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More Than 160 Children Killed in America's Drone War in Pakistan

One in seven of all US strikes appear to have resulted in child fatalities.

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Additional reporting by David Pegg and Alice Ross.

* For this research, we have adopted the UN’s definition of a child as being someone aged between 0 and 17. The majority of those we have come across have been significantly younger than 17.


The Bureau has sought to identify accurately the time, location and likely target of all known attacks; to obtain as clear an explanation as possible of what took place during the event; and to detail the numbers, and names where possible, of those killed and injured, whether militant or civilian.

This article breaks down our approach into two sections:  our sources and our methodology.

Our Sources
The CIA does not officially acknowledge or comment on its drone campaign, and the Pakistani government does not publish a count of those killed and injured.  Instead, the most comprehensive information on casualties lies in the thousands of press reports of drone strikes filed by reputable national and international media since 2004. Most reports are filed within a day or two of an attack. Sometimes relevant reports can be filed weeks – even years – after the initial strike. We identify our sources at all times, and provide a direct link to the material where possible.

Our media sources for this study include:

From Western media – CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Fox News, Reuters, the BBC, Associated Press, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

From Pakistani media – Dawn, Express Tribune, The Nation, Pajhwok and Geo TV.

From non-mainstream media – New America Foundation, Long War Journal, WikiLeaks and Amnesty International, amongst others.

Every strike covered in our database contains reference links to each news report that has been considered whilst researching that incident.

At present, the Bureau’s access to Urdu-language news resources on the strikes is limited.  The main reason is that some Urdu material is not online and in remote parts of Pakistan. This is a situation we hope to remedy in the future.

Other sources include the fieldwork of credible researchers and lawyers who have been examining the drone attacks in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. For example, certain legal cases have been brought in Pakistan against the CIA on behalf of civilian victims of the attack.

A number of leaked US intelligence reports and diplomatic cables also deal directly with specific drone attacks, which the Bureau cites where relevant.

We have incorporated relevant material from research papers, books and articles by journalists, academics, politicians and former intelligence officers.

On most occasions, there is a reasonable consensus between sources. Where contradictory accounts occur, we indicate this in our material. We have also striven to speak with particular journalists about their stories to clarify discrepancies. On a handful of occasions, we have used field researchers ourselves in Waziristan.

How the Bureau’s sources and data compares with others
Although the CIA is understood to have extensive data on each strike, that information is not made available publicly. A US counter-terrorism official, speaking with the Bureau on background terms, has provided estimates of the numbers killed in the CIA’s strikes.

A number of other organisations also record details of Pakistan drone strikes. The  New America Foundation and the  Long War Journal have both done invaluable work, for example, and are a useful cross-referencing tool. However neither resource actively collects and presents data on reported civilian casualties of the drone strikes.  Where estimates of civilian casualties have been made, both show significant under-reporting, according to the Bureau’s own findings.

The Bureau’s source base is wider than other organisations, incorporating casualty data not always published in news reports; we have identified more strikes; and we have striven to identify the most current casualty figures for each attack. We believe these factors, in the main, explain our higher figures.  For more information on this, please read the related article ‘ Untangling the data.’

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