In a long-anticipated gesture at transparency, the Obama administration on Friday released an internal assessment of the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in nations where the U.S. is not officially at war.
According to the data, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya killed between 64 and 116 civilians during the two terms of the Obama administration — a fraction of even the most conservative estimates on drone-related killings catalogued by reporters and researchers over the same period. The government tally also reported 2,372 to 2,581 combatants killed in U.S. airstrikes from January 20, 2009, to December 31, 2015.
Releasing the figures — which appeared on a Friday afternoon, on a holiday weekend, after seven years of selective leaks and official secrecy — along with an executive order prioritizing the protection of civilian life in counterterrorism operations, reflected core American principles, the president asserted.
In addition to mandating an increased emphasis on civilian protection in U.S. tactics and training, the executive order also called on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release annual reports on civilian casualties resulting from counterterrorism operations, such as drone strikes, in nations where the U.S. is not at war — a move that, in effect, signals the further institutionalization of borderless wars for the foreseeable future.
“As a nation, we are steadfastly committed to complying with our obligations under the law of armed conflict, including those that address the protection of civilians, such as the fundamental principles of necessity, humanity, distinction, and proportionality,” Obama’s order read.