According to the research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, only 12% of the victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan have been militants. The Bureau has been compiling data for over a year on those killed in CIA strikes for their project “Naming the Dead.” The project focuses on identifying the deceased dating back to when the attacks began and mapping their connections to determine whether ties to terrorist acts and/or groups exist. The Bureau’s sources include “both Pakistani government records leaked to the Bureau, and hundreds of open source reports in English, Pashtun and Urdu.”
Since the strikes began in June of 2004, 2,379 people have been reported dead from the 400 attacks. As of October of this year, only 704 victims have been identified and 295 of these “were reported to be members of some kind of armed group.” Within this subset, almost 30% were not linked to any specific group. Only 84 of those identified as militants could be connected to Al Qaeda. This amounts to less than 4% of the total victims. In addition, the Bureau’s report alleges that there was an inadequate amount of detail used to quantify those listed as militants.
The US government claims that confirmed terrorists of the “highest level” are the only targets for the drone strikes. While this may be the intended idea, it is evident that these attacks are conducted before sufficient evidence is collected. The lack of information on the victims shows a lack in consideration as well. Without said careful consideration, the killings are considered extrajudicial, and therefore are unlawful.
These drone strikes can also be seen as a violation of one of the basic principles of warfare: prohibiting unnecessary harm. Although the strikes keep US soldiers out of direct harm, they cause unnecessary damage in Pakistan by killing potentially innocent civilians. In regards to general law for a commander issuing an attack, if it is known that civilians will be harmed, the attack is not to be conducted. Civilian casualties are only lawfully accepted when the harm done to the civilian(s) is proportional to military necessity. Incidental drone strikes are not possible; the technology allows for ample information to be collected on each potential terrorist. The fault in not having sufficient evidence lies with those controlling the drones, not with the drones themselves.
In conclusion, it is not to say that the drone strikes are not at all beneficial. The US soldiers can conduct matters of war in a safe environment without the risks that derive from flying a plane, and numerous confirmed terrorists have been successfully terminated; however, although the Bureau has only identified so many of the victims thus far, their findings demonstrate a critical lack of transparency about certain affairs conducted by the US Government.