ISLAMABAD – CIA drone strikes on targets in Pakistan violate its national sovereignty and have resulted in far more civilian casualties than the U.S. government has recognized, a special U.N. human rights envoy has reported after a secret investigation.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, met with Pakistani government officials for three days and came away supporting their long-stated view that they do not consent to the remote-fired missile campaign that is the centerpiece of U.S. strategy to eliminate a wide range of Islamic militants.
This contradicts Washington’s position that the Pakistani military and intelligence services have at least tacitly supported the strikes, which began in 2004 and have significantly escalated since U.S. President Barack Obama took office. At one point earlier in the campaign, the two nations shared intelligence on militant targets, but Pakistani officials vehemently deny they are still doing so.
The drone campaign “involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” Emmerson said in a statement.
The Obama administration has asserted that its covert, targeted killings with unmanned aircraft over Pakistan and elsewhere are approved under U.S. and international law. Targets are chosen under strict criteria and civilian deaths and injuries are rare, according to the CIA.
But Emmerson, a British lawyer, said Pakistani officials have confirmed that at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of drone strikes, and that another 200 individuals killed were “probable noncombatants.”
Estimates of total militant deaths and civilian casualties vary widely. Independent confirmation is difficult in part because the strikes often occur in remote, dangerous tribal areas where Taliban insurgents as well as al-Qaida and its allied militants are active.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that 411 to 884 civilians were among the 2,536 to 3,577 people killed in the CIA strikes in Pakistan.
But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings last month that confirmed CIA Director John Brennan, put the number of civilian deaths considerably lower.
Imtiaz Gul, an author who worked on the case studies and is head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said that his research has found that Taliban members bear a significant onus for civilian deaths. The militants are known to demand food and shelter from families against their will, leading to women and children in those homes being killed in a strike.
And militants who know they are being hunted park their cars next to homes of innocent people and then hide a few houses away, so that the drone operator will end up targeting the wrong house, Gul said.