Low civilian casualties in US air campaign in Pakistan: US


Operatives behind the US’ not-so-covert air campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas claim that the number of civilian casualties is far lower than even Alex Mayer and I reported in our study from October [note: we’ll have a new one coming for the end of the year]. From The New York Times:

The New America Foundation, a policy group in Washington, studied press reports and estimated that since 2006 at least 500 militants and 250 civilians had been killed in the drone strikes. A separate count, by The Long War Journal, found 885 militants’ deaths and 94 civilians’.

But the government official insisted on the accuracy of his far lower figure of approximately 20 civilian deaths, noting that the Pakistani press rarely reported local protests about civilian deaths, routine occurrences when bombs in Afghanistan have gone astray.

Now, I am skeptical that only 20 civilians were killed in the more than 80 airstrikes. Sometimes, these strikes hit compounds that serve both as people’s homes and safe houses or training camps. There are bound to be civilian casualties when Taliban and al Qaeda operatives are conducting their business in civilians’ homes.

Alex had two excellent posts here at Threat Matrix, one addressing our methodology on tallying the civilian casualties vs. the New America Foundation’s methodology, and another on the claims made by Andrew Exum and David Kilcullen that almost 900 civilians were killed and the airstrikes are turning Pakistanis against the US. Both posts are still pertinent today and are well worth reading if you haven’t done so already.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Bungo says:

    Maybe some of the difference in numbers can be attributed to each analysts different definitions of “militant” and “civilian”. To paraprase a line from Full Metal Jacket : “If they run they’re militants, if they don’t run they’re well disciplined militants”

  • Spooky says:

    Or the US count is just wrong/fudged for posterity. Could always be that too.

  • kp says:

    Or the adult owners of the houses/compounds could be legitimately considered giving AQAM logistical support i.e. they know these guys are AQAM and they help them therefore they are legitimate targets if the site gets hit.

  • KnightHawk says:

    If your letting terrorist operate inside your home or business (short of literally being held captive) you are no longer a civilian in my view.


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