President Obama’s foreign policy has often been criticized on both ends, with Republicans proclaiming he is not tough enough in his Middle East strategy, while more liberal Democrats have bemoaned his excessive use of drone strikes.
The White House attempted to alleviate Democrats’ concerns today as Obama signed a new executive order that would help prevent civilian causalities resulting from drones; the goal of the order was to “take feasible precautions in conducting attacks to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties,” according to The Guardian.
The Obama administration also released a report detailing the statistics of drone strikes since 2009. According to its tally, in the 473 strikes that targeted 2,372- 2,581 terrorist combatants, only an estimated 64 - 116 non-combatants were killed during the past seven years.
While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest claims this report has been released in an effort to increase transparency concerning the administration’s counter-terrorism strategy, the numbers appear to be minimizing the real ramifications drones have had on civilians in the Middle East.
The Guardian notes that the White House’s numbers omit civilian deaths from strikes in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and the report fails to specify where many of these strikes occurred.
The 164 figure also conflicts with estimates of independent groups, who believe that anywhere from 200 to 1,000-plus civilians have died. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates up to 966 civilians have died in Pakistan alone since 2004.
Federico Borello of the Center for Civilians in Conflict commented that, “The numbers reported by the White House today simply don’t add up, and we’re disappointed by that,” according to USA Today.
With strikes accidentally bombing Doctors without Borders hospitals in Syria and Afghanistan, it is no surprise Obama has been heavily censured for his policies that he may now be recalibrating.
Although this report is a decent start, the misleading numbers demonstrate the administration’s unwillingness to take full responsibility for the damage the strikes have caused.
Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), expressed the need for further action in a blog post: “The release of more information about the drone campaign [is] a welcome development…[but] unfortunately, there is reason to doubt that the government will provide the kind of specificity that would actually be useful to journalists, human rights researchers, and the general public.”
Drone strikes have been a large stain on an otherwise steady Obama administration, so the president’s attempts to provide more transparency and information are gratifying, if inadequate—the true tally of deaths is likely much higher than what the White House would like to admit.
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