Accessibility links

Study Says Drones Kill More Civilians Than U.S. Acknowledges

  • RFE/RL

U.S. drone pilot training (file photo)

U.S. drone pilot training (file photo)

A joint study by researchers at two U.S. universities says the U.S. drone program over Pakistan's tribal regions has killed far more civilians than U.S. officials have acknowledged.

The study, by the law schools at Stanford University and New York University, does not estimate the overall civilian casualties because of limited data.

But based on interviews with residents of the tribal areas, including survivors or family members of victims, it rejects U.S. officials' public claims that there have been no or only single-digit civilian casualties.

The study says that according to "the best available information," between 474 and 881 civilians were killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year, including 176 children. Those figures were compiled by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The study, which recommends that Washington reevaluate the program, calls evidence that the program has made the United States safer "ambiguous at best." It says that just 2 percent of the deaths are confirmed to be "high-level militants."

The authors of the study also warn that targeted killings by drone strikes undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and "may set dangerous precedents."

They say that evidence suggests that U.S. strikes have soured Pakistanis on cooperating with U.S. policies and made it easier for militants to recruit new members.

The report is based on interviews with 130 people over a nine-month period. The people interviewed were selected by a Pakistani human rights group, Foundation for Fundamental Rights, and the interviews were conducted outside of the tribal areas due to security considerations.

The Council on Foreign Relations claims the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have stepped up the use of drones in recent years, not only over Pakistan and Afghanistan but also in Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia as part of counterterrorism efforts. It notes that the Bush and Obama administrations have sought to justify targeted killings under both domestic and international law.