U.S. to reveal casualties from counterterrorism strikes
Washington — The Obama administration will disclose how many people have been killed by U.S. drones and counterterrorism strikes since 2009, the White House said Monday, lifting one element of secrecy shrouding the controversial counterterrorism program.
Both combatants and civilians the U.S. believes have died in strikes from the skies will be included in the report, which covers the period since President Barack Obama took office. It won’t cover areas of “active hostilities” like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but will instead focus on the shadowy regime of strikes the U.S. launches against terrorist targets in other parts of the world such as North Africa.
In recent years, the U.S. has conducted counterterrorism strikes in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, among other places.
Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said the assessment would be released “in the coming weeks,” casting it as part of a commitment to transparency for U.S. actions overseas. Monaco said the figured would be disclosed annually in the future, although it will ultimately be up to Obama’s successor to decide whether to continue the practice.
“We know that not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counterterrorism actions and the broad support of our allies,” Monaco said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
U.S. lawmakers have long pressed for more transparency about how many civilians the U.S. kills in drone strikes each year, but those calls for more disclosure have traditionally faced opposition from the U.S. intelligence community. In 2014, senators dropped a demand for a public declaration. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at the time that the administration was exploring ways to provide more information about the strikes while protecting classified information and confidential sources.
President Barack Obama tightened rules for drone attacks last year, partly to limit unintended casualties, and deaths have declined significantly since then. U.S. officials say few civilians have died from drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere over the last decade, though unofficial tallies by human rights groups cite higher figures.
Although most of the U.S. strikes taking place in areas like North Africa are drone strikes, the report will also cover other lethal counterterrorism operations like bombing raids carried out by the U.S. since 2009.
Because the U.S. doesn’t publicly disclose all the drone strikes it takes, the report isn’t expected to detail the specific countries where people died. Instead, it will offer an aggregate assessment. Although the report doesn’t cover the highest profile conflicts like Iraq and Syria, officials stressed that the U.S. seeks to limit use of force and avoid civilian casualties in those conflicts as well.