Number of civilians killed in drone strikes a secret

Published on Tuesday, 9 April 2019 19:09
Written by The New York Times

The Pentagon says American airstrikes in Somalia have killed no civilians since President Trump accelerated attacks against Shabab militants there two years ago.

Amnesty International investigated five of the more than 100 strikes carried out in Somalia since 2017 by drones and manned aircraft, and in just that small sampling found that at least 14 civilians were killed.

The Pentagon says airstrikes by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State killed at least 1,257 civilians in Iraq and Syria as of the end of January.

Airwars, a university-based monitoring group, estimates that those strikes killed at least 7,500 civilians in those countries.

Those disparities show how poorly the American public understands the human cost of an air war fought largely by remote-controlled drones.

Drones have been the main weapon in the counterterrorism fight for more than a decade. They kill extremists without risking American lives, making combat seem antiseptic on the home front.

But the number of civilians killed in these attacks is shrouded in secrecy.

President Trump has made it even harder to lift that shroud, by allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to keep secret how many civilians are killed in the agency’s airstrikes outside of the Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian war zones - in places like Yemen, the lawless border region of Pakistan and North Africa.

President Barack Obama aggressively expanded drone use in these airstrikes.

But he eventually came to understand the need for more transparency and accountability, and, under pressure, he put some sensible safeguards in place.

Mr. Trump revoked that order this month.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Tuesday, 9 April 2019 19:09. Updated: Tuesday, 9 April 2019 19:12.