The Associated Press reports that an “on-the-ground investigation” it conducted in North Waziristan of “10 of the deadliest [drone] attacks in the past 18 months” found that “of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent – at least 138 – were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police,” based on interviews with local villagers, of whom “Many knew the dead civilians personally.”
According to the report, “The U.S. has carried out at least 280 attacks since 2004 in Pakistan’s tribal region.”
What is curious about the AP report is its spin. Sebastian Abbot’s story starts with the assertion that “American drone strikes inside Pakistan are killing far fewer civilians than many in the country are led to believe,” based on heated statements by Pakistani islamists that drone strikes “are killing nearly 100 percent innocent people” and so on.
In reality, the AP’s findings are fully consistent with reporting by the respected Bureau of Investigative Journalism which has found that the drone war in Pakistan has killed 464-818 civilians (including 175 children) out of 2,413-3,058 total deaths, a 15%-34% civilian fraction of the dead. Note that the injured, maimed, widowed and orphaned are not counted among these victims.
President Obama recently caused a stir with a public remark that “drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.” But they are killing thousands, and it appears that at least about a quarter of the victims are not among the “militants” being targeted. In this light, it seems doubtful that ‘Really, it’s not as many dead kids as you think’ is such a good talking point for proponents of so-called “targeted killing.”