75 strikes launched in the ungoverned tribal region since the drone programme accelerated in mid-August have killed several hundred militants without causing any deaths among civilian non-combatants, said the US official, who, lacking authorisation to discuss the programme, requested anonymity.
According to Bloomberg, analysts who monitor developments in the region said figures based on press reports show a decline in unintended deaths, although verifying exact figures may be impossible.
The drone strikes do appear to becoming less lethal for civilians as time goes on, said Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, which reports on terrorism and is based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
The Obama administrations reluctance to share evidence, such as video, or allow independent investigations of the casualty reports has made verification hard, said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistani representative at the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Wed like to believe the US, but we have no reason to do so, he said, referring to the drop in civilian casualties in an interview. It would be in the interest of the US to make sure this information is in the public domain. Improved intelligence has enhanced the imagery gathered by unmanned Predators flying 24-hour patrols over the region near the Afghanistan border, making the missile-firing drones more precise, the US official said.
As a further safeguard, each strike is approved by either CIA director Leon Panetta or his deputy, Michael Morell, the official said. The CIA since mid-2008 has executed about 200 strikes, killing roughly 1,300 militants and 30 non-combatants, the official said. The US has increased the frequency of attacks since President Barack Obama took office two years ago, from about 35 in 2008 to 50 in 2009 and 115 last year, the official said. The US death count and the claim of no recent non-combatant fatalities are impossible to validate, since the identities of those killed, and their roles, are often unclear in Pakistani press reports.