US Admits Killing 116 Civilians in Strikes Outside War Zones

US Admits Killing 116 Civilians in Strikes Outside War ZonesUS Admits Killing 116 Civilians in Strikes Outside War Zones

The US government accepted responsibility on Friday for inadvertently killing up to 116 civilians in strikes in countries where America is not at war, a major disclosure likely to inflame debate about targeted killings and use of drones.

President Barack Obama’s goal for the release of numbers, which are higher than any previously officially acknowledged but vastly below private estimates, is to create greater transparency about what the US military and CIA are doing to fight militants plotting against the United States, Reuters reported.

But the figures, which covered strikes from the day Obama took office in January 2009 through Dec. 31, 2015, were below even the most conservative estimates by non-governmental organizations that spent years tallying US strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

“The numbers reported by the White House today simply don’t add up and we’re disappointed by that,” said Federico Borello, executive director for the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Drone advocates, including those within the US military, argue the strikes are an essential part of reducing the ability of militant groups to plot attacks against the United States. They say the government goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

Critics of the targeted killing program question whether the strikes create more militants than they kill. They cite the spread of militant organizations and attacks throughout the world as evidence that targeted killings may be exacerbating the problem.

“We’re still faced with the basic question: Is the number of bad guys who are taken out of commission by drone strikes greater or less than the number of people who are inspired to turn to violent acts,” said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA specialist on the Middle East and now a professor of security studies at Georgetown University.

Pakistani lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar, who says he represents a hundred families of civilians killed by drones, questioned the validity of the data even before their release by the director of National Intelligence. He said Washington needed to better explain its criteria for declaring someone a civilian, something that can be difficult to do from a camera on a drone.

“President Obama is worried about his legacy as a president who ordered extrajudicial killings of thousands, which resulted in a high number of civilian deaths,” Akbar told Reuters. “As a constitutional lawyer himself, he knows what’s wrong with that.”

Obama issued an executive order on Friday requiring annual disclosure of such strikes, which fall outside America’s conventional wars.

Such data do not include strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, significantly lowering the number of casualties. In Afghanistan, for example, 42 people were killed and 37 wounded in a mistaken US military strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz last year.

A US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the total of 473 strikes disclosed by the Obama administration on Friday included strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Many of those are believed to have taken place in Pakistan, where NGOs also say a large number of civilians were killed.

The New America think tank estimated up to 315 civilians have been killed in Pakistan in US strikes since 2004 and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism believed the civilian death toll could be as high as 966.

Officials said the US disclosure of the data was meant partly to accept responsibility for such deaths.