US Misinterprets Drone Strike Data in Pakistan

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The Obama administration is reporting a decline in drone incidents; however, research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that the numbers are not actually as low as US officials would have the public believe. In January 2014, Alice K. Ross reported on the publication of a leaked Pakistani government document that gives detailed insight into approximately 300 drone strikes that have occurred there between 2006 and 2013. According to Ross, the document “provides rare insight into what the [Pakistani] government understands about the campaign” and it “provides details about exactly when and where strikes took place, often including the names of homeowners.” The Pakistani government knew of hundreds of civilian casualties, even in strikes where it had officially denied any civilian deaths.

The reports also contradict US accounts, including the one provided by Congressional aides to a Los Angeles Times reporter about the June 2012 drone strike that killed Abu Yahya al Libi, identified as al Qaeda’s second-in-command; and another, reported in the New York Times, involving a March 2011 attack on a gathering of men in Dattakhel.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 2,731 people. Neither US nor Pakistani officials routinely acknowledge strikes or provide estimates of casualties, which in turn restricts media coverage and public awareness of them.

As of early February 2014, there had been no recorded drone strikes since December 2013. Patrick Galey reports that the longest pause in drone strikes during Obama’s presidency may be due to peace talks between Pakistani authorities and the Taliban.


Alice K. Ross and Jack Serle, “A changing drone campaign: US covert actions in 2013,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 6, 2014,

Alice K. Ross, “Leaked official document records 330 drone strikes in Pakistan,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 29, 2014,

Alice K. Ross, “Leaked Pakistani document contradicts US accounts of drone strikes,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 31, 2014,

Patrick Galey, “Is Pakistan drone strike hiatus linked to peace talks?.” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, February 6, 2014,

Student Researchers: Holly Day and Gabriela Garcia (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: James J. Dean (Sonoma State University)