White House reveals number of civilian deaths from drone strikes

US Air Force  Lt Col Leslie Pratt

United States President Barack Obama's administration said Friday that up to 116 civilians have been killed by USA drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries where America is not at war.

In accordance with the White House, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has released a report declaring the number of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from US-led strikes against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities.

Often, neither the military nor USA intelligence agencies are able to send an operative to the scene of a drone strike, making it all but impossible to definitively assess how many people were hit.

The US has admitted killing up to 116 civilians with hundreds of drone strikes in countries where it is not officially at war, but the number is a fraction of that recorded by human rights organisations.

The strikes were conducted mostly by drones but also manned warplanes.

Watchdog and rights groups have long claimed that the United States administration does not know how many civilians it has killed and does not do enough to prevent civilian casualties when carrying out counterterrorism operations.

At the same time as the casualty estimate was released, Obama issued an executive order that calls for protective measures for civilians and requires future administrations to release an estimate of civilian casualties each year.

The new report does not include United States death toll in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, where the Obama administration has conducted thousands of air attacks. The numbers excluded "areas of active hostilities" such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Sources on conditions of anonymity disclosed that Obama will also release an executive order that makes protecting civilians a more integral part of planning USA military operations.

Reprieve, an global human rights organisation, said the U.S. government's previous statements about the drone programme have proven to be false by its own internal documents.

Critical information about the use of drones strikes, however, remains secret.

They said they believe a us drone was behind the attack, though it was not immediately possible to verify their account. 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 Central Intelligence Agency have pursued targets in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

"The assessed range of non-combatant deaths provided to the DNI reflects consideration of credible reports of non-combatant deaths drawn from all-source information, including reports from the media and non-governmental organizations", the DNI's briefing says.

The drone program uses a "non combatant casualty cutoff value" sliding scale to decide whether civilian casualties are permitted, based on the value of killing the intended target. The Long War Journal estimated 158 were killed there since 2006 and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism believed the civilian death toll could be as high as 966.

Human rights groups are unlikely to be satisfied by the methods the administration used to calculate the figures and the geographic boundaries of the disclosure.

Those range as high as 1,100 killed.

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