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Pakistan Sharply Reduces Civilian Casualty Estimates from Drone Strikes


Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense has provided its first official figures for casualties from drone strikes, and they are surprisingly low. In the 318 drone strikes the US has conducted since 2008, when the program really hit its stride, 2,227 people have been killed, and only 3 percent, or 67 people, were civilians. Many human rights organizations’ figures are much higher, as were the Pakistani government’s previous figures. UN rapporteur Ben Emmerson, who has investigated the drone program in Pakistan, has said that the Pakistan Foreign Office gave him a figure of 400 civilians.

There is no reason to believe that these figures are any more credible than other data out there, and that is largely Pakistan’s fault. It does not allow anyone to enter North Waziristan, the region where the Haqqani network and other militants are based, and where drones have primarily operated. It has not allowed independent investigators or journalists to do their jobs, and has been mum about its involvement there. Pakistani leaders whip up anti-Americanism whenever it’s convenient, but a Washington Post report earlier this month highlighted Pakistan’s role in facilitating the drone program, even suggesting targets in some cases. That is this the first time that the government has released casualty figures, despite the drone program running for years now.

One thing is certain: the drone program will continue as the US sees fit. Only a few hours after this story broke, there was another drone strike in North Wazirstan’s district capital Miram Shah, killing 3.

[Pakistani protesters from United Citizen Action shout anti-US slogans during a protest against US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, in Multan on October 31, 2013. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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