ISLAMABAD Jan 21 U.S. CIA drone strikes against
militants in Pakistan killed no more than four civilians last
year, according to an annual study by a British-based
organisation, the lowest number of reported civilian deaths
since the drone programme began in 2004.
The study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism released
this month showed that the number of civilian casualties stood
at between zero and four.
The findings may reinforce the position of those who support
unmanned drones in a debate over the legality, effectiveness and
accuracy of the strikes compared to more traditional military
The United States releases no information about individual
strikes. Information issued by Pakistan's government is patchy.
The Bureau tracked 27 suspected strikes, using news reports,
field investigations and research by Amnesty International.
It said drones, used mainly in remote northwestern areas,
killed altogether 112-193 people in 2013. The death tolls varied
as different sources often gave conflicting accounts.
Increased scrutiny, political pressure and a sharp drop in
the number of strikes may have helped cut civilian casualties,
said Alice Ross, who heads the Bureau's drone research unit.
"The lack of transparency surrounding the drone campaign
means it's very hard to say what's causing the drop in civilian
casualties," she told Reuters by telephone from London.
"The fact they can now take out a single room in a building
does suggest the technology and intelligence are quite advanced,
but we haven't seen a commensurate fall in civilian casualties
DECLINE IN STRIKES, CASUALTIES
In 2012, the Bureau tracked 47 strikes, with civilian
casualties put at 13 to 63.
The drop indicated that previous civilian casualties were
genuine, Ross said. Amnesty International has documented strikes
that killed a grandmother and a group of labourers in 2012.
"If civilian casualties had been fabricated, you would
expect it to continue," she said. She said more reports of
civilian casualties might still emerge.
Possible civilian deaths on Jan. 8 and Feb. 6 last year were
reported by some Pakistani media. The New York Times reported
that the Feb. 6 attack may have been an air strike by the
Pakistani military, something they denied.
Some Pakistanis welcome the strikes, saying they kill fewer
civilians and are far more effective against Taliban militants
than traditional military operations.
Others argue the strikes still cause civilian casualties,
terrify residents and violate Pakistani sovereignty. Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif says he wants them to end.
Activists from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party
are blocking a NATO supply route to Afghanistan to protest
against the strikes. A PTI spokeswoman did not respond to
requests for details of civilian casualties.
The figures for civilian deaths in Pakistan are much lower
than those reported for Yemen. Yemeni officials told Reuters a
December strike hit a wedding party.
The bureau says 61-99 people were killed in 16 confirmed
drone strikes in Yemen last year, and 11-29 of them may have
been civilians. There were another 16 suspected drone strikes.
In Afghanistan, NATO is investigating a September drone
strike. Afghan officials say it killed eight women and children.
Since 2004, Pakistan has been hit by 381 drone strikes, the
Bureau says, and between 416-951 civilians have been killed.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)