Interestingly, the report finds that the civilian casualty rate has declined over time as both the technology and intelligence-gathering/analysis behind drone strikes has improved. Whereas civilians made up about 20% of the death toll from 2006 to 2009, in 2012 civilians represented only 2% of the total deaths, and thus far in 2013 only one civilian has been confirmed killed.
If accurate, these findings suggest three conclusions:
- The rhetoric against drone strikes outstrips the reality;
- Drone strikes have steadily declined from 2010 to the present due to greater discrimination in targeting rather than to public or diplomatic pressure (contra the AP story cited below); and
- Drone strikes continue to have positive strategic utility (i.e. they kill more terrorists than they create) if signature strikes and "double-tap" strikes are removed from the equation, and if the public diplomacy of drone strikes could be better managed (i.e. don't let Pakistani Islamists like Maulana Sami ul-Haq, leader of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Islam party, claim that drones kill "dozens of innocent people daily" without a response).