US Drones Killed No More than 4 Civilians in Pakistan in 2013, Lowest Annual Number Ever: UK Group Reports

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A Reaper drone.

Source: Kelley B. Vlahos, “Fearing the Reaper (Drone),”, Feb. 1, 2011

US drone strikes killed between zero and four civilians in Pakistan during all of 2013, the fewest civilian casualties since the strikes began in 2004 according to the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A total of 112-193 militants in Pakistan were allegedly killed by US drone strikes in 2013.

Drones reportedly struck the country 27 times, the lowest number of strikes since 2007 and down from a peak of 128 strikes in 2010. In addition to record-low civilian deaths, the casualty rate – the number of people killed in each strike on average – fell to 4.2, the lowest on record.

Since 2004, Pakistan has been hit by 381 drone strikes in total, the Bureau says, and between 416-951 civilians have been killed compared to a total of 2,121-2,695 militants. President Obama has launched 330 strikes in Pakistan during his presidency (according to the Bureau’s count), while President George W. Bush launched 51 drone strikes.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, several possible factors could be behind the declines, including “improvements in technology since the early years of Bush’s covert drone strikes, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and increasing scrutiny of the covert drone campaign by the international community as well as Washington and Islamabad.”

“Drone strike casualty estimates are substituting for hard facts and information about the drone program,” wrote Naureen Shah, Acting Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School and Advocacy Advisor at Amnesty International USA. “These are good faith efforts to count civilian deaths, but it’s the U.S. government that owes the public an accounting of who is being killed, especially as it continues expanding secret drone operations in new places around the world. Low civilian casualty estimates may provide false assurance to the public and policymakers that drone strikes do not harm civilians.”

Drones used for strike operations abroad are flown by intelligence officers and private contractors in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as well as Air Force pilots under the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA operates on its own in Pakistan, where approximately 80% of US drone strikes have been carried out. JSOC currently has responsibility for drones in Afghanistan and Somalia, and co-responsibility with the CIA for drones in Yemen.

In the opposite trend of Pakistan, US drone strikes in Yemen killed between 11-23 civilians in 2013, an increase from 7-12 civilian deaths in 2012. Between 6-15 civilians were killed in a Reaper drone strike on a wedding convoy on Dec. 12, 2013 when the US Joint Special Operations Command sought to kill a mid-level Al Qaeda commander linked to a plot to target the US embassy in Yemen.


Katharine Houreld, “U.S. Drones Killed No More than Four Civilians in Pakistan in 2013: Study,”, Jan. 21, 2014

Alice K. Ross and Jack Serle, “A Changing Drone Campaign: US Covert Actions in 2013,”, Jan. 6, 2014

Jack Serle, “First Civilian Death in a Drone Strike This Year Reported in Yemen,”, Jan. 17, 2014

Naureen Shah, “Drone Strike Casualty Estimates Likely Understated,” (accessed Jan. 22, 2014)

“Yemen: Reported US Covert Actions 2013,”, Jan. 3, 2013

“Yemen: Reported US Covert Action 2012,”, May 8, 2012