to have had any great effect on the Taliban’s ability to mount operations in Pakistan or Afghanistan or to deter potential Western recruits, and they no longer have the element of surprise.

…After around 18 months of sustained drone strikes, many of Pakistan’s militants have likely moved out of their once safe haven in the FATA and into less dangerous parts of the country, potentially further destabilizing the already rickety state.

…[A]lthough the drone strikes have disrupted militant operations, their unpopularity with the Pakistani public and their value as a recruiting tool for extremist groups may have ultimately increased the appeal of the Taliban and al Qaeda, undermining the Pakistani state. This is more disturbing than almost anything that could happen in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan has dozens of nuclear weapons and about six times the population.

Incredibly, after this litany of negatives, the report’s authors conclude that drone strikes are “a critical tool.” Their conclusion doesn’t seem to follow from their premises. What they seem to mean instead is that “we’re all out of other ideas.”

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  1. olivio says:

    my guess would be the estimate is conservative

  2. georgehanshaw says:

    Hell, they are ALL civilians. You can be only military or civilian, and none of these people are military. That means they are all civilians.

    Two-thirds of them are illegal combatants – no different than spies or assassins, either of which can be summarily executed under the laws of armed conflict:

    Lawful conduct of belligerent actors

    Modern laws of war regarding conduct during war (jus in bello), such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, provide that it is unlawful for belligerents to engage in combat without meeting certain requirements, among them the wearing of a distinctive uniform or other distinctive signs visible at a distance, and the carrying of weapons openly. Impersonating soldiers of the other side by wearing the enemy's uniform is allowed, though fighting in that uniform is unlawful perfidy, as is the taking of hostages.

    Spies and terrorists may be subject to civilian law or military tribunal for their acts and in practice have been subjected to torture and/or execution. The laws of war neither approve nor condemn such acts, which fall outside their scope.

    Article 1.

    The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions:

    To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

    To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;

    To carry arms openly; and

    To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

    The other one-third chose a real bad place to stand.

  3. dhussey says:

    “Laws of war” What an immoral concept. To engage in aggressive war should be criminal for all individuals involved from top to bottom. To repel a foreign invader on your sovereign land should not be restricted in any way.

  4. Eric Bishop says:

    So, I don't get the downside here. We drop bombs and missiles on people from drones. Only 2 in 3 are the people we're trying to kill, but the activity itself makes it more likely that more people will become the type of people we're trying to kill. So, aren't we upping our batting average by doing it more often? We're probably within reach of 5 in 6 or maybe even 8 in 9! Bombdy bomb!

  5. boss_limbaw says:

    Drones are flown by cowards

  6. Andy says:

    The reason why Osama Bin Laden hasn't been killed or captured yet is that the intelligence agencies want to know more about his “shadowy” Al Qaeda network. For instance when the FBI is trying to take down a large criminal organization, they get people on the inside and study the group, try to figure out how they work and who they're dealing with. You just don't kill the leader of an extremely dangerous and fanatical terrorist group right away; you study it, for years, know where all the terror cells are, who's talking to who, then you strike. If you take out the leader, the other commanders are just going to disappear, become harder to find. The problem with Pakistan is that Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters attack NATO troops in Afghanistan and then run across the border into Pakistan so they can't be pursued. The only way to bring peace to the region is to get Pakistani government to do more on its part. Otherwise, this war is going to go on for many more years.

  7. Doug Mould says:

    Frankly, that the civilian casualty is only one in three, especially when the Taliban commanders and Al Queda folk are more than willing to be at home with their children and wives, never mind travel with them, I would say the drones are doing a very good job at sparing civilian lives. You folks need to go back and read the history of war and civilian casualties, never mind acknowledging the innocents killed by the suicide bombers of the Taliban and Al Queda.

  8. gfm975 says:

    HUH? Since terrorists are not a military wouldn't the logical concluson be they are civilians? Therefore…

  9. rogerhwerner says:

    Your comment has merit but it fails to consider one very important thing: These killings occur within a country we're not at war with. Pakistan is purportedly our ally in the war on terror and we're killing its citizens? Have you asked yourself what the reaction might be if the people being killed by drones were white Christians? My attitude about the Afghan conflict is simple: If this fight is so important to our national security then we shouldn't hesitate to pull out all stops to win and that includes willingly accepting collateral damage. In World War II we didn't worry about killing civilians because all that mattered was winning an unconditional surrender. The problem sir is that the Afghan war is a war of choice and quite possibly illegal. That being the case, Americans can't fight as if we were in a legitimate war and this is why it is going to be very hard to win it whatever winning means.

  10. dhussey says:

    A history of brutality does not remove the immorality of non-combatants. Perhaps they should start using these drones to take out suspected drug dealers in America. If you only lost a civilian or two to get the bad guy that would be just fine.

  11. dhussey says:

    You should apply for a job with the Whitehouse. They can use some good empty rhetoric like yours. The only way to bring peace to the region is to leave and take the British “Lines on the Map” with you.

  12. dhussey says:

    Cowardly perhaps?

  13. Dave says:

    I think that the alternatives are either all out war or leaving entirely. All out war would certainly kill many more civilians. Leaving entirely would not change the radical feelings that the Pashtoons or Taliban have toward the U.S. What is the answer?

  14. geralderikson says:

    our comment has merit but it fails to consider one very important thing: You are trying to compare WWII with a gorilla war. Totally different. The problem sir is the fighting a gorilla style battles in Afghan is not a war of choice. The war of choice would be a WWII style. And winning means the Taliban and Al Queda put out of action permanently, like Nazis.

  15. msbeal says:

    Who are these 'civilians' standing next to terrorist?

  16. robster says:

    We are not at war with Pakistan- but we are at war with elements in it. If Pakistan can't control illegal military combatants from operating within it's territory then it should chose sides.

  17. robster says:

    Think of them as suicide bombers without human bodies.

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