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 United States drone attacks

The United States government has made hundreds of attacks on targets in northwest Pakistan since 2004 using drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division. These attacks are part of the United States' War On Terrorism campaign, seeking to defeat Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. These strikes have increased substantially under the Presidency of Barack Obama. Some media refer to the series of attacks as a "drone war".


Pakistan's government publicly condemns these attacks, but has secretly shared intelligence with the United States and also allegedly allowed the drones to operate from Shamsi Airfield in Pakistan until 21 April 2011, when 150 Americans left the base. According to secret diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks, Pakistan's army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani not only tacitly agreed to the drone flights, but in 2008 requested Americans to increase them. However, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, "drone missiles cause collateral damage. A few militants are killed, but the majority of victims are innocent citizens." The strikes are often linked to anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and the growing questionability of the scope and extent of CIA activities in Pakistan.


Reports of the number of militants versus civilian casualties differ. In a 2009 opinion article, Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution wrote that drone strikes may have killed "10 or so civilians" for every "mid- and high-ranking [al Qaeda and Taliban] leader." In contrast, the New America Foundation has estimated that 80 percent of those killed in the attacks were militants. The Pakistani military has stated that most of those killed were hardcore Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. The CIA believes that the strikes conducted since May 2010 have killed over 600 militants and have not caused any civilian fatalities, a claim that experts disputed. Based on extensive research, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391 – 780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children are reported among the deaths. The Bureau also revealed that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims and more than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners, tactics that have been condemned by legal experts. Barbara Elias-Sanborn has also cautioned that, "as much of the literature on drones suggests, such killings usually harden militants' determination to fight, stalling any potential negotiations and settlement."


drone strikes were halted in November 2011 after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala incident. Shamsi Airfield was evacuated of Americans and taken over by the Pakistanis December 2011. The incident prompted an approximately two-month stop to the drone strikes, which resumed on 10 January 2012.

victims of United States drone attacks
victims of United States drone attacks
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updated Tue. February 21, 2017

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