US drone strikes killed a Pakistani grandmother and 18 civilian labourers last year, according to a report by Amnesty International, shedding fresh light on a major source of tension in US-Pakistani relations.
Islamabad publicly opposes drone attacks, saying they kill too many civilians in addition to their intended targets. The precise extent of human loss on the ground is unclear, however, because independent journalists and researchers have only limited access to the affected regions.
Pakistan’s North Waziristan is the area of the most intensive US drone campaign in the world. Many jihadi fighters have been eliminated, but neither the Pakistani government nor the US releases details about those killed.
Amnesty said it had conducted a detailed investigation into two strikes in North Waziristan, yielding a report based on more than 60 interviews conducted by teams of researchers working independently of each other.
Researcher Mustafa Qadri said: “We were really shocked, especially with the grandmother case. People who are clearly no imminent threat to the US, are not fighting against the US, are being killed. The US has to come clean publicly with the justifications for these killings.”
President Barack Obama said in May that the US does not conduct a drone strike unless there is “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured”.
Amnesty said a drone strike in the village of Ghundi Kala in October 2012 killed Mamana Bibi, 68, the wife of a retired school principal, as she was gathering vegetables. Her five grandchildren were wounded, including Safdar, three, who fell off a roof and broke bones in his chest and shoulders.
It was unclear why Ms Bibi was hit. The weather was clear, providing good visibility to drone operators, the report said.
In the second incident, 18 men were killed in the village of Zowi Sidgi in July 2012. Residents described the dead as a woodcutter, a vegetable seller and miners who had gathered in the shade at dusk to talk after a day’s work. The youngest was 14.
The first drone strike killed at least eight people in all, the report said. The second one killed more locals as they were trying to rescue the wounded.
“Everyone in the hut was cut to pieces,” Amnesty quoted one witness as saying.
The top political official in North Waziristan gave Bibi’s family the equivalent of about £60 to cover medical expenses for the children injured in the strike – but the total cost to the family, including loss of livestock and repairs to their home, was around £5,800, Amnesty said. None of the victims in the attack on the labourers received compensation, Amnesty said.
The Pakistani Taleban effectively control North Waziristan, and offer safe havens to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban fighting Nato troops across the border.
The US has carried out 376 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism said, with the death toll put at between 2,525 and 3,613. Local media reported up to 926 of the dead were civilians.
Most of the time, the dead are militants, although their rank is often unclear, residents, militants and Pakistani security sources have said.
In a separate report released yesterday, Human Rights Watch said US missile strikes, including armed drone attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen as the US tries to crack down on al-Qaeda in the country.
HRW detailed what it said were six “unacknowledged” US military attacks on targets in Yemen, which either clearly, or possibly, violated international law. Some 82 people, 57 of whom were civilians, were killed during the six attacks studied.