August 12th, 2011
06:33 AM ET

US disputes report alleging high civilian death toll from drone strikes

By Pam Benson and Elise Labott

A senior U.S. official is dismissing a report that says covert American drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 385 civilians, nearly half of them children, saying the findings by the London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism are faulty and uncorroborated.
The response by the official late Thursday follows a report released this week by the nonprofit group, which includes British and Pakistani journalists, that found CIA covert drone strikes since 2004 killed at least 2,292 people. Of those killed in the strikes, the group said it had credible reports of at least 385 civilians, including 160 children.
"The numbers cited by this organization are way off the mark," the official told CNN. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the drone program.
According to the senior U.S. official, an estimated 2,000 militants and 50 civilians have been killed in strikes since 2001. Since May 2010, the strikes have killed 600 militants, the official said.
"In that same period of time, we can't confirm any noncombatant casualties," the official said.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism defended its report in a statement to CNN on Friday, calling it "the most accurate public record yet of the CIA's drone strikes."
"All of our sources are credible and transparent, and where contradictory information exists, we make that clear," its editor, Iain Overton, said. "It is unfortunate that instead of engaging with our work, the CIA sees fit to smear it."
The U.S. official's figures echo similar ones cited in June by White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.
American drone strikes in Pakistan have inflamed tensions between the two countries, especially after attacks in which civilians were killed.
A drone strike March 17 reportedly hit a community council meeting in North Waziristan, one of the seven districts of Pakistan's volatile tribal region bordering Afghanistan. It killed 44 people - mostly civilians, two Pakistani sources have said. That strike prompted protests in Pakistan, and the United States temporarily suspended its drone attacks.
U.S. officials rarely discuss publicly the CIA's drone program in Pakistan, though privately, officials have said the covert strikes are legal and an effective tactic in the fights against extremists.
But the allegations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism spurred reaction from U.S. officials, who are mindful of often violent reaction in the region to allegations of civilian casualties.
The State Department also disputed the group's findings, saying the United States goes to "enormous lengths to avoid killing or injuring innocent civilians."
"To that end, President (Barack) Obama has directed that we be exceptionally precise and surgical in addressing the terrorist threat, relying both on rigorous review procedures and all of the technological tools at our disposal to ensure that innocent civilians are protected," said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman.
"We try to ensure that we only use force against those individuals who threaten us."
The Bureau for Investigative Journalism findings are published in a 22,000-word database that lists details of each drone strike as compiled from news reports, researchers and lawyers examining drone attacks and leaked U.S. intelligence reports and diplomatic cables. Among the group's findings: More than 1,100 people were injured in the 291 drone strikes known to have taken place since 2004.
The group also reported that of the 291 drone attacks, at least 236 have been ordered since Obama was named president. Of the at least 2,292 people reported killed, at least 1,842 were killed in strikes since Obama took office.
Based on a count by CNN's Islamabad bureau, there have been at least 238 drone strikes since 2008 - with 45 this year, 111 in 2010, 52 in 2009 and at least 30 in 2008.
Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser, has said the Obama administration wants to follow a strategy of drone strikes and targeted raids against terrorists to avoid prolonged wars.
But the senior U.S. official said the research was suspect in part because it relied on information from a questionable source.
"One of the loudest voices claiming all these civilian casualties is a Pakistani lawyer who's pushing a lawsuit to stop operations against some of the most dangerous terrorists on the planet," the official said.
"His evidence, if you can call it that, comes from a press release. His publicity is designed to put targets on the backs of Americans serving in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His agenda is crystal clear."
While the official did not name the Pakistani lawyer, it was believed to be Shahzad Akbar - who is suing the CIA to stop the drone strikes. But the journalism organization called Akbar "a single source among many on only 10 strikes of some 291 the Bureau examines."
"Where Mr. Akbar's information is contradicted by other sources, we make that overtly clear in our research," Overton said. "To suggest, as U.S. counterterrorism officials are, that he is a 'major source' for our data is simply untrue."
Akbar told CNN on Friday that he met three times with one of the group's journalists, who reached out to him to cross-check statistics on drone strikes. He dismissed allegations that his work was suspect.
"My complaint is not against Americans serving in Pakistan and Afghanistan. My concern is that we must have some accountability for civilian deaths," Akbar said.
"I am not saying that drone strikes must stop. My complaint is that you have to be accountable for civilian deaths. There are no checks on how many civilians are killed. This is what concerns me and other Pakistanis who want to end fundamentalism in Pakistan. Civilian deaths in drone strikes are fueling extremism."
Akbar drew the ire of U.S. officials in December when he released the name of the CIA's station chief in Pakistan, part of his campaign to end the drone strikes.
"I didn't do anything wrong by naming the CIA station chief in Islamabad," Akbar told CNN. "I don't care that the Pakistani government gave him consent to come here. They don't have the authority to give them consent."
CNN's Reza Sayah and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. rajeev

    August 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  2. james stirk

    When are the idiots in charge going to realize that we need to get out of this butt crack country, they are making us look like a bunch of nimrods.

    August 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  3. ranger 830

    The Islamic community should be outraged over the killing of over a thousand muslims by the jihadist faction!!!! But not one word about that? Instead focus only on the loss of life from drone strikes!!!! We love drones they keep us safe and out of the shit!!!! Any loss of civilians is regretable and all efforts are made to minimize civilian casualties.Unlike our muslim
    foes who have no regrets detonating ied,s etc in civilian areas.All in the name of holy jihad!!!! No jihad no drone strikes real simple! Support jihad remain silent when these jihadists kill your fellow muslims!Harbour insurgent fighters in your villages and glorify their deeds as heroic and these strikes and the casualties will continue. Unfortunatly I see no end in sight!!!!!!! Wake up and see that jihad is no good for islam!!!! Killing and terror only begets more killing and terror!!!!!

    August 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • John

      Religious belief is an total barrier to knowledge.

      June 26, 2012 at 6:13 am | Reply
  4. ranger 830

    YEAH and 1,437 innocent muslims killed by IED. attacks aimed at Afghan and coalition targets quoted from cnn,s page?
    WTF over! I love drones!!!!!!!!!

    August 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  5. Politicarp

    I frankly am very skeptical about "High Civilian Death Toll's" from drone strikes. Unfortunately, we have very few "trusted allies" in the region and drone strikes keep US Servicemen out of harms way. I'm sure there is some collateral damage from drone strikes, but they have proven to be very effective. If we can't trust the folks in the region (for the most part) then keep up or even step up the drone strikes. When we don't know who "has our back", we need to do everything possible to mitigate the exposure of American troops and this is one very effective way to do it!

    August 14, 2011 at 8:39 am | Reply
  6. rajeev

    http://www.salon.com/news/pakistan/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/08/12/pakistan_drones_children
    Study: CIA drones strikes have killed 168 children

    Based on international and Pakistani news reports and research on the ground, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has issued a new study on civilians killed by American drones, concluding that at least 385 civilians have been killed in the past seven years, including at least 168 children.

    Here's a taste of the report, which can be read in full here (warning: graphic images):

    Pakistani father Din Mohammad had the misfortune to live next door to militants in Danda Darpakhel, North Waziristan. His neighbours were reportedly part of the Haqqani Network, a group fighting US forces in nearby Afghanistan.

    On September 8 2010, the CIA’s Reaper drones paid a visit. Hellfire missiles tore into the compound killing six alleged militants.

    One of the Hellfires missed its target, and Din Mohammad’s house was hit. He survived. But his son, his two daughters and his nephew all died. His eldest boy had been a student at a Waziristan military cadet college. The other three children were all below school age.

    An Obama administration official told ABC that these numbers are "way off the mark" - but, tellingly, did so on the condition of anonymity, meaning he or she will be protected from any accountability.

    Meanwhile, the New York Times' Scott Shane has an important article reviewing the same issue and in particular Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan's claim in June that for the previous year CIA drone strikes hadn't caused "a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop." Shane finds that basically every outside observer - including those of all ideological stripes - finds this claim to be preposterous:

    Others who question the C.I.A. claim include strong supporters of the drone program like Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, who closely tracks the strikes.

    "The Taliban don’t go to a military base to build bombs or do training," Mr. Roggio said. "There are families and neighbors around. I believe the people conducting the strikes work hard to reduce civilian casualties. They could be 20 percent. They could be 5 percent. But I think the C.I.A.’s claim of zero civilian casualties in a year is absurd."

    Brennan issued a new statement to the Times suggesting that the CIA has merely "not found credible evidence of collateral deaths" from the drone strikes:

    “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq, and we will continue to do our best to keep it that way,” Mr. Brennan said.

    Given that the drones are operated remotely, it's far from clear how the CIA even knows who is being killed in many of these strikes.

    August 13, 2011 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • John

      Want the truth???? Try Wikileaks, Assange and Manning. If you have the courage.

      June 26, 2012 at 6:19 am | Reply
  7. rajeev

    Fireside: CIA Lies About Civilian Drone Deaths
    Obama's counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan recently made the claim that because of the exceptional proficiency, the precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop, referring to use of unmanned drones, that there hasn't been a single collateral death for almost a year. But as the New York Times documented today, it doesn't seem to add up. And in response John Brennan then said that U.S. officials could not confirm any deaths.

    August 13, 2011 at 8:59 am | Reply
  8. DrBakroChod

    Drone has an address and it never fails to deliver. Pakistan is demanding $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    August 13, 2011 at 1:53 am | Reply
  9. DrBakroChod

    Pakistan is selecting drone targets. So Pakistani supported Talibans are immune.

    August 13, 2011 at 1:50 am | Reply
  10. sjdsh

    How about a 'Noble Pig Prize' for those brave drone pilots??

    August 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Reply
    • mickey1313

      better drone piolets then dead americans.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Reply
  11. Barry G.

    …”forty mon, or two metric tons, of opium once a month from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak. The drugs were carried by a convoy…into Iran. Although the police in Afghanistan and Pakistan were bribed to give the convoy safe passage, the Iranian police were not….Sikander…was making $125,000 to $250,000 in profits each trip.”

    (6,900 tons of opium were being trafficked from Afghanistan in 2009)

    (Matthieu Aikins, The Master of Spin Boldak, Harper’s Magazine, Dec., 2009, p. 53)

    August 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  12. Barry G.

    See: Matthieu Aikins’s shocking article in Harper’s Magazine (Dec., 2009), about the multi-billion dollar opium trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how the governments and militaries of these two countries tolerate, condone, assist, protect, and work for and with the opium traffickers.

    (Matthieu Aikins, The Master of Spin Boldak, Harper’s Magazine, Dec., 2009, p. 53)

    …”forty mon, or two metric tons, of opium once a month from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak. The drugs were carried by a convoy…into Iran. Although the police in Afghanistan and Pakistan were bribed to give the convoy safe passage, the Iranian police were not….Sikander…was making $125,000 to $250,000 in profits each trip.”

    (6,900 tons of opium were being trafficked from Afghanistan in 2009)

    August 12, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  13. A muslim who belives in global libert equality, fraternit,peace and justice

    All those who justify the killing of civilians in the name of the so called war on terror are the worst creatures on earth. History will give them the same respect which it gives to Hitler and his Nazi supporters for killing jews. I dont believe there is any country that has killed more humans than the US has. It's time the world stand up against the american nazis of today.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • Barry G.

      The U.S. has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid harming civilians.

      We know that al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations would never go to such lengths to avoid harming the innocent, and we know that they do not employ the same humane and just standards as the U.S..

      Are you serious?

      August 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Reply
    • neel123

      Has anyone kept count of how many civilian lives were lost in Pakistani army operations in the Shia dominated tribal regions ?

      August 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
    • tom

      how very eloquent, but why not a word for the "mujahadin" who kill moslems? who blow up mosques and deliberately kill teachers and school children?

      americans apologize for accidentally hitting civilians – the taliban brag about it. your feigned indignation is tinged with hypocrisy!

      August 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • mickey1313

      if they had given up binladen when they had the chance they could have prevented this. But you also fail to realize, thiests are not people sorry to diapoint you. If a pack of wild rabid dogs was causing a problem, they would mow them down for the greater good. Same here, killing filth like the paks is not a shame, a sin, or a crime. Letting islam spread is a sin, a shame, and crime.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply
    • USA is the best

      And what of ur people who kill in the name of ur god that has killed ore of those civilians than NATO and the war on terror is helping all countries to be more secure and prevent radical extremists!!!!!!

      August 13, 2011 at 12:37 am | Reply
    • sjdsh

      Thank you!! I too believe in global liberty equality, fraternity,peace and justice and I do not agree with these drones as a good way to achieve World Peace! They are now known to murder civilians.Stop the BS drones now!NO MORE DRONES!

      August 14, 2011 at 3:18 am | Reply
  14. cacbar

    Oh, I thought the drones killed people, but it looks like they were just moslems. So, call it a training opportunity and move on.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  15. callinmclaughlin

    WAR!!...WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SAY IT AGAIN!!!!!....WAR!!!....WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • sjdsh

      SAY IT AGAIN...WAR! Uh huh....What is it good for. .Absolutely nothing. Uh-huh. War, huh, yeah. What is it good for. Absolutely nothing. Say it again, y'all. War, huh, Good God What is it good for.. Absolutely nothing..SAY IT AGAIN!
      .....Edwin Starr....Peace....
      Big hit 70's..hoping for Vietnam war to end

      August 14, 2011 at 3:38 am | Reply
  16. JoeSixpack

    By murdering innocents civilians('til proven guilty in court of laws)" by remote control" the US is a the terrorist state.. these drones strikes killing are murders, plain and simple there are no two ways about it, thus Odumba and his cronies should be brought before the ICC for crimes against humanity...

    August 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • james

      Thats why the US isnt part of the ICC. If they ever joined, Henry Kissinger would be indicted. So would GW jr, cheney rumsfeld, and wolfowitz.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
    • mickey1313

      Joe, you are a fool. 1) if there military wore uniforms, we would treat them as soulders. Since they do not, then ever single paki man woman and child is a paki soulder.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Reply
      • yeah right

        you need to rub your 2 digit iq and see it it makes some sparks,, ignorant f...

        August 13, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  17. sjdsh

    The State Department also disputed the group's findings, saying the United States goes to "enormous lengths to avoid killing or injuring innocent civilians."said Victoria F-uland, a State Department spokeswoman.
    CIA drones controlled by a joystick thousands of kilometers away, on US Air Force bases in Nevada and elsewhere.
    “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes and only because we are Muslims,” he said. “The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.”the strikes not only kill the innocent, but injure untold numbers and radicalize the population.“For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant,” he said. “I don’t go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed.”

    August 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • mickey1313

      exactly, why would we believe the lies of the paki government. They knew where obl was, they lied and said they didnt, there word mean exactly f**kle.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Reply
    • calista

      Your keeping count? Okay then, how many innocent children, women and men have been killed by the Taliban? What's the count of American soldiers using children to do their dirty work(i.e making them throw bombs at people
      ,making them step on mines?

      August 16, 2011 at 8:35 am | Reply
  18. GodBlessUS

    Of course no one wants to look at the fact that these terrorist cowards use and abuse their own women and children on a dialy basis. Most of the so called civillian casualties are from them keeping them close or holding them hostage. If I was in a war I would want my loved ones to be in a safe place, I wouldn't put them in harms way. Don't worry if you attack us and cause us harm we will find you! Just ask Slappy Bin Laden.

    August 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
    • p41

      Why is it when the USA murders innocent civilians in an illegal war, it's always defended by racist cowards on these boards as justified. You all like to claim the other side is using "human sheilds". You cannot, nor will GOD, justify what you, and the USA Military believe, and do. Your screenname is blasphemous, and does little to promote the teachings of the Bible. You apparently don't know which 'god' you are serving...But I do.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Reply
      • mickey1313

        You do know that god (YHVH, tetragramaton, johova what ever) is a vengful spiteful being. Just read the bible, if he is real, then he is eating a bwol of popcorn, drinking a beer, and watching the US preform the greatist action flick he has ever seen.

        August 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  19. Wellthen

    Akbar is anti U.S. He is lying. Give our boys a little more credit than that.

    August 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  20. American_Fury

    If the cowardly muslim terroirists would stop hiding among the "innocent" people then this wouldn't happen nearly as much. IF in fact, it is even true. Until they come out and face us then the "innocent" people will always be in harm's way and subject to the possibility of collateral damage. Dats the fact jack !

    August 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  21. No way

    Stop harboring terrorist!

    August 12, 2011 at 11:23 am | Reply
  22. Odysseus Writes

    pakistan is standing for commonwealth it is demonstrable

    August 12, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
  23. What?

    Everyone runs to make negative judgements about Pakistan forgetting thousands of soldiers who lost their life in this so called fight against terrorism besides the countless civilians. We are talking about a part of the world where there is usually a single person in a family who brings bread. The country's economy is down the tube, resources are overwhelmed, and things are falling apart. Every single person in the country has sacrificed. US – what a country of ungrateful people. They worry more about that miniscule financial aid and make big deal about it but I have yet to see a single high profile US official recognizing all the sacrifices Pakistan has made both now and when you were there stopping Russia from reaching warm waters of Indian ocean. The least degree of gratitude you can express is to accept it.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:27 am | Reply
    • American_Fury

      I would like to express my 'sincere' gratitude to Pakistan for hiding the biggest coward and terrorist of all , Oscuma Bin Laden. Glad he's gone and glad we got to see how much of a coward he really is, pushing his wives in front of him just before his brains were splattered eveywhere. They knew he was there the whole time and were to afraid to do anything about it. New name suggestions for Pakistan – Punkistan, Biotchistan, Cesspoolistan, Crapistan etc..

      August 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  24. What?

    Mr. President you have lost my vote. If you are authorizing killing of innocent children than you are no batter than Casey Anthony. The extreme and shameful stubbornness is that you now call it legal. Would you accept such an operation for American children? Don't scream, just look in the mirror.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • Wellthen

      Don't be rediculous.

      August 12, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Reply
    • mickey1313

      no such thing, inocent and paki are mutually exclusive terms.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
      • yeah right

        mickey i am glad your inbred mind can actually type and can use internet keep spouting your filth and hate... you should be proud of yourself....

        August 13, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  25. Critique

    The US didn't kill those people just like Casey Anthony didn't kill her daughter....

    August 12, 2011 at 9:54 am | Reply
  26. anthony

    Pakistan...worthless except for what we need from you, Pakistan is nothing but the US and worlds whore.....you even crap on your own people and offer nothing.

    August 12, 2011 at 9:00 am | Reply
    • bostoncreme

      I would agree in general the credibility of Pakistan but the death of children and civilians is a serious issue, why is the US is fighting the real enemy is/was alqaida not the Taliban

      August 12, 2011 at 9:56 am | Reply
    • What?

      Everyone runs to make negative judgements about Pakistan forgetting thousands of soldiers who lost their life in this so called fight against terrorism besides the countless civilians. We are talking about a part of the world where there is usually a single person in a family who brings bread. The country's economy is down the tube, resources are overwhelmed, and things are falling apart. Every single person in the country has sacrificed. US – what a country of ungrateful people. They worry more about that miniscule financial aid and make big deal about it but I have yet to see a single high profile US official recognizing all the sacrifices Pakistan has made both now and when you were there stopping Russia from reaching warm waters of Indian ocean. The least degree of gratitude you can express is to accept it.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
      • DrBakroChod

        Landlock Afghanistan needs a port. Pakistan is in to milk cow. $$$$$$$$$ They have not made any scrifice. They were hiding OBL. One Pakistani official gave out Bin Laden for 25 million $ reward and green cards for the family. Saudi were paying huge sum to ISI for sheltering Bin Laden.

        August 13, 2011 at 1:47 am |

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.