Drone Statistics

Jan 3rd, 2011 | By | Category: Jang, The News

Show Your WorkIn school my maths teacher used to always require that we write out each step in an equation so that he knew how we arrived at the answer. If a student simply wrote the answer to a complex equation without showing how he arrived at that answer, he was not given credit for the equation because there was no way to know if he truly knew the answer, if he simply guessed, or if he had memorized some answer to give. A similar problem faces the media today on how to solve the equation of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes in the tribal areas.

Today’s edition of The News includes two articles which add to the confusion. One by Amir Mir claims that the majority of deaths were those of innocent civilians:

Of the 1,184 persons killed by the American drones in 124 attacks in 2010, around 59 percent were innocent civilians while the remaining 41 percent were terrorists belonging to numerous militant groups based in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt.

According to his article, Amir Mir’s analysis is based on “data gathered by The News primarily from local and international news sources”. He does not reveal what these news sources are – and important point considering the prevalence of questionable and planted information.

An editorial on the same day in the same newspaper claims that “Nobody, be it nation or agency, is questioning the analysis of the figures for drone strikes in Pakistan is 2010 which have been printed in this newspaper”. If nobody is questioning these figures (which is not true), they should be.

Katherine Tiedmann, of the blog AfPak Channel, posted on Twitter today asking Amir Mir to provide his sources so that they can be verified, noting that his figures are not what she sees.

Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann’s drones database at the New America Foundation tells a different story:

Estimated Total Deaths from U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2011

Deaths (low) Deaths (high)

2011* 15 18
2010 591 985
2009 413 709
2008 263 296
2004-2007 86 109
Total 1,372 2,125

*Through January 1, 2011

Estimated Militant Deaths from U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004 – 2011

Deaths (low) Deaths (high)
2011* 15 18
2010 569 927
2009 293 405
2008 106 134
2004-2007 78 100
Total 1,061 1,584

*Through January 1, 2011

As you can see, these figures provide a much different answer than the one arrived at by Amir Mir – 985 total deaths (on the high end) with 927 of those being militants. That means there were 58 innocent civilians killed, or 6 percent of the total. As you can see, this is a far different result than what Amir Mir found. Unlike Amir Mir, Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedmann do provide news sources to back their figures.

Inaccurate figures for deaths resulting from drone attacks is an ongoing problem in news media. This has been a controversy raised within the media itself by researchers such as Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood. Differences in methodology and the difficulties of obtaining accurate counts make it difficult to know for certain the number of deaths and whether the victims are associated with militant groups. All death counts should be considered with this understanding, and the idea that nobody should question one group of figures is ridiculous.

Dr Zeeshan Usmani’s “Pakistan Body Count” data site has been taken offline after it was shown by Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood to be unreliable. If Amir Mir and The News have sources to back their figures, they should reveal them so that they can be fact-checked. Despite their claims to being unquestionable, they are, indeed, being questioned.

If Amir Mir’s numbers are correct, The News will be doing the nation a service to reveal the source of his data. As it remains, however, his figures are in doubt because there is another data set which does reveal its sources and methodology and contradicts Amir Mir’s claims. We look forward to seeing the data set from Amir Mir so that we may judge for ourselves.

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  1. […] the rest here: Drone Statistics | Pakistan Media Watch This entry was posted in Media and tagged 2010-which, analysis, figures, media, nation-or-agency, […]

  2. […] the data in a transparent and replicable way – unlike other estimates of drone strikes that don’t provide evidence of how they derive their statistics. Bergen and Tiedemann’s results gives us a descriptive […]

  3. […] that drone strikes are killing mostly civilians. This claim has been presented time and again without supporting evidence, despite open and transparent research that concluded that actually those killed in drone attacks […]

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