United States President Barack Obama’s administration said Friday that up to 116 civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries where America is not at war.
Obama’s goal for the release of the numbers is reportedly to create greater transparency about the actions of the U.S. military and CIA in counterterrorism measures against militants plotting attacks against the United States.
The announcement covered strikes from the day Obama took office in January 2009 through Dec. 31, 2015.
The report by National Intelligence Director James Clapper said the U.S. conducted 473 counterterror strikes, including those by unmanned drones, in this period. Even though the report does not mention the countries where the attacks were carried out, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the Defense Department and CIA have pursued targets in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The data does not include strikes in areas of active hostilities — Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The attacks killed an estimated 2,372 to 2,581 combatants in those seven years, the report said. Between 64 and 116 non-combatants were killed.
Although the figures are higher than any earlier official statement, it falls short of private estimates by a great amount. Even the most conservative estimates by non-governmental organizations that have spent years tallying U.S. strikes in these countries are higher than the ones acknowledged by the administration.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based independent nonprofit, said the administration’s number is a fraction of the 380 to 801 civilian deaths it has tallied, according to the AP. It records such deaths on the basis of local and international journalists’ reports, advocacy organizations, leaked government documents, court papers and field investigations.
“The numbers reported by the White House today simply don’t add up and we’re disappointed by that,” Reuters quoted Federico Borello, executive director for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Civilians in Conflict, as saying.
The administration acknowledged Friday the gap between its own figures and those of the outside groups. One official said calculating the number of deaths caused by U.S. strikes is “more art than science,” CNN reported.
“We acknowledge these assessments may be imperfect,” another official told CNN, noting the complex method is one of the reasons why the administration released a range of deaths, rather than a firm number. Distinguishing between militants and civilians is often difficult and has also reportedly caused discrepancies.
Obama also signed an executive order Friday that requires U.S. policies to limit non-combatant casualties and publicizing the number of strikes each year, and combatants and civilians killed. It makes protecting civilians a central element in U.S. military operations planning.
The 2016 report is due on May 1, 2017.
However, with the impending November presidential elections, the next president will not be necessarily bound by the directive, which can be changed with an executive order of his or her own.