How many Pakistani civilians have been killed by CIA drone strikes? As I have noted, this is an inherently difficult question to answer due to the covert nature of the operations, the fact that some groups targeted by drones purposefully operate out of civilian facilities in an effort to avoid being killed, and the lack of reliable direct access for journalists who are threatened by the Pakistani army or targeted groups. To appreciate how contested the answer to this question is, consider three separate Pakistani government estimates of civilian casualties caused by drones.
A March 2013 statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson read:
Nonetheless the Special Rapporteur was informed that the Government has been able to confirm that at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of drone strikes, and that a further 200 individuals were regarded as probable non-combatants.
In July 2013, an internal Pakistani government document prepared for the FATA Secretariat and covering the period between January 13, 2006 and October 24, 2009 was published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. That document, which included most but not all drone strikes in that period, read:
Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.
Today, the Pakistani Ministry of Defense reportedly responded to a Senate inquiry that requested official data on CIA drone strikes. The Ministry of Defense provided the data in a typed response that read: “The number of civilian casualties and the number of terrorists killed in the said strikes with year wise breakup is as under:”