WASHINGTON, October 18 (RIA Novosti) — Obtaining accurate numbers of civilian casualties in US drone strikes in Pakistan is incredibly difficult, in part because outsiders are not allowed in to collect objective data, the director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, Shuja Nawaz told RIA Novosti.
"It's very difficult to get good numbers," Nawaz said Friday. "The fact is, the drone attacks are occurring in an area where military operations are being conducted. The military doesn't allow any independent observers to go in, the militants don't allow any independent observers to go in." Because of these complications, Nawaz noted that "it's very hard to know if what is being said is accurate."
New statistics were released on Thursday by the UK Bureau of Investigative Journalism claiming that fewer than 4 percent of the victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan had been identified as members of Al Qaeda. A greater number of casualties were described as militants, but with little corroborating evidence.
Nawaz, who has previously reported on the American drone strikes in Pakistan, was skeptical of the numbers, and explained the difficulties in obtaining reliable information from combat areas. He stated that militants "immediately cordon off any area of attack and prevent outsiders from going in." After burying their own dead, the only casualties left are the civilians, "then that is all someone would see," said Nawaz.
Aside from international humanitarian organizations who have been focused on civilian casualties in American drone strikes, Nawaz noted that there are also some independent lawyers in Pakistan who are trying to collect the numbers of casualties and evidence of the drone strikes, "but again [it is] hard to predict how accurate those are."
In the past there has been controversy over the failure of US authorities and the central of Pakistan to coordinate drone strikes within the country. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for an end to the US drone strikes, accusing the US of violating the country's territorial integrity and basic human rights.
Despite the objections by the central government, Nawaz told RIA Novosti that the US has been able to develop better intelligence sources to conduct the strikes. "There are also independent actors…representing US coalition partners who I know have been much more active in developing contacts and identifying potential contacts, not necessarily with the knowledge of the government of Pakistan," he added.
The United States resumed its drone attacks in Pakistan in June. Washington says the airstrikes are part of an effort to eliminate a global terrorist threat. The legal basis for the strikes comes from a law signed by Congress after 9/11, which gives the US president the right to use all necessary force against those behind the September 11, 2011 attacks on the United States.
International organizations and human rights groups have often criticized Washington over its drone operations that in many cases have led to the deaths of civilians.