U.S. says to release data of casualties from counter-terror strikes

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 07, 2016 1:29 PM

By David Brunnstrom and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday that in the coming weeks it will publicly release an assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties from U.S. counter-terrorism strikes in areas outside active war zones since 2009.

The decision, which follows criticism by human rights groups and others that drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya have caused civilian casualties, was taken in the interest of transparency, according to Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama's homeland security adviser.

The data would be released annually in future, she said.

"We know that not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counter-terrorism effort and the broad support of our allies," Monaco told the Council on Foreign Relations.

Monaco declined to provide details of the assessment, but said it would reflect the "latest intelligence from all sources" as well as input from human rights groups who monitor U.S. drone strikes and other U.S. counter-terrorism operations.

Rights groups have accused the Obama administration of not being forthcoming about the precise guidelines that govern drone strikes and dispute government claims that there is no evidence that they have produced "collateral damage," a euphemism for civilian casualties.

There have also been questions raised about precisely who the administration has hit.

In 2013, McClatchy newspapers reported that contrary to assurances that U.S. drone strikes targeted only known leaders of al Qaeda and allied groups, classified documents showed that the Obama administration had killed hundreds of suspected lower-level militants in scores of attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The assessment will cover "all counter-terrorism actions outside the area of active hostilities across the board," Monaco said in response to a question.

The report, Monaco said, stemmed from a pledge to provide greater transparency into U.S. counter-terrorism operations that Obama made in 2013.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest the data would include specific numbers as part of efforts to be more open about such security programs, when possible.

"There's obviously limitations on that, but there is more that we can do," he told reporters at a daily news briefing.

Perhaps most controversial in the United States are 2011 drone strikes authorized by Obama that killed four American civilians, including Anwar al Awlaki, an Islamic scholar and a leader of al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, who used the Internet to recruit new members.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Jonathan Landay and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chris Reese and Alan Crosby)