In January, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that President Obama embraced the US drone programme, overseeing more strikes in his first year than Bush carried out during his entire presidency.
A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush.
The White House released long-awaited figures in July on the number of people killed in drone strikes between January 2009 and the end of 2015, which insiders said was a direct response to pressure from the Bureau and other organisations that collect data. However the US’s estimate of the number of civilians killed – between 64 and 116 – contrasted strongly with the number recorded by the Bureau, which at 380 to 801 was six times higher.
That figure does not include deaths in active battlefields including Afghanistan. Since the end of 2014, the country has since come under frequent US bombardment, in an unreported war that saw 1,337 weapons dropped last year alone – a 40% rise on 2015. Afghan civilian casualties have been high, with the United Nations (UN) reporting at least 85 deaths in 2016. The Bureau recorded 65 to 105 civilian deaths during this period. We did not start collecting data on Afghanistan until 2015.
In February, the Military Times, published by Sightline Media Group and described as an independent source for news and information for Service Members and their families, alleged that the American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.
Andrew de Grandpre, Pentagon bureau chief, and Shawn Snow, reported that in 2016 alone, U.S. combat aircraft conducted at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan that were not recorded as part of an open-source database maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Those airstrikes were carried out by attack helicopters and armed drones operated by the U.S. Army.
U.S. Central Command indicated it is unable to determine how far back the Army’s numbers have been excluded from these airpower summaries. Officials there would not address several detailed questions submitted by Military Times, and they were unable to provide a full listing of annual airstrikes conducted by each of the Defense Department’s four military services.
In an otherwise lenient article about Obama, Simon Jenkins said that – in thrall to military advisers and lobbyists – Obama scattered his drones and special forces throughout the Muslim world, as counter-productive to peace as they ever were.