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Drone strike casualty tally questioned

by Mike Hoffman on July 19, 2012

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic is calling into question the tally of drone strike casualties in Pakistan done by the  New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program — a tally used by plenty of publications and agencies to include CNN.

Friedersdorf takes aim at the program’s estimation that zero civilians have been killed in drone strikes in 2012 saying the statistic is misleading Americans about the repercussions of the drone war being waged by the U.S. in Pakistan.

The New America Foundation uses media reports of drone strikes in Pakistan done by international publications to include ones based in Pakistan to populate its database of resulting casualties. Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program, breaks casualties into two groups the same way the U.S. military and CIA does: militants and civilians.

The problem is the way the title of militant is defined. Again, much like the U.S. military and CIA, a casualty is typically identified as a militant if the person in question is a male old enough to join the military. For example, if I, a 29-year-old male, am living in Pakistan and have the great misfortune to have a Hellfire hit my house, I’d most likely be considered a militant.

Friedersdorf considers this too simplistic a method to say with any distinction exactly how many civilians, or militants for that matter, have been killed by drone strikes.

He also questions the dependence of anonymous Pakistan officials used in most of the media reports for accurate tallies of casualties. Even if the reader is trusting these officials exist, Friedersdorf questions their motives to provide casualty numbers that benefit their agencies.

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