On May 24, President Obama addressed the U.S. military’s use of drone strikes to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Somalaia, and Yemen—and pledged to continue to wind down those operations.
Fittingly, Bloomberg Businessweek created this map to serve as a reminder of the scope of that program., calling it the first ever "comprehensive compilation of all known lethal U.S. drone attacks."
The sobering stats are as follows:
- Yemen: at least 552 killed between 2002 and 2013. The site of the first ever drone strike in 2002.
- Pakistan: at least 2,561 killed between 2004 and 2013.
- Somalia: at least 23 killed between 2011 and 2012.
Even though the programs are secretive, it’s still surprising how hard it is to get reliable data on just how many people we’ve killed with drones. Bloomberg's infographic got its information from the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, but was unable to get confirmation from the State Department. Other sources in Washington, when asked, offered a wide range of numbers.
Will an Obama administration with a renewed commitment to following international codes of conduct shed more light on our drone operations and make it easier to get these numbers in the future?
According to the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, who provided live analysis of the speech, Obama’s speech didn’t go there:
One of the big outstanding questions is just how transparent the Obama administration will be about drone strikes in the future. Will administration officials begin to publicly confirm strikes after they happen?
There was no mention of this in the speech, and it is telling that the president did not mention the C.I.A. at all. It seems quite certain that past operations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere are not going to be declassified anytime soon.
Also, moving operations from the C.I.A. to the Pentagon does not automatically mean that the strikes will be publicly discussed. The Pentagon is carrying out a secret drone program in Yemen right now, and it is very difficult to get information about those operations.