A senior White House aide said Monday that the White House will soon disclose how many terrorism suspects the U.S. has killed via drone strikes since President Obama took office, marking the first such disclosure surrounding the controversial program.
Lisa Monaco, a counter-terrorism and homeland security adviser to President Obama, said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations Monday that the increased transparency will help shore up public support for the administration’s use of lethal drone strikes. While there’s no set date for the release of the data—which tallies drone deaths going back to 2009—it will happen in the “coming weeks.”
“Not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counter-terrorism actions and the broad support of our allies,” Monaco said. She also noted that the report will continue annually, though with less than a year left in office, it remains unclear if the next administration will continue the practice.
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Official data surrounding the use of lethal drone strikes by the U.S. Air Force and the C.I.A. has been virtually non-existent in the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001 when drone strikes became an accepted and now often common method of striking at terrorism suspects abroad. Human rights groups have long called for two U.S. administrations to release more data about the drone program, including how decisions are made with respect to approving targets and how many civilians have been killed as a consequence of the strikes.
The reluctance of both the Bush and Obama administrations to do so has long been viewed by those groups as a tacit admission that drone strikes kill significantly more people than the government lets on. It’s also given rise to wildly divergent estimates of civilian casualties, muddling the picture further.
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The disclosure will contain data for “combatant and noncombatant casualties resulting from strikes taken outside areas of active hostilities since 2009,” Monaco explained, meaning civilian or casualty numbers will be included in the release.
It also means that active, declared battlefields such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria will be absent from the data. But the report should still offer significant insight into U.S. drone operations in Somalia, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere over the past seven years.
The announcement comes on the heels of a major U.S. military airstrike in Somalia on Saturday that killed more than 150 fighters at a training camp for the Al Qaeda-aligned militant group Al-Shabaab. Pentagon sources said that strike involved multiple drones as well as manned aircraft—and that no civilians were killed.