It was the first time the President publicly acknowledged the classified program
President Barack Obama readily confirmed the drone war in northwest Pakistan in an interview Monday, breaking with the protocol which normally demands U.S. officials not speak publicly about the classified program.
“I want to make sure people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” President Obama said in an hour long interview hosted by Google. “For the most part, they’ve been very precise, precision strikes against against al-Qaeda and their affiliates.”
The claim mirrors previous attempts to downplay the civilian casualties of the drone war. John Brennan, President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, told the public back in June that zero civilian casualties have occurred as a result of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
This was an obvious lie, but the Bureau of Investigative Journalism helped prove it so in August by cataloguing their lengthy findings on civilian casualties in the drone war, counting hundreds of civilians by name who were killed in drone strikes, including at least 168 children. Investigative reporter Noor Behram, who had been on the ground in Pakistan tallying the dead, estimated that “for every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant.”
A Washington Post article last month explained that, although the government has dismissed “reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents” by claiming that drones “result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons,” they have yet to provide any details to support those claims.
The Post report said that the drone war in Pakistan has resulted “in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths.” But the public simply doesn’t have a good idea of how many have been killed, because “the identities…remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself.”
In the same Google interview, President Obama also down-played the role of U.S. drones in Iraq, saying that “the truth is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our embassy compound is protected.”
Both Pakistan and Iraq have publicly objected to America’s use of drones flying over their skies, saying it amounts to a violation of their sovereignty.
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