Friday, July 26, 2013

New Report on Civilian Drone Casualties

Speaking of the New America Foundation, Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland report on a leaked internal Pakistani government document on civilian casualties from drone strikes which concludes they are much lower than has often been claimed in Pakistan (i.e. Interior Minister Rehman Malik's claim that 80% of people killed in drone strikes were civilians) but higher than the Obama administration has claimed (i.e. John Brennan's absurd claim in 2011 that "there hasn't been a single collateral death" from drone strikes).

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:
  1. The rhetoric against drone strikes outstrips the reality;
  2. 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
  3. 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).

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