Press Room

Civilian Casualties from US drones in Pakistan

WASHINGTON, DC—Following President Obama's statements about the US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program in Pakistan, Sarah Holewinski, executive director of CIVIC, a Washington-based civilian victims advocacy group, said:

"For years, US drones flying over Pakistan have been shrouded in secrecy. President Obama's remarks that this program does, in fact, exist are a needed step toward transparency. But the Administration needs to be more forthcoming about possible civilian harm.

"We welcome Obama's estimate that not a 'huge number' of civilian deaths were caused by US drones, but it's hard to take that statement as accurate without more information. For example, what methods are being used by the CIA to calculate casualties, without troops on the ground to investigate post-strike? How are CIA drone operators defining a civilian? How are they distinguishing between civilians and al Qaeda combatants?

"These unanswered questions have real consequences for the Pakistani people. One man in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) told CIVIC about feeding militants when they appeared at his door because he feared not doing so. The next day, his house was hit by a drone and his son was killed. He considers himself a civilian, but how the US government classifies him is unknown.

"Weaponized drones can lessen the possibility of civilian harm because of their precision, which comes from intelligence, targeting standards and training. We understand a lot about the care the Pentagon takes when its military employs drones, but nothing about the intelligence, targeting or training.

"How an estimate of "not a huge number" of civilian casualties was attained and what this number is relative to needs to be further clarified if the Administration wants to be taken seriously.

"Families from FATA spoke to CIVIC about living in fear from drone strikes, which they said killed and injured civilians. They said that the drones alienated much of the local population and civilians were not compensated for their losses.

"Acknowledging the Pakistan drone program is a much-needed first step, but now the President should explain how his Administration measures civilian casualties and how it will respond to them respectfully."


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