Human RightsNorth America

Rights group says US undercounts drone civilian casualties



International human rights organization Reprieve has accused the White House of downplaying civilian casualties from US drone strikes.

Published by the Director of National Intelligence on Friday, a review of drone operations outside of war zones claims that between 64 to 116 civilians have been killed in 473 aerial strikes since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

The strikes were conducted by drones, traditional aircraft or cruise missiles in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and other African countries, the report said.

Up to 2,581 “combatants” were also reported killed in the strikes between January 20, 2009, and December 31, 2015.

The casualty figure does not reflect US air strikes in “areas of active hostilities” such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.

Watchdogs have long said that the Obama administration does not have a clear picture on the civilian casualties caused by its drone program. They say as many as 1,100 civilians have lost their lives in the lethal attacks.

Reprieve said the US government’s previous casualty estimates from drone strikes have proven to be false by its own internal documents.

“It has to be asked what bare numbers will mean if they omit even basic details such as the names of those killed and the areas, even the countries, they live in,” the group said in a report.

“The Obama Administration has shifted the goalposts on what counts as a ‘civilian’ to such an extent that any estimate may be far removed from reality,” it added.

“In US drone operations, reports suggest all ‘military aged males’ and potentially even women and children are considered ‘enemies killed in action’ unless they can ‘posthumously’ and ‘conclusively’ prove their innocence,” it explained.

The Obama administration regularly uses drones for airstrikes and spying missions in several countries, with Pakistan and Afghanistan bearing the brunt of the attacks.

The White House says the airstrikes only target members of al-Qaeda and other militants, but local officials and witnesses say civilians have been the main victims of the attacks in most cases.

In April, Obama acknowledged that civilians had been killed in US drone attacks and promised more transparency about the program.

Rights groups are especially concerned about “signature strikes,” one of the most controversial aspects of the CIA drone program, where people with unknown identities are targeted based on their looks, suspicious behavior, or other “signatures.”

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