US to claim '100 civilians killed' in drone strikes
The US is expected to reveal that 100 civilians have died in military and CIA drone strikes since President Barack Obama took office in November 2008, far below the estimates given by human rights groups.
The report could be released as early as Friday and reveals the estimated number of civilian deaths in 500 US military and CIA air raids in Yemen, Pakistan and Africa.
Obama will also issue an executive order that makes protecting civilians a more integral part of planning US military operations, activists and sources told the Associated Press agency.
The estimate is said to cover drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, but does not cover drone attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria where US forces have conducted thousands of air raids.
The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to disclose the information.
The US' drone programme - a key tool of Obama's counterterrorism strategy - has long been shrouded in secrecy.
Information from the report is unlikely to answer all the questions raised by human rights groups who have claimed that the administration undercounts civilian casualties.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for instance, has estimated that there were anywhere from 492 to about 1,100 civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2002.
Federico Borello, executive director of Center for Civilians in Conflict in Washington, said Thursday that he applauds Obama's forthcoming executive order. He said he had not yet seen the final draft, but that his group probably would call on Congress to codify it into law so that future presidents cannot throw it out.
"This is something that we've been working on for 10 years," he said. To have civilian protections "in the heart of military planning is a big deal."
Reprieve, an international human rights organisation based in New York, says that the government's previous statements about drone strikes have proven to be false by facts on the ground and the US government's own internal documents.
"But more importantly, it has to be asked what bare numbers will mean if they omit even basic details such as the names of those killed and the areas, even the countries, they live in," Reprieve said in a statement on Thursday.
"Equally, the numbers without the definitions to back up how the administration is defining its targets is useless, especially given reports the Obama administration has shifted the goalposts on what counts as a 'civilian' to such an extent that any estimate may be far removed from reality."