The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has published a confidential report, Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA, whose tabulations cover more than 70 drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas between January 2006 and October 2009.
The tabulations are significant because they are not based on press reports – the standard and highly imperfect source – but on reports prepared for the FATA Secretariat and transmitted to Islamabad by government agents in the field (who rely on their own observations, and reports from the tribal police and other informants). According to one well-placed observer, ‘There was no benefit in officials “cooking the books” here, since this document was clearly never intended to be seen outside the civilian administration.’
It’s an incomplete list – the Bureau has a more comprehensive tabulation – but of the 746 deaths from these air strikes 147 (20 per cent) are identified as civilians (including 94 children).
Still, the Bureau notes some puzzling (even troubling) omissions. In particular, reports of civilian deaths virtually disappear from the record after Obama took office: ‘In part this is because officials occasionally note that “details of casualties are yet to be ascertained.” But many credible reports of civilian deaths are simply missing. The Bureau’s own research shows that civilian deaths have been credibly reported in at least 17 of the 53 CIA drone strikes in Obama’s first year in office. Yet FATA officials report civilian deaths in only three incidents in 2009.’
There have been rumours of more comprehensive tabulations, but the Bureau acknowledges that much also depends on information provided by the Pakistani military. And it would be interesting to see a comparable list of casualties resulting from Pakistan’s own air strikes in the FATA.