The Nation Repeats Incorrect Data on Drone Attacks

Nov 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: The Nation

The Nation (logo)The Nation today includes an editorial, “Say firm NO to drones” that repeats incorrect data on the number of deaths of innocents due to drones attacks. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that such incorrect data has been published by The Nation which raises the question of whether the newspaper is intentionally misleading the people.

According to the editorial,

The drones have already wrought havoc in the country, killing nearly 2000 innocent men, women and children, and spreading insecurity nationwide, while managing to take out only 30-odd suspected Al-Qaeda operatives.

The authors of this editorial do not reveal what source of information they have taken these numbers, and based on the publicly available data it appears that they have simply made it up from thin air. Possibly, though, they have taken their data from the website Pakistan Body Count by Dr. Zeeshan Usmani. However, this Pakistan Body Count data was recently debunked by independent researchers.

Research by Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood was published by Daily Times in October and is also available at the website

The first problem is that Dr Usmani has only two entities in his data, i.e. al Qaeda and civilians. Where do the Taliban fit in, precisely the Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Islam (LI)? Where does targeting monsters like Baitullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud fit in this scenario? There is no justification for including the TTP, LI or any other militant groups in the same category as civilians. Such gimmicks are only being used to mislead the whole world and any such defence of the flawed data is misleading and unacceptable. We cannot claim whether the data is manipulated and purposely flawed for ideological reasons. What we can assert is that this alone leaves a serious flaw in his data collection and since the government of Pakistan officially declares the TTP, LI and associated groups as terrorists and has been pursuing an active military campaign against them, including their deaths amongst civilians is a serious distortion of the truth, erroneous and contrary to acceptable logic. Their deaths are and should be included as a part of the accuracy of drone strikes.

Mr Saeed and Mr Masood go on to reveal several inaccuracies in Dr Usmani’s data which makes his entire project unreliable. And these are not the only independent researchers that have debunked these statistics. Researchers at the New America Foundation have compiled data based on news reports and other verifiable research. The following is data from Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann’s drones database at the New America Foundation:

Estimated Total Deaths from U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010

Deaths (low) Deaths (high)
2010* 514 841
2009 413 709
2008 263 296
2004-2007 86 109
Total 1,276 1,955

*Through November 21, 2010

Estimated Militant Deaths from U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004 – 2010

Deaths (low) Deaths (high)
2010* 488 781
2009 293 405
2008 106 134
2004-2007 78 100
Total 965 1,420

*Through November 21, 2010

The Nation also recited in their editorial the idea that drone attacks are responsible for suicide bombings. This defies common sense. Actually, Saeed and Masood eloquently explain why such ideas are nonsense on their website:

There lies no factuality in the rhetoric that strives to create a cause and effect relationship between drone attacks and suicide bombing. These are shallow assertions with hollow foundations and no proof to back them up. They can, they are and will be used as a motivating factor, but they are just one amongst the hundreds of motivating factors used by militants. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any suicide bomber has been linked to or a potential bomber that has been apprehended had any acquaintance that died in a drone attack. We challenge the other side to bring forward any news report, intelligence report or a case report that states that the person caught or who carried out the bombing had any relative that died in a drone attack and he was avenging his family members. Most of the times, this assertion is made without any evidence. One of the cited examples is of Faisal Shahzad but that it is unbelievable since his life story as is tells how he was led to the TTP. Baituallah Mehsud once claimed that a suicide attack was in revenge for a particular drone strike but it is unbelievable that he and the group of his monsters wouldn’t have carried it anyway.

The prime reason militants fight and suicide bombers exist is the world view of clash of civilizations, an ideological assertion of one’s one faith over the other’s and the view all military operations conducted by our forces are being conducted on the “behest of the US”, where they view death for their “greater cause” as the ultimate achievement and where life itself remains just a step towards a better eternal life they imagine. They view the state’s involvement in the war on terror, including the Operations in Wana, Tirah, Orakzai, Mohmand, Bajaur, South Warizistan, Operation Silence and Swat as only for “pleasing the US”, as guided by infidels. The drone attacks are an additional factor but in no way the prime motivating factor. The toxic religious dogmas of declaring everybody not cooperating with you as Kafir and liable to death is a major factor, not drones.

Obviously, none of this justifies the use of drone attacks in Pakistan or anywhere else. The debate about whether or not drone attacks are a good policy for Pakistan should be discussed openly and transparently, and each individual is entitled to his own opinion. But nobody, including The Nation, is entitled to his own facts. Using misleading and inaccurate data only undermines an argument. In a debate as serious as the issue of drone attacks, only honest facts should be considered. For a newspaper to knowingly continue using inaccurate data is dishonest and unprofessional.

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