Sunday, December 6, 2009


One of the most disturbing parts of Pres. Barack Obama's policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan is his approval of the use of U.S. unmanned drones to search out and kill insurgents and "terrorists." I have long argued for an end to this abominable practice of targeting mostly Pakistani villagers from the air and then incinerating them with American missiles. Why? Because these killings are extra-judicial, meaning that the victims have no say in whether they are "guilty" or not; that even if an American-hating member of the Taliban is killed, there is surely an innocent killed along with him; that these drone attacks make no distinction between killing children and their targeted "enemies."

Steve Clemons' The Washington Note has a guest blog by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann on a story by The New York Times several days ago quoting an anonymous administration official who claimed that so far drone attacks have killed "just over 20 civilians."

Write Bergen and Tiedemann:

"What is troubling -- and in our view, highly unlikely -- is the official's claim that only some 20 civilians have been killed by these drone strikes, a fatality rate of only around 5 percent. Given that one strike alone on the funeral of a suspected Taliban militant in South Waziristan in late June killed at least 18 people described as civilians, according to a report in the London Times, it seems implausible that only a handful more were killed in all of the 81 drone strikes that have occurred since the beginning of 2008."

I fully agree with Bergen and Tiedmann. The government, no matter whose administration, always tries to play down events that don't favor its mythical account of warfare and aggression. Some anonymous official realizes that American voters do not like to think of themselves as killers of innocent villagers, especially women and children. So the government official tries to falsely minimize the number.

Here is Bergen and Tiedemann's estimate on civilian fatalities:

"Our own data shows that if we consider just the period from 2008 until the present, the average civilian fatality rate is between 35 and 40 percent; far more than the five percent claimed by the government official."

Given that Bergen and Tiedmann estimate some 500 militants killed by drones since 2008, their estimate of 40% additional in civilian casualities would put the number at 200.

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