Most US drone strikes in Pakistan attack houses
May 24, 2014
Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA’s 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals.
By way of contrast, since 2008, in neighbouring Afghanistan drone strikes on buildings have been banned in all but the most urgent situations, as part of measures to protect civilian lives. But a new investigative project by the Bureau, Forensic Architecture, a research project based at London’s Goldsmiths University, and New York-based Situ Research, reveals that in Pakistan, domestic buildings continue to be the most frequent target of drone attacks.
The project examines, for the first time, the types of target attacked in each drone strike – be they houses, vehicles or madrassas (religious schools) – and the time of day the attack took place.
- Over three-fifths (61%) of all drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, with at least 132 houses destroyed, in more than 380 strikes.
- At least 222 civilians are estimated to be among the 1,500 or more people killed in attacks on such buildings. In the past 18 months, reports of civilian casualties in attacks on any targets have almost completely vanished, but historically almost one civilian was killed, on average, in attacks on houses.
- The CIA has consistently attacked houses have throughout the 10-year campaign in Pakistan.
- The time of an attack affects how many people – and how many civilians – are likely to die. Houses are twice as likely to be attacked at night compared with in the afternoon. Strikes that took place in the evening, when families likely to be at home and gathered together, were particularly deadly.
Researchers analysed thousands of reports including contemporaneous media reports, witness testimonies and field investigations to gather the data on drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The data is also presented in an interactive online map, titledWhere the Drones Strike, showing the location and targets of each strike.
The research reveals a continued policy of targeting buildings throughout the CIA’s campaign in Pakistan, despite an instruction in Afghanistan from the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), the body which commands foreign operations in the country, that forces operate under the rule that ‘all compounds are assumed to house civilians unless proven to be clear’.
This rule has been in place since at least September 2008 when, according to a leaked classified report, Isaf introduced a Tactical Directive that ‘specifically called for limiting airstrikes on compounds to avoid civilian casualties when Isaf forces are not in imminent danger’.