Covert Drone Warfare, By the Numbers

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Unmanned drones have been used to kill thousands of suspected militants — and civilians — and not just in open war zones like Afganistan, Libya and Iraq. Drone strikes have also been used in covert wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The graphs below show drone related deaths in these secret wars. Using statistics gathered by reporters at the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, these interactive charts reveal more about these victims and where they lived. You can filter the data on drone-related deaths by using the “select” boxes on the left of each chart.

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  • Pahl Scharping

    Against this set of statistics, what are the TOTAL NUMBER OF CIVILIANS KILLED, by BOTH sides including Suicide Attacks, etc.?

  • Erwin Dale Brown

    How can you have “Militants/Unknown” hooked together with a slash? It means you really don’t know who “Unknown is,…or was. You need to go ahead and put the “Unknowns” in the “civilians killed” pile.

  • Karen Lynch

    Drones are just an unmanned high-altitude attack method but we used high altitude attacks before drones. What are statistics of manned vs. unmanned?

  • Anonymous

    I would tend to agree with Erwin Brown that the “Persons Killed by U. S. Drones” chart is only so helpful using the Militants/Unknown category. Does this mean that no one knows how many or even if any militants were killed by the known drone attacks? Known militants should be split out into a separate category even if it includes only small numbers. Or, if “Unknown” is an editorial comment — one that I wouldn’t be unsympathetic with — that should be stated as note to the chart. Maybe the basis for the numbers and classifications is discussed at the underlying site?

  • Triton Scott

    “Suspected” militants! Haha, that’s a funny one, I just love that word.
    Considering that we know the U.S. has incarcerated thousands of “suspected
    militants” at Guantánamo & other black sites who turned out not to be
    involved with terrorism at all but who were innocent civilians in the wrong
    place at the wrong time (see the Academy-Award-winning documentary “Taxi to the
    Dark Side” for a classic example of how the CIA makes mistakes) why should we
    believe our government is any better at identifying our “enemies” now that it
    has decided it’s more fun to kill them outright instead of messy emprisoning & torturing
    them. The drone program is not only sickening to anyone who cares about Constitutional due process, in fact we can only imagine the blowback down the road and where this “future of warfare” will lead: a world where everyone terrorizes everyone else.

  • Carol VanTine Yocom

    As long as there is one child shown on the chart, the use of drones is despicable.

  • Dave Flint

    Erwin is right. Why not have a category “Mothers/Unknown”? That would get everybody upset!

  • Dave Flint

    I guess with drones, there’s no de-briefing session where the mission can be discussed. The drone knows the address it has to hit but has no idea who is in the building. There can’t be any last second decision if it doesn’t seem right ie a seniors group is playing bingo at the Al Qaeda centre that night. The information might be known, but the gov’t will keep it unknown on charts like this. Mmmm…unless it is true that the military really doesn’t know who they killed in such high numbers? Which is worse?

  • Dave Flint

    Can you imagine having a marketing meeting, and the topic is “Who is our customer?”. So you throw a few charts up on the PPT and most of it says unknown. Someone will lose their job. Now, this is deaths caused by drones which is a million times more important. “Unknown” is not an acceptable category!

  • Dave Flint

    It should be somebody’s job to know. Also, I would like to see the chart seperating militants from unknown…how many dead people are unknown? Collateral damage…is that how they dehumanize deaths by persons unknown on drone missions? It’s not damage…it’s death.

  • Marcelo Zamorano

    I wonder who has given the US the right to act as the world police and
    violate sovereign nations’ air space with impunity just because they
    have the military and technological power to do it? Under any other
    circumstances –like if it were done to a Western European nation,
    China, or Russia, i.e. other military powers– this would be considered
    an act of war.

  • Steve Heeren

    the better choice, mr. clapp, to limit civilian deaths is to stop invading countries who haven’t invaded the US. this includes vietnam, panama, pakistan, yemen, iraq, afghanistan, etc., etc. the list is too long.

  • John de Clef Piñeiro

    Using Drones is Tantamount to the Serial Killing of Innocents

    Today, there is no need to drop bombs/missiles on locations with known civilian populations. To do so is immoral and murderous. In war, combatants are the targets. And that’s what happens in a war with another nation-state.

    But the U.S. is not now engaged in a war with another nation-state and, therefore, it is not confronting combatants of another nation-state.

    Drones, however, are indiscriminate killing machines, and by their very nature blur the distinction between friend and foe, alike, in any event.

    No doubt many would like to think that modern technology could effectively accomplish a precise “surgical strike.” But that is not the capacity of a drone; it doesn’t fire a bullet, its missiles are bombs.

    So, in essence, a decision to employ missiles against a target embedded in a civilian community is a decision to employ the means of overkill, and the deliberate decision to use such means cannot morally or legally escape or exculpate responsibility for the killing of innocents.

    And mind you, this technology is being employed when no actual enemy belligerent nation is involved, which means that the innocent civilians who are killed are not the national enemies of the U.S. In short, what is occurring here by using drones is condoning the conscious, deliberate murder of innocents. And continuing to do this turns the doer into a serial killer of innocents.

    Some contributors to this comment chain may not wish to acknowledge or address the moral and legal significance and culpability for civilian killings by the president’s use of drones, but these killings have not escaped the notice of the United Nations.

  • John de Clef Piñeiro

    So, here’s what emerges from these charts:

    FACT: The number and hence the immorality of Mr. Obama’s
    drone killings has only escalated during his presidency, and represents a
    dramatic increase in killings by drones when compared with his predecessor.

    In 2008, at the height of George W. Bush’s drone campaign
    (which began in 2002), 268 persons were killed by drones* – all of them in
    Pakistan (a country with which the U.S. is not and has never been at war).

    But in 2009, under Mr. Obama, 553 people were killed by
    drones, again, only in Pakistan.

    In 2010, Mr. Obama’s drone campaign killed 1,107 persons in

    In 2011, Mr. Obama’s drone campaign was expanded to three
    countries with which the U.S. is not at war: killing 269 persons in Pakistan, 80
    persons in Yemen, and 18 persons in Somalia.

    In 2012, Mr. Obama’s drone campaign continued in those same
    three countries, killing 246 persons in Pakistan, 408 persons in
    Yemen, and 5 persons in Somalia.

    In all, Mr. Bush is responsible for 435 drone killings over
    the course of 7 years. Mr. Obama, however, is responsible for 2,686 killings in
    only 4 years – a more than six-fold increase over Mr. Bush’s total drone
    killings, and Mr. Obama is just beginning a term of “four more

    The sheer immorality of such killings is particularly
    underscored when the number of “suspected militants” is subtracted from the
    total number of drone killings by Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama.

    During the 7 years of the Bush drone campaign, 70 civilian
    adults and 112 children were killed, amounting to nearly 42% of the total drone
    killings (or, on average, about 4 in 10 persons killed were non-militants).

    During the last 4 years of the Obama drone
    campaign, 276 civilian adults and 77 children were killed, amounting to more
    than 13% of the total drone killings (or, on average, about 1 in 8 persons
    killed were non-militants).

    In all, the total number of persons killed by U.S. drone
    attacks over the past 11 years comes to 3,121. Of that number, 435 were
    civilian adults and children (or, on average, about 14 out of every 100 persons
    killed were non-militants).

  • Fred Mrozek

    I could not agree more. If these drones were stalking the folks who plan and initiate wars-of-aggression… they might not be quite so objectionable. But we do not really NEED drones for that job. Just indictments of neocons and their fellow travelers. Trials for war criminals are a good idea no matter which country those war criminals are from or how important those persons think they are.

  • Elle Whitlow

    May i Please quote you on this, i feel the information you have shared is quite important.

  • Anonymous

    The U.S. is great at justifying their actions which they would consider acts of war by anyone else. Of course we are EXCEPTIONAL, aren’t we? God help our exceptional behinds!

  • Anonymous

    Peace!! What a concept.

  • Art

    Its too bad Mr Bush killed so many more civillians & children in his other (non drone) military actions.

  • doug lowe

    What, you dare to challenge Caesar? He keeps his own imperial countenance, and if the thumb goes down, then women, children, or anyone else in the path of the drone will feel the power of his thumb. (That’s how it goes deep down inside him at any rate – I believe. Addiction to power can be just as debilitating as being addicted to any powerful drug. As far as I’ve heard, Obama hasn’t enrolled himself in any methadrone clinics.