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The drone attacks are carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency and not the US military since Pakistan is not a zone of armed conflict, unlike neighbouring Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama insisted the strategy was “kept on a very tight leash” and that without the drones, the US would have had to resort to “more intrusive military action”.

The report, by Stanford University and New York University’s School of Law, says top commanders only account for an estimated 2% of drone victims.

The report also details hundreds of civilian casualties and the effects of drone strikes on the local population. It cites data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimating that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed in strikes between 2004 and 2012.

“In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling ‘targeted killings’ of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false,” according to the report, Living Under Drones.

“Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best,” it says, adding that targeted killings and drone attacks undermine respect for international law.

The report says that the US government rarely acknowledges civilian casualties, though there is significant evidence that civilians are being injured and killed.

The report highlights the impact of drone attacks on civilians in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Citing “extensive interviews with the local population”, the authors say:

  • children are being taken out of school out of fear of a drone-strike or to compensate for income lost from a dead or wounded relative
  • there is “significant evidence” of the practice of “double-tap” strikes in which rescuers arriving at the scene are targeted in follow-up attacks
  • drones flying overhead have led to “substantial levels of fear and stress… in the civilian communities”
  • as well as injury or death, the attacks cause property damage, severe economic hardship and emotional trauma for the injured and their families
  • people are afraid to attend gatherings such as funerals for fear of attack

Datta Khel drone strike

According to the report, 42 people were killed, mostly civilians, when they gathered at a bus depot on 17 March 2011 for a “jirga” (community meeting) to settle a dispute over a nearby mine.

The Pakistani military commander said the local military post had been alerted 10 days beforehand so those at the meeting were not concerned by drones overhead.

Several missiles were fired. Nearly all those who died were heads of large households.

The jirga had been chaired by Malik Daud Khan, a political liaison between the government, military and other tribal leaders.

Source: Living Under Drones – Stanford Law School and NYU School of Law