The unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as "drones," are causing fewer civilian casualties while continuing to eliminate terrorist targets in the Pakistani tribal lands. However, questions remain about the overarching rationale for employing drone attacks as well as the accuracy of drone-related statistics emanating from the Obama administration.
The nonpartisan think tank New America Foundation conducted exhaustive research about U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004-2012 that its director, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, cited in an op-ed piece cnn.com published Tuesday: "The United States' aggressive drone campaign in Pakistan slowed considerably in 2011. Over the life of the program we estimate that the civilian casualty rate is 16 percent. (In 2011, it was more like 11 percent.) Clearly, as the years have progressed, the drone strikes have become more precise and discriminating."
Any news of fewer drone attacks and enhanced UAV accuracy isn't likely to appease former U.S. president and Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter, who lambasted the lethal use of drone technology in a June 24 op-ed piece in the New York Times.
"We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington," Carter wrote. "This would have been unthinkable in previous times.
"These policies clearly affect American foreign policy. Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior."
Within the last two weeks, the nonpartisan public-policy watchdog propublica.org explored the reliability of Obama administration statements regarding drone warfare: "Drone strikes in Pakistan are credited by the administration with crippling Al Qaeda but criticized by human rights groups and others for being conducted in secret and killing civilians. The underlying facts are often in dispute and claims about how many people died and who they were vary widely. Even setting aside the discrepancy between official and outside estimates of civilian deaths, our analysis shows that the administration’s own figures quoted over the years raise questions about their credibility."