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Op-Ed: U.S. drone strikes continue in several countries in 2014

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism claims that 2,379 people were killed by the strikes. The Bureau also says that only 12 percent of the victims actually identified have been linked to any militant organizations. The victims are routinely described as suspected militants.

In October of last year Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher and his two young children testified before the US Congress about the death of his 67 year old mother as she gathered okra in her garden a year earlier when she was killed by a drone strike. Only five members of Congress bothered to show up.

Drone strikes in Pakistan have declined sharply in recent years from their peak of 128 strikes in 2010 but there were still 22 strikes with 104 people killed in 2014. For the first five months of 2014 there were no drone strikes in Pakistan but the total number killed during the rest of the year was more than in all of 2013. While Pakistani politicians constantly object to the strikes, they continue, and the Pakistani military appears to provide the US with intelligence to help targeting.

In Yemen, strikes have sharply increased in number with 116 in total so far, all but one under the Obama administration. The estimated number killed is between around 800 to over one thousand with over 80 of them civilians.In Somalia, 2014 saw the highest number of casualties of any year.

The U.S. government itself does not release figures on how many they kill through the drone program. The government insists that the drones target only confirmed terrorists. In May of 2013 John Kerry said: “The only people we fire at are confirmed terror targets, at the highest level. We don’t just fire a drone at somebody we think is a terrorist.” However, the administration considers any military-age males in a strike zone as a combatant.

In 2014, as part of the intelligence authorization bill, a provision was inserted that would have required the administration to report how many civilians and combatants had been killed in US drone attacks. However, the provision was removed at the request of James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. The provision was removed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Clapper lied before Congress: Media observers have described Clapper as having lied under oath, having obstructed justice, and having given false testimony. As a person who has even lied to defend American citizen’s right not to know Congress was eager to follow his advice. Another bill, the Drone Strike Transparency Act introduced in early 2014 never gained sufficient support to go forward.

The U.S. is now using drones in Syria as part of the war against the Islamic State. Elsewhere, Obama has set out restrictions on drone use that are supposed to ensure there are strikes only where there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured”. The administration admits that it will not apply this criterion in air strikes in Syria or Iraq. The Obama limitation on strikes applies only to areas where there is no active conflict. National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden noted that the restriction had always only applied to “direct action” outside areas of active hostilities’ as we noted at the time.”

In spite of the fact that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan supposedly ended the end of 2014, U.S. drone strikes continue: A U.S. drone strike killed at least three people in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Logar Wednesday, according to local reports.
Similar attacks as part of a U.S.-led campaign in the central Asian country killed another seven Sunday in the eastern Khost Province.
A detailed account of the number of attacks in different countries and other statistics can be found here. Given increased U.S. involvement in Syria and Iraq the number of attacks will probably begin to increase again in 2015.

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