WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama’s government said on Friday it inadvertently killed up to 116 civilians in strikes in countries where America is not at war, a major disclosure likely to inflame debate about targeted killings and use of drones.
Obama’s goal for the release of the numbers, which are higher than any previously acknowledged by his government but vastly below private estimates, is to create greater transparency about what the US is doing to fight militants plotting against the country.
Non-governmental organizations estimate that hundreds of civilians were killed in such strikes, many of them by drones, in countries including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
The US government pegged NGO estimates of non-combatant deaths during its period of study, from January 20, 2009 to December 31, 2015 from more than 200 to more than 900.
Obama’s administration acknowledged ‘inherent limitations’ in its ability to collect data in dangerous target areas but strongly defended its estimates.
It also cautioned that NGO figures could be flawed, citing “deliberate spread of misinformation by some actors, including terrorist organisations, in local media reports on which some non-governmental estimates rely.”
Drone advocates, including those within the US military, argue the strikes are an essential part of reducing the ability of militant groups to plot attacks against the US. They say the government goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.
Critics of the targeted killing program question whether the strikes create more militants than they destroy.