As has become apparent over the past 6 years, the Obama Administration prefers to wage the War on Terrorism with drones rather than with boots on the ground. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently released its summary of 2014 CIA drone attacks in their entirety along with a summary of attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia during 2014 and the preceding years.
For the purposes of this posting, I am going to focus on the drone attacks in both Pakistan and Yemen since they make up the vast majority of the drone strikes in the report with Somalia having only three drone strikes for all of 2014. As an aside, in case you are wondering why there is such a range in the number of those killed or injured by a drone strike, a study called Naming the Dead that tracks drone deaths in Pakistan noted that the deaths of women are not being counted among drone strike casualties, with women making up as few as 2 percent of the total number of people killed and injured. This is largely a result of Pashtun culture where it is considered to be taboo to discuss female family members in any way, dead or alive.
1.) Pakistan: For the second year in a row, there are no reports of civilian casualties resulting from drone attacks. During 2014, there were a total of 25 drone strikes, bringing the 2004 to 2014 total up to 408 with 357 or 87.5 percent of the total occurring under the Obama Administration. The casualty rate under the Obama Administration has been lower than under the Bush II Administration; on average, less than six people have been killed per strike since the beginning of 2009 compared to eight prior to 2009.
Here are the statistics for 2014 for Pakistan:
Total Strikes: 25
Total Reported Killed: 114 to 183
Total Reported Injured: 44 to 67
Here are the statistics for 2004 to 2014 for Pakistan:
Total Strikes: 408
Total Reported Killed: 2410 to 3902
Total Reported Injured: 1133 to 1706
Civilians Reported Killed: 416 to 959
Children Reported Killed: 168 to 204
Here is a graph showing the casualty rates for CIA drone strikes in Pakistan under President Obama:
During the first five months of 2014, there were no CIA drone attacks in Pakistan as the Pakistanigovernment attempted to negotiate a peace settlement with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Once the talks failed, the strikes returned during the month of June and, in the end, there were only two fewer drone strikes in the last seven months of 2014 than there were in all of 2013. All but one of the attacks in 2014 took place in an area where the Pakistan military was carrying out ground or air operations in the northwest part of Pakistan, commonly known as the tribal areas, along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It appears that the CIA is targeting members of al-Qaeda, including the Haqqani Network.
2.) Yemen: There were at least 13 confirmed drone strikes in Yemen during 2014 along with 18 further reported but unconfirmed incidents; this is down from 2013 when there were 16 confirmed and 15 to 16 possible drone strikes that killed between 63 and 99 people. This brought the 2002 to 2014 total up to between 72 to 84 drone strikes with an additional 101 to 120 possible drone strikes and 16 to 81 other American covert operations within Yemen. All but one of the actions has taken place during the Obama Administration.
Here are the statistics for 2014 for Yemen:
Total Strikes: 13 to 15
Other U.S. Operations: 1
Total Reported Killed: 82 to 118
Civilians Reported Killed: 4 to 9
Children Reported Killed: 1
Reported Injured: 7 to 14
Here are the statistics for 2002 to 2014 for Yemen:
Total Drone Strikes: 72 to 84
Total Killed by Drones: 371 to 541
Civilians Reported Killed by Drones: 64 to 83
Total Children Killed by Drones: 7
Reported Injured by Drones: 81 to 199
Possible Additional Drone Strikes: 101 to 120
Total Additional Reported Killed: 345 to 553
Total Additional Civilians Reported Killed: 26 to 68
Total Additional Children Reported Killed: 6 to 11
Total Additional Reported Injured: 90 to 123
If we add the total reported killed by all U.S. operations including drones and covert operations, we end up with a range of between 884 and 1498 and a range of between 158 and 248 civilians killed.
Here is a graph showing the casualty rates for United States drone strikes in Yemen between 2011 and 2014:
The frequency rate of drone attacks dropped in 2014, however, on average, more people were killed in each strike that in any previous year.
Let's look back at Pakistan for a moment. Data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Forensic Architecture and Situ Research indicates that since 2008, 61 percent of drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings with at least 132 houses destroyed in 380 air strikes. At least 222 civilians have been among those killed by these attacks. Twice as many drone attacks occur at night meaning that more families are at home, putting additional innocent civilians at risk of death or injury.
In closing, here is a quote from the ACLU regarding the use of drones:
"The executive branch has, in effect, claimed the unchecked authority to put the names of citizens and others on “kill lists” on the basis of a secret determination, based on secret evidence, that a person meets a secret definition of the enemy. The targeted killing program operates with virtually no oversight outside the executive branch, and essential details about the program remain secret, including what criteria are used to put people on CIA and military kill lists or how much evidence is required.
Outside of armed conflict zones, the use of lethal force is strictly limited by international law and, when it comes to U.S. citizens, the Constitution. Specifically, lethal force can be used only as a last resort against an imminent threat to life. Even in the context of an armed conflict against an armed group, the government may use lethal force only against individuals who are directly participating in hostilities against the U.S. Regardless of the context, whenever the government uses lethal force, it must take all possible steps to avoid harming civilian bystanders. These are not the standards that the executive branch is using."