Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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How Many Terrorists Have Been Killed by Drones?

by Micah Zenko
February 20, 2013

U.S. Predator drone (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. Predator drone (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).


Yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking to the Easley Rotary Club in Easley, South Carolina, offered a standard defense of drone strikes: “It’s a weapon that needs to be used. It’s a tactical weapon. A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that is now armed.” Graham also noted that without drones it would be hard to attack terrorists groups along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, where “terrorists groups like the [Haqqani] network and Al-Shabaab are residing, very remote regions.” Forget that Al-Shabaab has never been reported to be in that region, Graham also maintained that the drone program “has been very effective.”

Graham then added:  “We’ve killed 4,700. Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al-Qaeda.” His estimate of the death toll of suspected terrorists and militants by U.S. nonbattlefield targeted killings is higher than any other reported. My report, Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies, compiled the averages found within the ranges provided by New America Foundation, Long War Journal, and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and produced a number about 1,200 fewer.

It is notable that Graham’s estimate nearly matches the TBIJ’s highest estimated range for “total reported killed” in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia: 4,756. Either Graham is a big fan of TBIJ’s work, or perhaps he inadvertently revealed the U.S. government’s body count for nonbattlefield targeted killings.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Mike

    But as soon as you declare war on a terrorist, they are no longer a terrorist any more, rather they become an enemy combatant in a war and would therefore presumable be entitled legally to fight back, including attacking civilian targets.

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    this just in from Pakistan:
    President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday declared drone attack as counterproductive causing great damage at popular level and stressed the need to find a way out.

    The damage is indicated in a recent Gallup poll.

    WASHINGTON, D.C.,Feb 14, 2013 — With President Barack Obama’s first term characterized by strained relations between Pakistan and the U.S., more than nine in 10 Pakistanis (92%) disapprove of U.S. leadership and 4% approve, the lowest approval rating Pakistanis have ever given.//

    Hey, it’s not 100% yet.

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    Let’s remember that, even if correct, 4,700 deaths is not the limit of the damage done, particularly to the civilian community. Surviving parents, children, friends, physically injured and/or traumatized, including drone “pilots” who, in spite of their seeming removal from the field of action, suffer psychological effects, for which there may be no “cure” available to them. There are physical costs to running the drone program, as well as the overall “war” effort. Americans, according to polls, are less sanguine about carrying out perpetual “war” than are some parts of the military/intelligence/security complex.

  • Posted by Phil

    4700 killed by American Drones so far Mr Graham?

    That is more than every American ever killed by terrorism, in history !

    This list is to merely demonstrate how that 4700 figure stacks up. I don’t mean to be callous in any way about the sad loss of American life involved. Also there have been some number of terrorist attacks prevented by the brave men and women of the CIA and FBI, some of which are known to us, many of which are not. It is pure hypocrisy to give out ‘drone pilot medals’ and yet know nothing of the stars on the wall at Langley. Here’s to the CIA getting back to its original remit and to cease being the unaccountable paramilitary kill-squad it has been morphed into by a hand full of directors, generals and leaders in the last decade.

    Sept. 16, New York City: TNT bomb planted in unattended horse-drawn wagon exploded on Wall Street opposite House of Morgan, killing 35 people

    Jan. 24, New York City: bomb set off in historic Fraunces Tavern killed 4

    Lebanon: Thirty US and other Western hostages kidnapped in Lebanon by Hezbollah. Some were killed, some died in captivity, and some were eventually released.

    April 18, Beirut, Lebanon: U.S. embassy destroyed in suicide car-bomb attack; 63 dead, including 17 Americans.

    Oct. 23, Beirut, Lebanon: Shiite suicide bombers exploded truck near U.S. military barracks at Beirut airport, killing 241 marines.

    Dec. 12, Kuwait City, Kuwait: Shiite truck bombers attacked the U.S. embassy and other targets, killing 5

    Sept. 20, east Beirut, Lebanon: truck bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy annex, killing 24, including 2 U.S. military.

    Dec. 3, Beirut, Lebanon: Kuwait Airways Flight 221, from Kuwait to Pakistan, hijacked and diverted to Tehran. 2 Americans killed.

    June 14, Beirut, Lebanon: TWA Flight 847 en route from Athens to Rome hijacked to Beirut by Hezbollah terrorists and held for 17 days. A U.S. Navy diver executed.

    Oct. 7, Mediterranean Sea: gunmen attack Italian cruise ship, Achille Lauro. One U.S. tourist killed. Hijacking linked to Libya.

    Dec. 18, Rome, Italy, and Vienna, Austria: airports in Rome and Vienna were bombed, killing 20 people, 5 of whom were Americans. Bombing linked to Libya.

    April 2, Athens, Greece:A bomb exploded aboard TWA flight 840 en route from Rome to Athens, killing 4 Americans and injuring 9.

    April 5, West Berlin, Germany: Libyans bombed a disco frequented by U.S. servicemen, killing 2 and injuring hundreds.

    Dec. 21, Lockerbie, Scotland: N.Y.-bound Pan-Am Boeing 747 exploded in flight from a terrorist bomb and crashed into Scottish village, killing all 259 aboard and 11 on the ground. Passengers included 35 Syracuse University students and many U.S. military personnel. Libya formally admitted responsibility 15 years later (Aug. 2003) and offered $2.7 billion compensation to victims’ families.

    Feb. 26, New York City: bomb exploded in basement garage of World Trade Center, killing 6 and injuring at least 1,040 others. In 1995, militant Islamist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and 9 others were convicted of conspiracy charges, and in 1998, Ramzi Yousef, believed to have been the mastermind, was convicted of the bombing. Al-Qaeda involvement is suspected.

    April 19, Oklahoma City: car bomb exploded outside federal office building, collapsing wall and floors. 168 people were killed, including 19 children and 1 person who died in rescue effort. Over 220 buildings sustained damage. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols later convicted in the antigovernment plot to avenge the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Tex., exactly 2 years earlier. (See Miscellaneous Disasters.)

    Nov. 13, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: car bomb exploded at U.S. military headquarters, killing 5 U.S. military servicemen.

    June 25, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia: truck bomb exploded outside Khobar Towers military complex, killing 19 American servicemen and injuring hundreds of others. 13 Saudis and a Lebanese, all alleged members of Islamic militant group Hezbollah, were indicted on charges relating to the attack in June 2001.

    Aug. 7, Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: truck bombs exploded almost simultaneously near 2 U.S. embassies, 12 Americans killed.

    Oct. 12, Aden, Yemen: U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole heavily damaged when a small boat loaded with explosives blew up alongside it. 17 sailors killed.

    Sept. 11, New York City, Arlington, Va., and Shanksville, Pa.:
    2,749 in New York City,
    184 at the Pentagon,
    40 in Pa.

    2003 1
    May 12, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: suicide bombers kill 34, including 8 Americans.

    May 29–31, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: terrorists attack the offices of a Saudi oil company in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, take foreign oil workers hostage in a nearby residential compound, leaving 22 people dead including one American.

    June 11–19, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: terrorists kidnap and execute Paul Johnson Jr., an American, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 2 other Americans and BBC cameraman killed by gun attacks. 3

    Dec. 6, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: terrorists storm the U.S. consulate, killing 5 consulate employees.

    Nov. 9, Amman, Jordan: suicide bombers hit 3 American hotels, Radisson, Grand Hyatt, and Days Inn, in Amman, Jordan. 4 Americans killed.

    May 26, Iraq: a suicide bomber on a motorcycle kills six U.S. soldiers.

    June 24, Iraq: a suicide bomber kills at least 20 people, including three U.S. Marines, at a meeting between sheiks and Americans in Karmah, a town west of Baghdad.

    June 12, Afghanistan: four American servicemen are killed when a roadside bomb explodes near a U.S. military vehicle in Farah Province.

    July 13, Afghanistan: nine U.S.soldiers and at least 15 NATO troops die when Taliban militants boldly attack an American base in Kunar Province, which borders Pakistan.

    Nov. 26, India: Mumbai – 5 Americans killed.

    Feb. 9, Iraq: a suicide bomber kills four American soldiers.

    April 10, Iraq: a suicide attack kills five American soldiers.

    June 1, Little Rock, Arkansas: Abdulhakim Muhammed,
    One American killed.

    Dec. 30, Iraq: a suicide bomber kills eight Americans civilians, seven of them CIA agents, at a base in Afghanistan.

    Sept. 11, Benghazi, Libya: killing U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy officials.

  • Posted by jim sharp

    gobheads of u.s. imperialism
    points two fingers without
    twigging there’s six mauled
    fingers pointing back at
    their gawd forsaken imperium

  • Posted by Lawrence W Pearson , J.D., Ph.D.

    The first issue in the use of drones is the constitutional issue of “we are at war” argument used by Obama and his administration. Does anyone believe we are really at war? Where is the draft? Where are the severe measures of austerity imposed on a population in a life and death struggle of war? Where is the overwhelming support of the people, that is, this citizens of the country? None of these things is present. I assume the “we are at war” argument fails. Secondly, are there international standards for the use of force on populations of people not at war? The answer is “yes.”
    Therefore, I believe the United States should withdraw from all international agreements and the United Nations in order to continue a unilateral use of drones against international agreements and standards.

  • Posted by www.north-coast-germany.eu

    Hey jus wanted to give you a brief heads upp and let you knjow
    a feww of the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure
    why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different
    web browsers and both show the same results.

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