Who is the United States killing with its drone attacks in Pakistan?

April 20, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

Have you ever wondered who the United States is killing with its drone attacks in Pakistan? I have. Here’s a comprehensive source of information from New America Foundation. The map will show you the drone attack sites and numbers of deaths. From 2004 – 2011 it is reported that the United States has killed a total of 2,290 people. You can also see that the military claims that 1,829 of these people were “militants.”

Drone takeoff. Public Domain

The above web page offers this link for an expanded view of the locations of the drone attacks. If you click that expanded view, you’ll see some fascinating information. Click this link for recent drone-killings.   The most recent reported attack occurred on April 13, 2011. If you click on it, you’ll see that 4-7 “militants” were killed, and an unknown number of “others.” By clicking on the link, you can then view various news sources regarding the attack.

Note the linked NYT article:

“When bad guys are spotted doing bad things, that could lead to loss of life. The Pakistanis understand that they have to take action or we will,” an American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the U.S. doesn’t comment publicly on drone strikes.

Read further down that article and you will see that there is much controversy about whether these attacks are killing the “bad guys” or whether the program is gaining sympathy for the “bad guys.”   You’ll also see in that same article that a March 17 drone attack purportedly killed 24 civilians. You can then double-check that assertion by going back the big map and clicking on the March 17 annotation on the left.  The “Note” for that attack states: “U.S. officials claim all those killed were militants, while Pakistani officials claim all were civilians. Up to 45 total were reported killed by different sources.” Foreign Policy reports that the leader of the Pakistani army claims that the strike “carelessly and callously targeted” a jirga of “peaceful citizens.”

I’ve barely touched on two of the dozens of drone strike descriptions, yet I’ve already already see many red flags. Again, who are these strikes killing?  How do we know that they deserve to die?  How do we know whether they would have had any ill-will (if they did) toward the U.S. had we not continued our war in Afghanistan/Pakistan for more than ten years?  I’ll freely admit that I am highly skeptical about the U.S.military. Actually, I wonder whether we should believe the U.S. Military at all, given the great incentive it has to spin the drone strikes as proper and effect to American interests.  I have deep concerns about how how the military defines “militant” and how it determines whether any particular death was that of a “militant.”

Note also (from the map annotations) that many of these strikes kill significant numbers of “others.” Who are these “others”? How many of them are children? How many of them are totally innocent? How do we really know whether this program, on the whole, helping versus poisoning U.S. relations with the people of the Middle East?  The Brookings Institution suggests that drone strikes may kill “10 or so civilians” for every militant killed.”

My gut belief is that we don’t know any of these answers, yet the drone attacks continue.  The links above tell us the numbers of dead bodies.  Based on the extremely limited information available to us regarding the types of people being killed (including the “militants” and the “insurgents”), I consider it an extraordinary claim that the drone attacks are in the interests of the United States. And as Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

The claim that drone attacks are a net positive for the United States is especially wobbly in light of the photos and accounts many of the people killed by the American drones.   For instance, see here, here, and here.  Yet many Americans are willing to step in line with American politicians based on highly tenuous evidence, to declare that these drone attacks result in rough justice, or precise justice.  Based on the evidence actually available, take either of these positions is to be incredibly naive.


Category: Military, Propaganda, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    And now we are starting to fly drone missions in Libya.


    Maybe we'll soon start flying drone missions over America's inner cities. That ought to solve the problem with we have with crime, if you follow the logic we seem to be following in the Middle East.

  2. eileen evans says:

    Do you know how drones work?
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/predator.html http://www.tnr.com/article/world/87268/obama-qadd
    Qaddafi's using cluster bombs on civilians in revenge for the revolt.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Should we trust U.S. claims that U.S. drone attacks are not killing children and innocent civilians? Consider this article by the NYT:

    “The civilian toll of the C.I.A.’s drone campaign, which is widely credited with disrupting Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan’s tribal area, has been in bitter dispute since the strikes were accelerated in 2008. Accounts of strike after strike from official and unofficial sources are so at odds that they often seem to describe different events.”


    See also this report from Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/08/12/pakistan_drones_children&source=newsletter&utm_source=contactology&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Salon_Daily%20Newsletter%20%28Not%20Premium%29_7_30_110

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    From Democracy Now:

    “A new report from a team of British and Pakistani journalists finds one U.S. drone strike occurs every four days in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed as many as 775 civilians, including 168 children, since 2004. The report also challenges a recent claim by President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that no civilians have been killed in the drone attacks for nearly a year. According to the Bureau’s researchers, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 U.S. attacks during the last year. We speak with Chris Woods, an award-winning reporter who leads the drones investigation team for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London.”


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