< Previous Page
He said the women and children were relatives of the compound’s owner, Gul Sharif, a militant commander loyal to Bahadur. He survived the attack, said two villagers, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington said no women and children were observed in the compound before the strike. But Mamrez Gul, taxi driver Noor Habib Wazir and farmer Gul Paenda Khan said they attended the funeral of the women and children.
A strike on August 14, 2010, on a compound in Issori Boikhel village also illustrated the danger to civilians who live close to militants. The attack killed seven Pakistani Taliban fighters and seven tribesmen, said Shera Deen, the owner of the compound that was hit. Safir Ullah, a student, corroborated the casualty count, as did a third villager who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Deen, who was not in the compound when it was attacked, said he lost two sons, a brother and three nephews, one of them 10 years old.
The seventh tribesman killed was 26-year-old Sohrab Khan, who was leading evening prayers for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when the missiles struck, the villagers said. According to them, the Taliban fighters entered the compound to join the prayers, which would explain why they were bunched together with civilians.
The tribesmen were buried in a graveyard with a wooden headstone indicating they were victims of a drone attack, the villagers said. The Taliban fighters were buried in a different corner of the same graveyard in an unmarked grave, they said.
U.S. counterterrorism officials disputed the death tolls and other details of some of the strikes, including the exact locations. One said the U.S. "had no reliable evidence" that civilians were killed in any of the strikes examined and questioned the reliability of villagers’ accounts.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because the drone program is classified.
Regarding the March 17, 2011, strike on Shiga village, the bloodiest attack investigated by the AP, U.S. officials familiar with drone operations said the group targeted was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to al-Qaida, and all "acted in a manner consistent with AQ (al-Qaida)-linked militants."
But villagers and Pakistani officials said the missiles hit a community meeting, or jirga, held to resolve a mining dispute, killing four Pakistani Taliban fighters and 38 civilians and tribal police.
The militants were there because they controlled the area and any decision made would need their approval, said Gul Ahmed, a farmer.
Citing the number visible in the monitoring before and during the attack, U.S. officials said the total of dead was roughly half what villagers reported. But Ahmed said there were 42 caskets lined up at the funeral, and he provided the victims’ names.
Christopher Rogers, a lawyer who has studied civilian casualties in Pakistan from drone attacks and other military action, said that regardless of casualty tolls, the U.S. still needed to make the program more transparent to prove it is complying with international laws on who may be targeted and measures to minimize the loss of innocent lives.
"The percentage of militants killed is an important piece of this, but it is one piece of a larger picture," said Rogers, who works at Open Society Foundations, an advocacy group in New York City. "The bigger issue here is the covert nature of the program, the complete lack of any transparency and accountability and the lack of information about how the U.S. distinguishes a militant from a civilian."
The drone program is so secretive that only last month did President Barack Obama publicly acknowledge its existence. He said the strikes "have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties," but gave no details.
Rights organizations have been unable to verify the number of civilian casualties caused by drones because of the danger and difficulty of getting to sites.
One London-based group, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has published drone casualty figures based on media reports, witness testimony and other information. It said strikes have killed between 2,383 and 3,109 people, of whom 464 to 815 were civilians. That implies the percentage of militants killed was roughly 70 to 80 percent. The group said an unidentified U.S. counterterrorism official insisted its civilian casualty figures were much too high.
Drone attacks began during the Bush administration. Obama has ramped them up significantly since he took office but slowed them down in recent months because of increased tension between the U.S. and Pakistan.
A poll conducted in May 2011 by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center found that overwhelming majorities of Pakistanis who were aware of drone strikes said they were a bad thing and killed too many innocents. Pakistani officials regularly criticize the strikes as violations of the country’s sovereignty, but there has long been some level of Pakistani acquiescence or help in the program.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.Next Page >
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.