U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed approximately 1,147 unidentified people in pursuit of 41 “named” suspects, or 28 unknown people for every intended target, according to a report released by international human rights organization Reprieve.
The report, an extract of which was provided to media, examines the total deaths by drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan over a 12-year period, from November 2002 to November 2014. It claims that 41 people on U.S. President Barack Obama’s “kill list” have been targeted by drones but have emerged unscathed a few days or weeks later—raising questions about the administration’s contention that the drone program is “precise” and causes minimum collateral damage. Many of these, it says, have been “killed” multiple times.
The “kill list” is a secretive document that is personally approved by President Obama. It is not available for public scrutiny. The U.S. government has also repeatedly refused to publish any information relating to the drone program and how it establishes the veracity of intelligence used to determine its targets.
According to Reprieve, in Pakistan alone, drone strikes have killed 874 people, including 142 children, as part of efforts to target 24 wanted terrorists, only six of whom died in the course of the attacks. Similarly, in Yemen, 17 “named” men—at least four of whom are still alive—were targeted multiple times, killing 273 people.
The U.S., says Reprieve, attempted to kill Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri twice, resulting in 105 casualties—76 children and 29 adults. The militant chief is reportedly still alive. The U.S. drone program has also failed in targeting Haqqani network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani five times, leaving 82 people dead.
According to the report, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Qari Hussain was targeted six times before he died in 2010. In pursuing the suicide bomb trainer, the U.S. killed 128 unidentified individuals, including 13 children. Baitullah Mehsud, founder of the TTP, was targeted seven times before he was killed in a drone strike on Aug. 5, 2009. His pursuit left 164 dead, including eight-year-old Noor Syed, who was playing in a house near one of Mehsud’s suspected hideouts. “How can the U.S. invade our homes while we are sleeping, and target our children?” Noor’s grandfather asked a reporter at the funeral in February 2009.
Reprieve also claims to have unearthed at least one case of mistaken identity during its investigation of the drone program’s use in Pakistan. According to the report, a man with the same name as a terror suspect on the “kill list” was targeted after the U.S. failed to kill him in two separate attempts. The report, which has withheld the identity of the deceased, claims his brother was captured, interrogated and encouraged to “tell the Americans what they want to hear.”
John Brennan, the director of the American Central Intelligence Agency, has emphasized in the past that drone strikes are always conducted with the consent of the countries involved. “We work closely with our partners,” he said. However, Pakistan’s foreign office routinely condemns the drone strikes as a “violation of national sovereignty” and “counterproductive” to anti-terror efforts.
Jennifer Gibson, an attorney at Reprieve who compiled the report, said that based on her research, many of the ‘high value targets’ had died as many as six times. “President Obama continues to insist drone strikes are ‘precise,’ but when targeting one person instead kills as many as 128 others, there’s only one conclusion that can be drawn—there’s nothing targeted about the U.S. drone program.”