It has been over a decade since the first drone strike occurred in Afghanistan under the Bush Administration. Since then, there has been a steady increase in the number of strikes conducted and in the number of countries where they occur. The majority of these strikes took place in the Northwest section of Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). The porous border and lack of security in this region has made it a refuge for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters fleeing U.S. operations in Afghanistan. It is in this area of Pakistan where the first strikes approved by President Obama were conducted in 2009 – only three days after entering office. Obama continued the frequent use of drone strikes through 2010, ultimately approving more strikes in his first year than President Bush did in his final three years in office. This trend continued until 2014 when the use of drone strikes began to diminish.
While accurate data into the exact location, date, and intended targets has not been officially released, there have been significant efforts by several NGOs to collect this information. Various methods and resources are used, including on the ground reporting and the review of press releases from reputable media outlets. The estimated numbers of civilian casualties in these reports often conflict with the U.S. government’s official statements and counting methods which include all males of military age as “unlawful enemy combatants” unless proven otherwise.
The primary source of data used in this presentation is the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s (BIJ) CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, 2004 to present. To compile the number of “High Profile” targets, we referenced the BIJ’s written description of each attack as well as New America’s list of Leaders Killed. Many of the names that appear refer to known Al-Qaeda operatives or Taliban commanders that were killed in specific strikes.
The BIJ’s data sheet provides an estimated number of minimum and maximum casualties and injuries for each strike. In our presentation, we use the minimum number provided. When the data sheet does not cite a specific location, we used the latitude and longitude of the general area named (ex. North Waziristan).