Pantagon, CIA asked to count, compensate Pakistan drone victims


Islamabad: The Washington-based Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) has called on the US Department of Defense (DoD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to count and compensate civilians harmed by US drones in Pakistan.

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“The US has a duty to know where it has caused civilian harm, including whether it was caused by close air support or unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Sarah Holewinski, CIVIC’s executive director.

“Let’s say civilian casualties skyrocket. Why the spike? How can the problem be fixed? Without good data, the US is operating with blinders on. After ten years at war, the US should know better.”

The statement came days after two U.S. pilotless aircraft targeted a tribal jirga in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan and killed 44 innocent people. The strike prompted strong condemnation by Pakistani army chief and government leaders who sought apology from the U.S.

Washington has not yet apologized over the civilian deaths with the notion that the U.S. does not publicly comment over CIA operation of drone strikes.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this week released the results of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request: an official statement from the DoD confirming it does not compile statistics about the total number of civilians killed or injured by drones.

While DoD estimates civilian casualties from individual battle damage assessments, it does not differentiate between casualties resulting from drones versus other types of military aircraft, the CIVIC said.

Good military practice to minimize civilian harm dictates data collection before, during and after a combat operation, analysis of any harm that occurs and by what means, including by drone strike, and a review of lessons learned, it added.

CIVIC noted that verifying proper data tracking and other civilian protection measures is particularly difficult in Pakistan, where the CIA conducts drone operations and has refused to confirm or deny the existence of any documents related to drone strikes, including collateral damage estimates, battle damage assessments or civilian casualty analysis.

CIVIC’s 2010 report Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan showed that there is no comprehensive or systematic accounting of drone strike casualties nor any measure of amends, including compensation, for civilian victims. CIVIC found that the Pakistani government currently runs several compensation programs, which could be expanded to include amends for drone victims.

“There are US systems in place, imperfect as they are, to compensate an Afghan harmed by a US convoy or small arms fire. But not a Pakistani harmed by a drone. Why are their losses treated differently?” said Holewinski. “This makes no sense, and worse, it disrespects civilians, leaving them to suffer with no recognition or help.”