178 Report

 Youth Disrupted: Effects of U.S. Drone Strikes on Children in Targeted Areas

Since the George W. Bush administration’s first use of targeted assassinations via drone strikes, aimed at Al Qaeda and associated forces, in 2002, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) reports at least 178 innocent children (up to age 17) have died directly as a result of U.S. drone policy.[1]

TBIJ’s analysis -- called the “best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes” by legal experts at Stanford and NYU who recently released the in-depth report Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan[2], -- finds that 176 of the 178 children killed in U.S. drones strikes were Pakistani. The two non-Pakistani children were killed in Yemen: U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, 16, and his Yemeni cousin Ahmed Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki, 17.

Misleading claims by the U.S. Government

The minimum count of 178 child deaths is far beyond any acknowledged count of civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes by the U.S. government. John Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, has called civilian casualties as a result of the CIA’s secretive drone policy “exceedingly rare.”[3] Brennan said in August 2011, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.”[4] Though from August 2010 through August 2011, TBIJ documented at least 101 civilians, including 13 children, were killed by drone strikes. Brennan also said  from August 2010 through April 2012, the U.S. “had no information about a single civilian being killed.”[5] TBIJ found that at least 107 civilians, including at least 16 children, were killed by strikes in that time. Finally, in January 2012, President Obama -- acknowledging the CIA’s drone program for the first time -- said strikes do not cause large amounts of civilian casualties.[6] TBIJ finds that at the time of Obama’s statement, at least 284 civilians, and at least 62 children, had died from strikes since he came into office in January 2009. Similar statements downplaying the amount of civilian casualties have been made numerous times by unnamed government sources, according to Living Under Drones.[7]

Two recent reports -- Living Under Drones, and The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions,[8] by researchers at Columbia Law School’s Center for Civilians in Conflict -- present seminal findings on how drone strikes affect civilian populations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. There is also valuable information contained in these reports on how drone strikes in particular impact children beyond the consequence of death.

Significant findings in Living Under Drones (direct passages):

-       In North Waziristan, extended families often live together in compounds that contain several homes, often constructed with mud. Most compounds include a hujra, which is the main gathering room for men and the area in which male family members entertain visitors. The hujra is often in close proximity to buildings reserved exclusively for women and children. As a result, the shrapnel and resulting blast of a missile strike on a hujra can and has killed and injured women and children in these nearby structures. (p. 25)

-       Drone strikes that kill civilians also exact a substantial toll on livelihoods by incapacitating the primary income earners of families. Because men are typically the primary income earners in their families, strikes often deprive victims’ families of “a key, and perhaps its only, source of income.” Families struggle to compensate for the lost income, often forcing children or other younger relatives to forgo school and enter the workforce at a young age. (p. 78)


Psychological Trauma

-       One man described the reaction to the sound of the drones as “a wave of terror” coming over the community. “Children, grown-up people, women, they are terrified. . . . They scream in terror.” (p. 81)

-       Interviewees also reported a loss of appetite as a result of the anxiety they feel when drones are overhead. Ajmal Bashir, an elderly man who has lost both relatives and friends to strikes, said that “every person—women, children, elders—they are all frightened and afraid of the drones . . . [W]hen [drones] are flying, they don’t like to eat anything . . . because they are too afraid of the drones.” Another man explained that, “We don’t eat properly on those days [when strikes occur] because we know an innocent Muslim was killed. We are all unhappy and afraid.” (p. 84)

-       One man said of his young niece and nephew that “[t]hey really hate the drones when they are flying. It makes the children very angry.” Aftab Gul Ali, who looks after his grandson and three granddaughters, stated that children, even when far away from strikes, are “badly affected.” (p. 86)

-       Hisham Abrar, who had to collect his cousin’s body after he was killed in a drone strike, stated:

When [children] hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them. . . [B]ecause of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed—women, men, and children. . . Twenty-four hours, [a] person is in stress and there is pain in his head. (p. 86-87)

-       Noor Behram, a Waziri journalist who investigates and photographs drone strike sites, noted the fear in children: “if you bang a door, they’ll scream and drop like something bad is going to happen.” A Pakistani mental health professional shared his worries about the long-term ramifications of such psychological trauma on children:

The biggest concern I have as a [mental health professional] is that when the children grow up, the kinds of images they will have with them, it is going to have a lot of consequences. You can imagine the impact it has on personality development. People who have experienced such things, they don’t trust people; they have anger, desire for revenge . . . So when you have these young boys and girls growing up with these impressions, it causes permanent scarring and damage.  (p. 87)

Loss of Education Opportunities

-       One father, after seeing the bodies of three dead children in the rubble of a strike, decided to pull his own children out of school. “I stopped [them] from getting an education,” he admitted. “I told them we will be finished one day, the same as other people who were going [to school] and were killed in the drone attacks.” He stated that this is not uncommon: “I know a lot of people, girls and boys, whose families have stopped them from getting [an] education because of drone attacks.” Another father stated that when his children go to school “they fear that they will all be killed, because they are congregating.” Ismail Hussain, noting similar trends among the young, said that “the children are crying and they don’t go to school. They fear that their schools will be targeted by the drones.” (p. 89)

-       Children and teenagers who have stayed in school described how drones have affected their concentration and diminished their drive to study. Faheem Qureshi, the sole survivor of the first strike in North Waziristan carried out under President Obama, was one of the top four students in his class before the drone strike fractured his skull and nearly blinded him. Now, struggling with attention, cognitive, and emotional difficulties, he described how his studies have been affected:

Our minds have been diverted from studying. We cannot learn things because we are always in fear of the drones hovering over us, and it really scares the small kids who go to school. . . . At the time the drone struck, I had to take exams, but I couldn’t take exams after that because it weakened my brain. I couldn’t learn things, and it affected me emotionally. My [mind] was so badly affected . . . (p. 90-91)

-       Waleed Shiraz, who was disabled in a January 2008 attack that killed his father, described how the strike altered his goals and devastated his family. A political science major in college, Waleed “dreamt of either leading some school in Peshawar as a principal or becoming a lawyer or even a politician representing Pakistan.” When the strike took place, he was home on his first holiday from the National University of Modern Languages in Islamabad, spending time with his family and studying for exams. At the time, he planned to study languages. Since the strike, those plans have radically changed:

I can’t dream of going back to college. I am unemployed. No one will give me admission into college and who is going to finance it? We are unemployed and our financial situation is extremely poor. Out of the ten kanals of land we owned[1 ¼ acres], we have sold five [5/8 acres] and the remaining five sit idle because my two younger brothers are too young. They can’t go to school, because I can’t afford supporting them, buying their books, and paying their fees. They are home most of the day and they are very conscious of the fact that drones are hovering over them. [The presence of drones] intimidates them. . . . My education is wasted. (p. 91)

-       Mohsin Haq, 14, explained that some of his classmates have given up on school because “[t]hey are mentally disturbed. They can’t focus. They’re just too worried about their family. They’re not sure about anything, so school doesn’t make sense to them.” He also revealed his fears about the impacts on future generations, and his hopes for change:

[The children in my community] are very optimistic that someday, when these things do stop, they will continue with their life as they were before, start going to school again. They still dream about a bright future, about the aspiring people they want to be, the future administrators, the future principals of the schools, and teachers and future politicians. . . . Every family, everybody, they do want to think about their bright futures, their prosperous jobs, and their young kids. But they can’t think like that because of these drones, because of this uncertainty. (p. 92)

Breakdown of Community

-       Sameer Rahman, whose family’s house was hit in a strike, confessed that “there are barely any guests who come anymore, because everyone’s scared.” He also stated that he does not allow his children to visit other people’s homes when they have guests over, because he believes having guests makes it more likely that the house will be attacked. (p. 96)

-       Sadaullah Wazir, a teenager, told us that drones have “made life quite difficult [in that] more than two can’t sit together outside because they are scared they might be struck by drones. . . . We often discuss that too many people shouldn’t sit together outside because they are vulnerable then.” (p. 97)


Significant findings in The Civilian Impact of Drones (direct passages):

Psychological Trauma

-       In locations such as northern Pakistan, where drones often buzz overhead 24 hours a day, people live in constant fear of being hit. Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars notes: “I have heard Pakistanis speak about children in the tribal areas who become hysterical when they hear the characteristic buzz of a drone. […] Imagine the effect this has on psyches, and particularly on young ones already scarred by war and displacement.” Unlike deaths and property loss, which may affect one or more families, the fear associated with covert drone strikes affects nearly everyone in a community. (p. 24)

-       According to media reports, the threat or prevalence of drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan mean some parents are unwilling to send their children to school out of fear.

In Pakistan, there have been several reports of drone strikes that have damaged or destroyed local schools. Ten-year-old Nadia was at school when a drone strike hit her house, killing her mother and father. Having moved in with an aunt in a nearby town, Nadia told Center for Civilians in Conflict she had “no source of income with my parents gone… my aunt looks after me now and I help her in the house… but I want admission to school. I want an education.” (p. 25)

Intelligence Failures

-       An Army investigation found that a February 2010 air strike mistakenly targeted vehicles carrying over 30 civilians in Uruzgan Province, noting there were critical failures related to the collection, analysis, and reporting of intelligence gathered by Predator drones. These included “inaccurate reporting from the crew of the unmanned Predator aircraft to the forces on the ground…that the vehicles contained only military aged males,” when in fact they contained children. (p. 32)

-       “Data crush” may result in mistaken targeting of civilians, if analysts and decision-makers miss an important detail that is obscured by the flood of information. For example, a US investigation cited information overload as one reason for mistakes in a US military targeting operation against a convoy in Afghanistan, which left 23 civilians dead. Solid reports that children were present in the targeted convoy were lost amidst the vast swirl of data coming in from drones overhead. (p. 41)


Drone strike that resulted in most child deaths

A U.S. drone strike on a madrassa, or religious seminary, in Bajaur Agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in October 2006 resulted in what is most likely the highest child death count since U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan began, in 2004. Of the 80 to 83 civilians killed as a result of the strike, 69 were children ages 7 to 17, according to The News International.[9] The attack on the school, alleged[10] by Pakistani officials to have been a Taliban training camp harboring a militant leader[11], occurred at a time when militants were to meet with tribal elders to discuss a peace agreement.[12] A Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence official said the strike “effectively sabotaged the chances for an agreement” in the area.[13] The Pakistani military initially took responsibility for the strike but later indicated it was the fault of the U.S. government. An aide to then-President Pervez Musharraf said, “We thought it would be less damaging if we said we did it rather than the US. But there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again.”


Drone strikes and the destabilization of Pakistan

Many current and former Pakistani and American officials have spoken about drone strikes undermining Pakistani national sovereignty and the country’s democratic standing. High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom Wajid Shamsul Hasan told TBIJ[14], “What has been the whole outcome of these drone attacks is, that you have rather directly or indirectly contributed to destabilizing or undermining the democratic government. Because people really make fun of the democratic government – when you pass a resolution against drone attacks in the parliament, and nothing happens. The Americans don’t listen to you, and they continue to violate your territory.” Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, has said drone strikes are a prime recruiting tool for militants.[15] Pakistan’s foreign minister has called U.S. drone strikes illegal and counterproductive.[16] Many members of Pakistan’s parliament have echoed these sentiments.[17] Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan is possibly the most notoriously outspoken Pakistani official critical of the U.S. drone policy there. He has opposed U.S. drone strikes for a host of reasons, most notably because he believes strikes will not lead to peace in Pakistan’s most violent areas.[18]


Names of children killed in U.S. drone strikes

(Information taken from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s database[19] of drone strikes and corresponding casualties.)


Name                                      Age                 Date

Unknown                               10                   June 17, 2004

Unknown                               16                   June 17, 2004

Unknown(3 girls)                 unk                 November 5, 2005

Abdul Wasit                           17                   December 1, 2005

Noor Aziz                                8                      December 1, 2005

Unknown                               unk                 February 6, 2006

Unknown (5-6)                     unk                 February 13, 2006

Najibullah                              13                   October 30, 2006

Adnan                                     16                   October 30, 2006

Inayatullah                            15                   October 30, 2006

Iftikhar                                   17                   October 30, 2006

Wali-ur-Rahman                   17                   October 30, 2006

Rahman                                  13                   October 30, 2006

Fazal Wahab                          18                   October 30, 2006

Jamroz Khan                          unk                 October 30, 2006

Talha                                      8                      October 30, 2006

Sakirullah                               16                   October 30, 2006

Nimatullah                             14                   October 30, 2006

Shafiullah                               16                   October 30, 2006

Qari Sharifullah                     17                   October 30, 2006

Shabir                                     15                   October 30, 2006

Shehzad Gul                           11                   October 30, 2006

Zabihullah                              16                   October 30, 2006

Wilayat Khan                         11                   October 30, 2006

Kitab Gul                                12                   October 30, 2006

Hizbullah                                10                   October 30, 2006

Naeemullah                           17                   October 30, 2006

Noor Mohammad                  15                   October 30, 2006

Ziaur Rhaman                        13                   October 30, 2006

Inayatur Rahman                  17                   October 30, 2006

Shaukat                                  14                   October 30, 2006

Ameer Said                            15                   October 30, 2006

Darvesh                                  13                   October 30, 2006

Abdul Waris                           16                   October 30, 2006

Saeedullah                             17                   October 30, 2006

Siraj                                        16                   October 30, 2006

Abdus Samad                                    17                   October 30, 2006

Rahmatullah                          14                   October 30, 2006

Qari Abdul Karim                  19                   October 30, 2006

Alam Nabi                              11                   October 30, 2006

Jamshed Khan                       14                   October 30, 2006

Qari Ishaq                              19                   October 30, 2006

Zaheeruddin                          16                   October 30, 2006

Taseel Khan                           18                   October 30, 2006

Ismail                                      12                   October 30, 2006

Jannatullah                            13                   October 30, 2006

Salman                                   16                   October 30, 2006

Luqman                                  12                   October 30, 2006

Ihsanullah                              16                   October 30, 2006

Mashooq Khan                      16                   October 30, 2006

Numair                                   14                   October 30, 2006

Bakht Muneer                       14                   October 30, 2006

Gul Sher Khan                       15                   October 30, 2006

Shahjehan                              15                   October 30, 2006

Mohammad Salim                 11                   October 30, 2006

Khan                                       21                   October 30, 2006

Rahatullah                             17                   October 30, 2006

Yahya Khan                           16                   October 30, 2006

Inayatur Rhaman                  16                   October 30, 2006

Shahbuddin                           15                   October 30, 2006

Ikramullah                             17                   October 30, 2006

Abdullah                                18                   October 30, 2006

Ziaur Rahman                        17                   October 30, 2006

Ghulam Nabi                          21                   October 30, 2006

Qari Alamzeb                         14                   October 30, 2006

Mohammad Yaas Khan        16                   October 30, 2006

Sultanat Khan                                   16                   October 30, 2006

Nawab                                                17                   October 30, 2006

Mashooq Jan                          15                   October 30, 2006

Razi Mohammad                   16                   October 30, 2006

Saifullah                                 9                      October 30, 2006

Khalid                                     12                   October 30, 2006

Noor Mohammad                  8                      October 30, 2006

Kalilullah                                9                      October 30, 2006

Shoaib                                                8                      October 30, 2006

Asadullah                               9                      October 30, 2006

Sohail                                      7                      October 30, 2006

Ilyas                                        13                   October 30, 2006

Fazel Hakim                           19                   October 30, 2006

Mohammad Yunus               16                   October 30, 2006

Ziauddin                                 16                   October 30, 2006

Fazel Wahab                          16                   October 30, 2006

Azizul Wahab                         15                   October 30, 2006

Maulvi Khaleefa                    unk                 October 30, 2006

Mohammad Tahir                 16                   October 30, 2006

Possible children                   unk                 June 19, 2007

Unknown (3 children)         unk                 February 29, 2008

Unknown (3 children)         unk                 May 14, 2008

Unknown (3 children)         unk                 July 28, 2008

Unknown                               unk                 August 30, 2008

Unknown (3-4 children)      unk                 September 5, 2008

Unknown (8 children)         unk                 September 8, 2008

Unknown                               unk                 October 3, 2008

Unknown (3 children)         unk                 October 3, 2008       

Unknown (1-4 children)      14.5                October 9, 2008

Possible students                  12-18             October 23, 2008

0-3 children                           unk                 October 26, 2008

Unknown                               unk                 November 14, 2008

possible children                   unk                 November 29, 2008

Azaz-ur-Rehman                   14                   January 23, 2009

Maezol Khan                          3                      January 23, 2009

Noor Syed                              8                      February 14, 2009

Unknown (3 children)         unk                 April 1, 2009

Unknown (3-4 children)      unk                 April 4, 2009

Unknown (2 children)         unk                 April, 19, 2009

Unknown (10 children)       unk                 June 23, 2009

Ibad Ullah                              unk                 August 11, 2009

Mohammad Arif                    unk                 August 11, 2009

Abdul Qadeer                                    unk                 August 11, 2009

Hazart Ali                               unk                 August 11, 2009

Syed Wali Shah                     7                      August 21, 2009

Unknown (5 children)         unk                 August 21, 2009

Unknown (3 children)         unk                 September 8, 2009

Sakeenullah                           15                   November 20, 2009

Zenullah Khan                       17                   December 31, 2009

Wajid Noor                             9                      January 3, 2010

Ayesha                                    3                      January 8, 2010

Naila                                       10                   February 24, 2010

Unknown                               14                   March 31, 2010

Fatima Khan                          unk                 May 21, 2010

Nisar Khan                             unk                 May 21, 2010

Naeem Khan                          unk                 May 21, 2010

Unknown                               unk                 May 21, 2010

Unknown                               unk                 August 14, 2010

Unknown (3 orphans)         unk                 August 23, 2010

Unknown (4 children)         unk                 September 8, 2010

Naeem Ullah                          10                   October 18, 2010

Unknown                               unk                 November 16, 2010

Ismael Mohammed               unk                 March 17, 2011

Atif                                          12                   April 22, 2011

Unknown (2 children)         unk                 April 22, 2011

Unknown                               unk                 August 16, 2011

Unknown (2 children)         unk                 August 22, 2011

Tariq Aziz                               16                   October 31, 2011

Waheed Khan                                   12                   October 31, 2011

Unknown                               unk                 February 9, 2012

Osama Haqqani                     13                   August 21, 2012






[1] http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drones/

[2] http://livingunderdrones.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Stanford-NYU-LIVING-UNDER-DRONES.pdf

[3] http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/the-efficacy-and-ethics-us-counterterrorism-strategy

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/world/asia/12drones.html

[5] http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/04/brennan-drone-attacks.html

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/world/middleeast/civilian-deaths-due-to-drones-are-few-obama-says.html

[7] Living Under Drones; Chapter 5: Strategic Considerations; Appendix C

[8] http://web.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/microsites/human-rights-institute/files/The%20Civilian%20Impact%20of%20Drones.pdf

[9] http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=4043&Cat=13&dt=11/5/2006

[10] http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D03E7DB1F3FF933A25752C1A9609C8B63&pagewanted=all

[11] http://tribune.com.pk/story/229844/the-day-69-children-died/

[12] http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=3912&Cat=13&dt=10/29/2006

[13] http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/08/why-pakistani-military-demands-a-veto-on-drone-strikes/

[14] http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/08/03/us-drone-strikes-undermine-pakistani-democracy-says-top-diplomat/

[15] http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-123425-Drone-attacks-serving-to-recruit-new-militants-Sherry

[16] http://tribune.com.pk/story/441107/better-understanding-with-us-on-drones-says-hina-rabbani-khar/

[17] http://tribune.com.pk/story/54883/drone-attacks-hit-all-time-high/

[18] http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1210/12/ampr.01.html

[19] http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drone-data

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