Since 2004, the United States government has attacked thousands of targets in Northwest Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division. Most of these attacks are on targets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border in Northwest Pakistan. These strikes began during the administration of United States President George W. Bush, and have increased substantially under his successor Barack Obama. Some in the media have referred to the attacks as a “drone war”. The George W. Bush administration officially denied the extent of its policy; in May 2013, the Obama administration acknowledged for the first time that four US citizens had been killed in the strikes. Surveys have shown that the strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where they have contributed to a negative perception of the United States.
US drone strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. A 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude project found that only 17% of Pakistanis supported drone strikes. And remarkably, among those who professed to know a lot or a little about drones, 97% considered drone strikes bad policy.
According to a report of the Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Center (CMC), as of 2011 more than 2000 persons have been killed, and most of those deaths were civilians. The CMC termed the CIA drone strikes as an “assassination campaign turning out to be revenge campaign”, and showed that 2010 was the deadliest year so far regarding casualties resulting from drone attacks, with 134 strikes inflicting over 900 deaths. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based on extensive research in mid-2011, claims that at least 385 civilians were among the dead, including more than 160 children.
The CIA has claimed that the strikes conducted between May 2010 and August 2011 killed over 600 militants and did not result in any civilian fatalities; this assessment has been criticized by Bill Roggio from the Long War Journal and other commentators as being unrealistic. Unnamed American officials who spoke to the New York Times claimed that, as of August 2011, the drone campaign had killed over 2,000 militants and approximately 50 non-combatants. An independent research site Pakistan Body Count run by Dr. Zeeshan-ul-hassan, a Fulbright scholar keeping track of all the drone attacks, claims that 2179 civilians were among the dead, and 12.4% children and women. A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, released 4 February 2012, stated that under the Obama administration (2008–2011) drone strikes killed between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 children.