Pakistan says drone strikes killed 67 civilians since 2008

The number is much lower than past government calculations and estimates by independent organizations

Pakistan's Ministry of Defense says 317 drone strikes have taken place since 2008.
Massoud Hossaini / AP

A report issued Wednesday by the Pakistani government found that of the 2,227 people it says were killed in U.S. drone strikes since 2008, only 67 (3 percent) were civilians — a figure that has sparked criticism from groups that have investigated deaths from the attacks.

The figure, which was provided by Pakistan's Ministry of Defense to the country's Senate, is much lower than past government calculations and estimates by independent organizations, which have placed the number as high as 300 (13.5 percent). 

The ministry said in its report (PDF) that 317 drone strikes had taken place since 2008, killing 2,160 "terrorists" and 67 civilians, referred to in the report as "shaheeds," or martyrs.

The Pakistani government said 21 civilians were killed in 2008, nine in 2009, two in 2010 and 35 in 2011. The report said no civilians were killed in 2012 or so far in 2013. 

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, has estimated that drones have killed at least 300 civilians in Pakistan since 2008; the Washington-based New America Foundation put the figure at 185. The estimates are often compiled based on media reports about the strikes.

The attacks, which the U.S. says are used to target suspected militants near the northwestern border with Afghanistan, are widely unpopular in Pakistan because they result in civilian deaths and are seen as a violation of the country's sovereignty.

Amnesty International called on the U.S. to investigate reports of civilians killed and wounded by drone strikes in Pakistan in a report released earlier this month that provided new details about alleged victims of the attacks.

One of those was 67-year-old Momina Bibi, who was killed while farming with her grandchildren. Earlier this week, a handful of U.S. congressional lawmakers heard directly from Bibi's grandchildren, who spoke about how their grandmother was thrown 20 feet and killed instantly after a drone strike in October 2012. 

Skepticism over numbers

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Amnesty researcher Mustafa Qadri said he was skeptical because government figures conflict with his group's research and indicate a failure of the state to investigate alleged civilian casualties adequately.

While the Pakistani government regularly criticizes the drone program in public, it has reportedly supported some strikes in secret, according to leaked CIA documents and Pakistani memos published by The Washington Post last week. 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pressed President Barack Obama to end the attacks when he visited the White House last week, but the U.S. considers the attacks vital to its battle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and gave no indication it was willing to abandon them.

A U.N. expert investigating drone strikes, Ben Emmerson, said earlier in October that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told him at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in the country since the attacks started in 2004.

Emmerson called on the Pakistani government to explain the apparent discrepancy, saying the figures provided by the Foreign Ministry indicated a much higher percentage of civilian casualties.

"If the true figures for civilian deaths are significantly lower, then it is important that this should now be made clear, and the apparent discrepancy explained," Emmerson said in an email to The Associated Press. 

The latest drone strike occurred around midnight Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, when missiles destroyed a vehicle in Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal area, a major militant sanctuary. No one was killed in the attack, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Interior Ministry also said Wednesday that "terrorist" attacks have killed 12,404 people and wounded 26,881 others since 2002, although these figures were disputed by some senators. The government has been battling an insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban, which seeks to topple the country's democratic system. It was not clear if the figure involved only attacks on civilians or also those on security forces.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press 

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