American drone strikes in Pakistan are "terrorising" civilians and doing little to make the US safer, according to a new report.
"Living Under Drones," a study by law professors at Stanford and New York Universities, is based on public data and interviews with civilians, witnesses and survivors of drone attacks in north-west Pakistan.
The US claims the strikes target known terrorists, including members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Yet the new report says that the vast majority of casualties — 98 percent, according to its estimate — are not senior commanders, but low-level militants and civilians.
"Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best," the authors write.
GlobalPost Series: The Drone Age
They argue that the strikes have done more harm than good, in fact, by so alienating the local population that drones have "facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks."
As GlobalPost has discussed in a special series, The Drone Age, US forces favor drones because they reduce and even eliminate danger to American personnel, while supposedly allowing them to target enemies with "surgical precision."
However, the technology isn't flawless. "Human operators peering at grainy video shot by high-flying [unmanned aerial vehicles] have repeatedly mistaken civilians for militants," writes GlobalPost's David Axe. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that as many as 884 Pakistani civilians were killed by US drones between 2004 and 2012.
Aside from death and injury, the report lists several other ways in which strikes can harm civilians — for example, by damaging property, causing economic hardship, creating sustained fear and stress, and interrupting education when children are taken out of school for fear of being caught in a drone attack.
"[D]rone attacks create widespread devastation," one interviewee told the researchers. "They have killed so many young men, who have left behind helpless young orphans. We cannot figure out when a drone will strike — they may strike in two days, three days, ten days, or a month — but they are always there."
Watch two of the report's authors discussing their findings, courtesy of Brave New Foundation: