Since 2004, the United States government has attacked thousands of targets in Northwest Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan.
These strikes began during the administration of United States President George W. Bush, and increased substantially under his successor Barack Obama. Some in the media have referred to the attacks as a “drone war”. The George W. Bush administration officially denied the extent of its policy; in May 2013, the Obama administration acknowledged for the first time that four US citizens had been killed in the strikes. Surveys have shown that the strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where they have contributed to a negative perception of the United States.
The US administration and Pakistani authorities have publicly claimed that civilian deaths from the attacks are minimal. Leaked military documents reveal that the vast majority of people killed have not been the intended targets, with approximately 13% of deaths being the intended targets, 81% being other militants, and 6% being civilians. The identities of collateral victims are usually not investigated by US forces, who systematically count each male military-age corpse as an “enemy killed in action” unless there is clear proof to the contrary, as long as the male was in a militant facility at the time. Estimates for civilian deaths range from 158 to 965. Amnesty International found that a number of victims were unarmed and that some strikes could amount to war crimes.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly demanded an end to the strikes, stating: “The use of drones is not only a continual violation of our territorial integrity but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country”. The Peshawar High Court has ruled that the attacks are illegal, inhumane, violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and constitute a war crime. The Obama administration disagreed, contending that the attacks did not violate international law and that the method of attack was precise and effective.
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