UK based newspaper The Guardian has highlighted civilian casualties in drone attacks. CMC is constantly arguing that civilian casualties in drone attacks by CIA in Pakistan are overlooked by security officials. Here is the link of Guardian’s Report US drone strikes in Pakistan claiming many civilian victims, says campaigner It is pertinent to reproduce what CMC had written in its annual report on drone attacks. Following is an excerpt of the annual report
1. Unreported Civilian Deaths
Only two incidents of civilian casualties were reported in international media while one incident was reported by a local newspaper. In these three incidents, only 17 people were reported dead. Apparently, this figure suggests that only a fraction of total fatalities were civilians but in reality, there are too many complications in determining exact number of civilian casualties. Almost none of the media organization reported body counts from independent sources throughout the year. Almost all reports were based on claims of unnamed U.S.and Pakistani intelligence officials. Fearing public reaction, the security officials whitewashed civilian casualties. Neither Pakistannor U.S.government has any proper mechanism to ascertain civilian deaths in this unparalleled killing campaign. It is also a debatable question whether CIA’s drone campaign is still a target killing exercise or it is now randomly killing all suspected militants. There is no specific definition of combatant militants in the area. People in the tribal belt usually carry guns and ammunition as a tradition. U.S.drone will identify anyone carrying a gun as a militant and subsequently he will be killed. Another method to identify the target is human intelligence. It is unclear whether CIA counter-checks human intelligence with other available sources or not because in Afghanistan and Pakistani tribal belt people use to settle their personal enmity by accusing their opponent as militant and passing wrong information to U.S. forces. As the drone, campaign is kept highly secret the world does not know what measures, if any, CIA has set in place to avoid civilian casualties. However, researches conducted by some western think tanks suggest that civilians are common victims of drone attacks. Brooking Institute’s research suggests that for every militant killed ten or so civilians also died[i]. According to a report by Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), at least 2100 civilians were killed and various others injured during 2009 in the ongoing war on terror, drone attacks, and activities against the terrorists. The report says the bereaved families of these people have been left helpless without any proper assistance provided to them[ii]. Another study by New America Foundation, which supports drone attacks, suggests that in a total of 114 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and early 2010 approximately between 834 and 1,216 individuals had been killed, about two thirds of them were thought to be militants and one third were civilians. However, the study of New America Foundation is based on media reports not on first hand information. Analysis of media reports in 2010 clearly suggests that civilian casualties were deliberately overlooked to avert the public reaction. International media reported civilian deaths only two times in 132 different attacks while one excerpt incident was reported by a local newspaper. One even cannot find mentioning of civilian deaths in controlled reports.
Not only the intelligence officials but also the FATA secretariat, which works under governor of Khyber Pakhtun Khawh province, is responsible for ignoring civilian casualties in drone attacks. There are eleven elected members of National Assembly from FATA but they were too unable to highlight civilian deaths in drone attacks.
Taliban militants are one of the biggest hurdles in reporting civilian deaths. They use to cordon off the area after every attack to conceal the identity of their killed commanders and fighters. Local or international journalists are also not allowed by them in the area to collect the data of civilian and militant deaths in drone attacks.
Taliban are also accused of using civilians as a shield to avoid drones but CIA does not spare them while they are with their family members. Baitullah Mehsud and Mustafa Abu Yazeed alias Sheikh Saeed Al-Masri were killed along with their wives and children.
During the year 2010, it is also observed that drones do not spare funeral prayers of the killed militants as well. This coercive policy is aimed at forcing ordinary people not to participate in funeral prayers of militants to isolate them from general public. Many times, people involved in rescue activities also come under attack. The assumption that these people are supporters of militants is quite wrong as in Muslim traditions and teaching people use to help rescue injured and bury the dead bodies regardless of their affiliation with a certain group or ideology.
2. Question Mark on Militant Deaths
According to media reports, 921 militants were killed and 228 were wounded in 132 drone attacks in 2010. Nevertheless, all these reports are claims of security officials. One cannot find a single report throughout the year in which a media outlet carried first hand information from its own sources on the ground. All these claims of security officials cannot be confirmed or denied. However, there are confirmed reports that security officials claimed deaths of senior commanders of Al-Qaeda and Taliban but these reports were mere assumptions. For instance, Security officials claimed killing of Sheikh Saeed Al-Masri alias Mustafa Abu Yazeed on August 12, 2008. These claims were published by a leading Pakistani aa British and an American newspaper[iii]’[iv]’[v]. The claims were baseless as Al-Masri was not even in the area where attacks took place. Interestingly all the three newspapers reported the news as an ‘exclusive’ story. But in reality, they were misguided by false claims of intelligence officials. Similarly, claims of Qari Husain’s death in January 2008 proved wrong when he emerged in may 2008 in front of media[vi] The question is who were killed in the name of Al-Masri and Qari Husain?
Except few commanders of Al-Qaeda and Taliban the rest of those killed are unidentified people. Pakistani orU.S.officials do not release names of the killed people. It is assumed that they do not have the names, as the campaign is no longer a targeted killing. It has turned into mass killings of suspected militants in the area.
[i] Do Targeted Killing Works (14-7-2009) Brooking Institute
[ii] Drone attacks victims left helpless: CIVIC (11-12-2010) The News International
[iii] “Senior Al Qaeda leader among 18 killed in Bajaur” (13-8-2008) Daily Dawn
[iv] Al-Qa’eda’s Abu Saeed al-Masri ‘killed on Afghan border’ (13-8-2008)
[v] “Al Qaeda official is said to be dead” (13-12-2008) Los Angeles Times
[vi] “Tailban chief ideologist survives ‘Zalzala’” (5-5-2008) Daily Times