89% of Drone Victims in Pakistan Not Identifiable as Militants

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Al Qaeda members comprise only four percent of the total 2,379 people killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan as of October 2014, just over ten years after the first of such strikes. Of the total killed, about thirty percent could be identified and eleven percent were named as militants. Little is known about the remaining 1,675 unnamed victims.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported these numbers after conducting a yearlong investigation that pulled together information from various sources, including fieldwork, media outlets, and leaked documents, to accumulate details of drone strike casualties.

These reports put into question the validity of statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which he claimed, “The only people we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level.” Regardless of whether or not those killed were in fact dangerous, the inability to account for their identities both invites skepticism toward U.S. military efforts domestically and internationally and raises moral concerns about basic respect for human dignity.

A variety of reports exist noting civilian deaths and strikes on “suspected” militants. However, as of March 11th, 2015, very few major U.S. news sources have reported figures concerning the numbers of unidentified victims and small percentage of confirmed al Qaeda deaths. The Huffington Post republished the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s article in October 2014 but did not contribute any new information or writing.


Abigail Fielding-Smith, “John Kerry Says All those Fired at by Drones in Pakistan are ‘Confirmed Terrorist Targets’ – But with 1,675 Unnamed Dead How Do We Know?” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, October 23, 2014, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/10/23/john-kerry-says-all-those-fired-at-by-drones-in-pakistan-are-confirmed-terrorist-targets-but-with-1675-unnamed-dead-how-do-we-know/.

Jack Serle, “Only 4% of Drone Victims in Pakistan Named as al Qaeda Members,” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, October 16, 2014, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead/only-4-of-drone-victims-in-pakistan-named-as-al-qaeda-members/?lang=en.

Student Researcher: Dylan Morrissey (Claremont McKenna College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)