White House releases (contested) drone kill count

The White House said July 1 that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed by drone and other US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But this first public assessment by the administration put the civilian death toll significantly lower than estimates by various human rights groups, which range as high as 1,000 killed. Obama also signed an executive order outlining US policies to limit civilian casualties, and ostensibly making protection of civilians a central element in US military operations planning. The order requires an annual release of casualty estimates, and says the government should include "credible reporting" by non-government groups when it reviews strikes to determine if civilians were killed.

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated up to some 1,100 civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2002. Federico Borello, executive director of the DC-based Center for Civilians in Conflict, applauded Obama's order and said his group would call on Congress to codify it into law. "This is something that we’ve been working on for 10 years," he said. Placing civilian protection "in the heart of military planning is a big deal."

International rights group Reprieve took a more skeptical view, saying the administration’s previous statements about the drone program have been proven false by facts on the ground. “But more importantly, it has to be asked what bare numbers will mean if they omit even basic details such as the names of those killed and the areas, even the countries, they live in," Reprieve said in a statement ahead of the White House announcement. (ARA, July 2)

The White House move comes after years of litigation and outcry over the civilian toll of drone strikes.

  1. US to pay for killing Italian aid worker in drone strike

    The Obama administration will pay $3 million in compensation to the family of an Italian aid worker who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in April 2015. Giovanni Lo Porto was one of the two aid workers who were killed in the strike, after having been kidnapped by militants. The other aid worker was US citizen Warren Weinstein, who was also being held by the targeted militants. Officials said at the time that the operation had targeted an al-Qaeda compound in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that they had believed there were no civilians present. The agreement apparently states that Lo Porto was killed inside Pakistan. (APP, BBC News, Sept. 16)