US drones "terrorize" communities: Report

Activists of Pakistan Muttahida Shehri Mehaz burn US, NATO and UN flags during a protest against the US missile strike in Waziristan, in Multan on August 26, 2012. Pakistan has repeatedly criticized American drone attacks in its territory, calling them counter-productive. (Photo: AFP - S Mirza)

Published Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The US government's drone program in Pakistan "terrorizes" local communities, kills large numbers of civilians and drives anti-American fervor in the country, a new study by the law schools of Stanford and New York University finds.

The study, titled "Living Under Drones," finds that Pakistanis living in affected areas are afraid to attend public gatherings such as weddings and funerals as ground operators that guide the unmanned aircraft frequently mistake them as groups of al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

"Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities," the study reads. "Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves."

It adds: "These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims."

The study is based on interviews with victims, witnesses, humanitarian workers and medical professionals compiled over a nine-month period.

Drone attacks began being carried out in Pakistan under former US President George W. Bush, but the policy has been popularized under Barack Obama despite previous reports that they lead to a high number of civilian casualties.

There has been a dramatic increase in US drone strikes in Pakistan since May, when a NATO summit in Chicago failed to strike a deal to end a six-month blockade on convoys transporting supplies to coalition forces in Afghanistan.

This most recent study cites figures compiled by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism that finds between 2,562 and 3,325 people were killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year. Among them, between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.

In addition to the deaths, the bureau estimates that 1,300 people were injured in drone attacks in the same period.

It also refutes US claims that the drone program has made Americans safer through the targeted assassinations of dangerous militants.

"The dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling 'targeted killings' of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false," the report states.

The study estimates that the number of "high-level" militants killed in drone attacks stands at just two percent, and that the strikes help facilitate recruitment to anti-US militant groups.

The UK-based Reprieve organization commissioned and helped write the report.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of the organization said: "An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies. Their way of life is collapsing. Kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings, or anything that involves gathering in groups."

He added: "George Bush wanted to create a global 'war on terror' without borders, but it has taken Obama's drone war to achieve his dream."

(Al-Akhbar)

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