The site for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism disclosed a confidential document on Tuesday July 22, revealing the extent of the Pakistani government’s awareness of civilian casualties during American drone strikes. The document is said to have originated from the Pakistani government which, until the release of this document, was claiming to be an unwitting victim of these attacks.
Within the document, the attacks are shown to be the result of careful research and precise reference points, coupled with reports by local police and informers.
The drone war has been raging in Pakistan for nearly nine years. At its start in 2004 – while George W. Bush was still campaigning for reelection as president of the United States – drones were not widely used. The New America Foundation records one sole drone strike in June 2004. However, the programme has gained momentum and reached a peak in 2010, during Obama’s time in office: the Foundation noted 122 drone strikes on Pakistani soil during this year alone.
The release of this document by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is the finishing touch for a Pakistani government that has already been accused of double dealing regarding the extent of their knowledge of the drone attacks. The document arises from the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) administration, situated on the Afghan-Pakistani border. These regions are the source of conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are, as such, a hotspot of rebellion against both Pakistani and Afghan authorities. Most of the drone strikes have thus far been carried out in these regions.
The report precisely documents 75 civilian deaths between 2006 and the end of 2009, five of which were the result of NATO strikes. These figures are striking and, perhaps unsurprisingly, are much higher than those made public by the American government, who confirmed that between 50 and 60 “non combatants” have been killed by drone strikes during the nine-year campaign: the Pakistani document numbers at least 147 dead civilians, including 94 children.
Not only was the Pakistani government of the period in the loop and supportive of the attacks – as a telegram from the American ambassador in Pakistan confirms – but the government was also fully aware of who was being targeted and who was affected. The Pakistani government seems merely to have ignored the acceleration of the drone programme: 122 drone strikes in 2010 seems a huge amount for two countries that are not even at war.
The telegram from the American ambassador in Pakistan mentions a planned attack on the training camp of now-deceased Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud: four attacks were launched in the Tribal Areas during the month in which he was killed, causing the deaths of between 28 and 39 people in total. Eleven of those killed were civilians. It is, however, difficult to know during which strike Mehsud was killed as the FATA reports never mention names, even when the statistics refer to high-profile targets such as Baitullah Mehsud.
The investigative website would have used three different sources in order to produce this document, as well as seeking the advice of several experts. Former FATA officials have confirmed that the document is “very probably exact”.
But, a ruling made by Judge Dost Muhammad, President of the Peshawar Court, in mid-2012, gave an entirely different figure, listing the number of civilians killed in the region of North Waziristan alone between 2007 and 2012 at a staggering 896. The figure for South Waziristan was ruled to be 533. The decision provoked the Foundation for Fundamental Rights to file a complaint against the CIA, with the judge citing the “political authority” of FATA as its information source.
It has, consequently, become clear that there is even some doublespeak within the authority carrying out the inquiry into drone-attack victims, with figures seeming to vary considerably depending on who is asking for them.
If the source of these new figures is not yet clear, we can presume that the revelations concerning the victims of American drone strikes – civilians among other victims – are only just beginning.