Leaked intelligence files uncovered by McClatchy Newspapers showed that during 2006-2008 and 2010-2011, the CIA’s Predator and Reaper assassination drones targeted and killed senior leaders of al-Qaeda and allied groups, as well as hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghani, Pakistani and unidentified militants who posed no immediate threat to the US.
The report also added that many civilians including women and children were also killed in the deadly strikes.
The US newspaper noted that Washington secretly conducted drone strikes on suspected insurgents who were not listed on any US terrorist list, on alleged organizations that did not exist at the time of 9/11, and on unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters”.
However, the Obama administration said last September that drone strikes were conducted only against “specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces” who were involved in the 9/11 attacks and were plotting imminent violent strikes on Americans.
“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” said US President Obama, adding that “it has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”
The comments came as US intelligence sources insisted in 2011 that civilians were no longer being killed by drone attacks, with former chief counter terrorism adviser John Brennan saying that ‘there hasn’t been a single collateral [civilian] death‘ in Pakistan in 10 months.
US officials refuse to publicly discuss any details of the covert program and the death toll from drone strikes remains a mystery.
A report by the Washington-based New America Foundation said that there have been 350 US drone strikes since 2004, most of them during President Obama’s terms in office. The foundation has put the death toll between 1,963 and 3,293, with 261 to 305 civilians killed.
According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,627 and 3,457 people have been killed by US drones in Pakistan since 2004, including between 475 and nearly 900 civilians.