US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed more civilians than previously reported, including 168 children, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Remote-controlled US drones have been targeting militants in Pakistan for seven years – in a covert war led by the CIA.
The airstrikes are largely focused on the mountainous areas of Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan.
In December 2010, Channel 4 News spoke to witnesses on the ground who said that women and children had perished in the bombing raids, as well as rebel fighters.
Now a detailed study by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) has been published containing new figures on civilian casualties.
Its findings suggest the number of ordinary people killed could be 40 per cent higher than previously reported and that as many as 168 children have died since the strikes began.
Commenting on the findings, Unicef said: “Even one child death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child death too many.
“Children have no place in war, and all parties should do their utmost to protect children from violent attacks at all times.”
The drone reports so far have been made from listening to intelligence agencies’ chatter in Peshawar and Islamabad which is ironic as it’s only the victor’s history. Mirza Shahzad Akbar
The database put together by TBIJ is based on more than 2,000 media reports, witness testimonies, NGO field reports, secret US government cables, leaked intelligence documents and accounts from lawyers, journalists, politicians and former intelligence officers.
Chris Woods, who led the study, said: “The CIA’s insistence that it is not killing civilians in Pakistan is at odds with the reported evidence.”
In response, a senior US official told Channel 4 News that “the claims of extensive non-combatant casualties are uncorroborated”.
The source explained: “Our information is by far the most accurate because we have real-time eyes on the targets, as well as multiple other forms of collection to assess who may have been killed. Nobody is arguing perfection over the life of the policy, but this [the use of drones] remains the most precise system we’ve ever had in our arsenal.”
Speaking to Channel 4 News in December 2010 former CIA officer Mike Baker said: “People who argue that any secret or covert operations are terrible and must be exposed have never operated in the real world.”
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's key findings
• Since 2004 a minimum of 291 drone strikes have been launched by the US - almost 10 per cent more attacks than previously understood.
• A minimum of 2,292 people have been killed in the attacks - 40 per cent more than generally reported. The number may be as high as 2,863.
• The bureau has identified 126 named militants killed.
• At least 385 civilians have been killed, with a possible upper figure of 775.
• Some 168 children have reportedly been killed in the drone strikes - 56 of them during President Obama's first 20 months in office.
In pictures: Pakistan drone war
Lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar is mounting legal proceedings on behalf of 25 families whose relatives have been killed in drone strikes.
He brought the first case against the CIA when Kareem Khan (pictured below), a Pakistani journalist, began a campaign for justice following the deaths of his son and brother in Mirali in December 2009.
Mr Akbar told Channel 4 News he believes TBIJ’s study will help these people get their voices heard.
He said: “The drone reports so far have been made from listening to intelligence agencies chatter in Peshawar and Islamabad, which is ironic as it’s only the victor’s history.”
He said that this resulted in civilian victims being “overlooked”.
He added: “TBIJ’s work is important in this regard and I believe it will strengthen our stance that there is a larger number of civilian deaths than reported and we need to independently investigate.
“Once we settle this basic question, then we can move on to redressing the harm done to victim families.”
A drone operation this week killed 28 people and injured a further eight in a missile attack on a compound at Miramshah in North Waziristan.
“The drone first fired one missile and hit the building, killing most of them standing in the courtyard of the house. Ten minutes later, it fired another missile and hit the remaining portion of the small building and razed it to the ground,” a Taliban commander said, according to a Channel 4 News source.
It is believed the dead included Arab, Afghan, Punjabi and tribal militants who had gathered to leave for neighbouring Afghanistan to fight against US-led Nato forces.
The Taliban sources said the militants had just eaten their sehri – or breakfast – and were busy picking up guns and other items when they came under drone attack.