Neither the American government nor the independent agencies have the consistent presence on the ground needed to put together true assessments of the damage drone strikes do. Most of the evidence is third-hand, whispered from a local soldier to a far-off reporter. The death toll claims, which vary wildly, are all educated guesswork.
It’s one of many conclusions in a new report on the covert, robotic air war that doesn’t fit neatly into the dominant narratives about the drone campaign, pro or con. (The report is due to publish at midnight GMT on Sunday.) Using interviews with dozens of people in northwest Pakistan — one of the epicenters of the unmanned air assaults — The Center for Civilians in Conflict and Columbia Law School’s human rights clinic have crafted a nuanced view of the civilian impact of this most controversial component of the Obama administration’s counterterror efforts. Table your preconceived notions about the drone war before you read — starting with the notions about who the drones are actually taking out.