Drones – what are the facts and who is really getting killed?

There is quite a bit of noise being made by many regarding the deaths that result from drone attacks, so what exactly are the facts, how many have actually died, and how many civilians are in that number, and what degree of support does it have?

Why am I asking myself this? Well, the news is that the United Nations is to set up a dedicated investigations unit in Geneva early next year to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in targeted counter-terrorism operations.

First The Basics

The US has deployed hundreds of drone attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004. These drone attacks (unmanned aerial vehicles)  are part of the War on Terrorism campaign, and seeks to defeat the militants in Pakistan. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan.


The following numbers are based on research by a team of journalists of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004-2012

Total US strikes: 350 
Total reported killed: 2,595-3,378 
Civilians reported killed: 474-885 
Children reported killed: 176 
Total reported injured: 1,248-1,397

The bottom line here is that the average non-militant casualty rate over the life of the program is 18-26 percent. Apparently in 2012 it has been 1-2 percent, down sharply from its peak in 2006 of over 60 percent.

In one word, why?

The Islamic Fanatics being targeted are extremely dangerous and have in essence declared war on the US and its interests. As of 20120 they have killed over 35,000 people.

These jihadis have been murdering their way across the region for a very long time, and now finally there the deployment of drones is striking at the very heart of their attempt to violently impose their fanatical beliefs upon everybody else.

What is the response?

Officially, Pakistan’s government has publicly condemned these attacks, but has secretly been working with the US and also allegedly allowed the drones to operate from Shamsi Airfield in Pakistan until 21 April 2011. According to secret diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, Pakistan’s Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani not only tacitly agreed to the drone flights, but in 2008 requested the US to increase them.

What about the people living in the region where the drone attacks take place, are they living in terror and fear? No, According to a public opinion survey conducted between November 2008 and January 2009 by the Pakistani Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, public opinion held that the drone strikes in Federally Administered Tribal Areas were accurate and did not lead to anti-American sentiment and were effective in damaging the militants. The researchers concluded that ‘The popular notion outside the Pakhtun belt that a large majority of the local population supports the Taliban movement lacks substance.’ According to Farhat Taj a member of AIRRA the drones have never killed any civilians. Some people in Waziristan compare the drones to Ababils, the holy swallows sent by Allah to avenge Abraha, the invader of the Khana Kaaba.

Do the local Really Support Drone attacks?

Yes, you bet they do …

In an analysis published in Daily Times (Pakistan) on 2 January 2010 Farhat Taj, a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy discussed the issue of drone attacks with hundreds of people of Waziristan. She claims that they see the US drone attacks as their liberators from the clutches of Islamist militiants into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them. She claims that estimates about civilian casualties in the US and Pakistani media are wrong because after every attack Islamist militiants cordon off the area and no one, including the local villagers, is allowed to come even near the targeted place. The militants themselves collect the bodies, bury the dead and then issue the statement that all of them were innocent civilians. However, according to the people of Waziristan, the only civilians who have been killed so far in the drone attacks are women or children of the militants in whose houses/compounds they hold meetings. But that used to happen in the past and now they don’t hold meetings at places where women and children of the militants reside. In one case when the funeral procession of an Islamist commander was hit and some civilians were killed. But after the attack people got the excuse of not attending the funeral of slain militants or offering them food.

Farhat Taj claims that locals usually appreciate drone attacks when they compare it with the Pakistan Army’s attacks, which always result in collateral damage. People said that when a drone would hover over the skies, they wouldn’t be disturbed and would carry on their usual business because they would be sure that it does not target the civilians, but the same people would run for shelter when a Pakistani jet would appear in the skies because of its indiscriminate firing. They say that even in the same compound only the exact room – where a high value target (HVT) is present – is targeted and others in the same compound are spared

So we can indeed seriously doubt the claimed non-military deaths.

As for the jihadis themselves, well for some strange reason (I can’t think why) they do object to being bombed, but in my own mind those who have made the decision to live by the sword, will now end up dying by the sword.

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