The study, "Living Under Drones,"
was commissioned by the London-based human rights group Reprieve and conducted by law professors from Stanford University and New York University. Researchers interviewed around 130 civilians living in northern Pakistan, where frequent US drones have taken a heavy toll on innocent civilians.
"Drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning," the study states. "Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves."
The study, which utilized figures compiled by the London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism
, found that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan since June 2004. The vast majority of these have been militants, but mostly low-level fighters and not top commanders. Only about 2 percent of those killed have been leaders.
In contrast, and contrary to claims made by the Obama administration, between 474 and 881 innocent civilians have been killed, and many more maimed and traumatized, by US drone strikes. In January, President Obama declared
that "drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties."
Last year, US counterterrorism czar John Brennan claimed that "in the last year there hasn't been a single death because of the exceptional proficiency [and] precision of the capabilities we've been able to develop." But the Bureau for Investigative Journalism found that at least 45 Pakistani civilians
had been killed in 10 US drone strikes during the period in which Brennan claimed there were no deaths.
Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, had harsh words for Brennan.
"There were many public reports... of civilians killed by US drone strikes," Zenko recently wrote in an article
published in Foreign Policy
." Either Brennan did not receive the same reports, ... he lacks internet access... or he is lying."
It was also later revealed that Obama had embraced a highly controversial and deceptive
methodology for counting casualties caused by US drone strikes in which all military-aged males in a strike zone were classified as 'combatants' in a bid to artificially deflate the civilian death toll.
"In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling 'targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts," the study states. "This narrative is false."
The study also found "significant evidence" of "double-tap" strikes
, in which US drones deliberately target first responders and funerals of those killed in previous strikes. It also detailed the property damage, severe economic hardship, impact on children and their education and the terror and emotional trauma caused by constantly living with the fear of attack.
One humanitarian aid worker who previously lived in the US said the terror caused by drone strikes was comparable to that felt by New Yorkers in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
The study highlights a recent Pew Research poll
in which nearly three-quarters of Pakistanis said they view the United States as an enemy. Drone strikes, the study's authors assert, may be reducing Pakistanis' willingness to aid the US in its war against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.
"Every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased," David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, is quoted in the study.
"One of the things we heard from several people is that they didn't know what America was before drones, and now what they know of America is drones, death and terror," study co-author Professor James Cavallaro, director of Stanford Law School's International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, said.