Drone Warfare

Pakistan government says ‘at least 400 civilians’ killed in drone strikes

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Hellfire drone - stephenpend

The Pakistani government denied it secretly consents to strikes. (Photo: stephenpend)

The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.

In evidence to  Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism,  the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians.  This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.

The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.

The US drone campaign in Pakistan… involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
Ben Emmerson QC

The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.

The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.

Related story: Covert War on Terror – the datasets

Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.

In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ‘The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’

Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.

The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.

Related story: Pakistan drone statistics visualised

‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.

Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’

Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.

Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’

A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.

‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.

Kat Craig, legal director of campaign group Reprieve, said: ‘The UN’s statement today is an unequivocal warning that the CIA drones programme is not only completely unwanted by the Pakistani government but is irrefutably illegal. More worryingly, it is shredding apart the fabric of life in Pakistan, terrorising entire communities. The special rapporteur’s job is to balance the need for counter-terrorism with the need to protect basic human rights – what he has revealed today is that this balance is far, far from being achieved.’

Related story: UN launches major investigation into civilian drone deaths

The Pakistani government said at least 330 strikes had taken place on its territory. The Bureau has counted 365 to date; the disparity may be because the Bureau counts missiles that hit more than an hour apart as individual strikes. We also count missiles that hit separate locations in close proximity as individual strikes, while the government may count these as a single strike.

Emmerson was asked to investigate drone strikes by the UN Human Rights Council after nations including Russia, China and Pakistan requested action at a session last June. He will make recommendations to the UN General Assembly in the autumn.

Separately, today the CIA lost a three-year Freedom of Information battle to keep information about its drone programme secret. The CIA had argued it could not release documents relating to the drone programme to the American Civil Liberties Union as even acknowledging its existence endangered national security. But a federal court ruled that since the government already acknowledges the programme, this argument will not stand.