The Obama Administration will soon for the first time disclose the number of casualties from unmanned aerial vehicle operations outside of traditional war zones.
The move was announced by President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism aid, Lisa Monaco. The top White House official said the disclosure is meant to further legitimize their counterterrorism operations for both America’s allies and its people.
“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.
Monaco did not specify a precise date for when the information is to be released, instead saying the casualty count will be made available within the “coming weeks”. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest clarified the administration’s move in a press conference following the announcement.
“We’ll have more information on this soon,” Earnest told reporters. “There will obviously be some limitations about where we can be transparent, given a variety of sensitivities, including diplomatic ones.”
The long-desired disclosure will cover strikes in undeclared US battlefields, such as Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere, rather than the active war theaters of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. There was no specific date set for release, White House officials said, though Monaco said it will occur in the “coming weeks”.
The White House would not immediately say how it would count casualties, or how how it targeted them — information that Naureen Shah, of Amnesty International USA, said is necessary to get a complete picture of the program.
Terrorist combatants and civilians killed in such strikes will be included in the report, but it won’t cover areas of “active hostilities” like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Instead, the report will focus on terrorist targets in other parts of the world such as North Africa, where U.S. strikes on Saturday killed more than 150 people in Somalia.
Human rights groups have been urging the administration to issue a public accounting of drone casualties. In addition, some lawmakers have urged introduced legislation to mandate it, but the administration fended off such proposals by promising it was looking at ways to make the drone programs more transparent.
Critics of using drone strikes to target terrorists have often pointed to how civilians are occasionally killed in the attacks. Earnest addressed those concerns during the press conference on Monday, saying the administration does everything it can to avoid collateral damage.
“By publishing the numbers and being more transparent, we can make clear that we’re not just paying lip service to the idea that our policy puts in place the highest possible standard for avoiding civilian casualties when carrying out these operations,” Earnest said.
The information to be released focuses on drone strikes conducted outside of typical US battlefields, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. Again, Monaco did not specify if the report would break down the casualties by country. Instead, the report will give an aggregate figure for civilian casualties.