Since 2010, the Bureau has made an extensive study of reports of
US covert activities in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

We present our
findings for each country in timelines comprised of narrative accounts of each
reported action, a casualty count of the number of individuals reported killed
or wounded in that action, and all sources used in researching each action. Secondly,
we produce spreadsheets that are available online, that can be downloaded.

Our Pakistan datasets
cover US drone strikes in that country since 2004. For Yemen, Afghanistan and
Somalia, the datasets include other US covert actions including airstrikes,
missile attacks and ground operations, and we also note significant events to
provide context for US actions.

The data is collected
and researched by a team of Bureau journalists. For each reported US attack,
the Bureau seeks to identify the time, location and likely target, and to
present as clear a description as possible of what took place during the event.
We also seek to identify the numbers of those reportedly killed and injured,
and to ascertain when possible whether they were alleged militants, or
civilians. Wherever possible, we include other information on casualties, such
as name, gender, age, tribal affiliation and other identifying aspects. All
this information is included in the timelines.

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


Every strike or event
covered in our timelines contains active links to news reports, statements,
documents and press releases, which we have used as our sources. On occasion
information has come to the Bureau directly from sources who we present in the timelines
as transparently as possible. We also occasionally have drawn information from
terrorist propaganda, such as Voice of Jihad in Afghanistan or Inspire in
Yemen. We do not link to these sources.

Images and video clips
relating to specific events have been incorporated into our timelines, when
such media area available. The Bureau’s dataset is active: the timelines and
spreadsheets change according to our best present understanding. New
information on a particular strike or action can emerge months or even years
after an event.

If you have any information that we may have missed or
think we have got something wrong please contact us at


The most comprehensive
public information on casualties generally lies in the thousands of press
reports filed by reputable national and international media outlets. The bulk
of our sources are in English but in addition we also sometimes incorporate
reporting in Urdu (for Pakistan), Pashto and Dari (for Afghanistan) or Arabic
(for Yemen) as well as other languages when relevant.

The US government
started publishing its own estimates of how many people it has killed in
counter-terrorism strikes “outside areas of active hostilities”. This phrase
was presumed to refer to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya (not including the
NATO bombing campaign in 2011 and the US strikes against ISIS around Sirte in
2016) though no US government official would confirm specifically where was
outside active hostilities.

The US data release
was part of an executive order that included a commitment that the US would
continue to publish such figures annually. However it remains to be seen if
this executive order will survive into the Trump administration.

Unfortunately the
first data release, on July 1 2016 comprised of the total number US
counter-terrorism strikes in all countries outside of areas of active
hostilities for all years between January 2009 and December 2015, as well as
the minimum and maximum estimates for the total number of combatants and
non-combatants killed.

This degree of aggregation makes serious analysis
against the Bureau’s figures impossible. The US did release figures of 2016 in
the first weeks of January 2017 – read this analysis of the 2016
data release
 to see how it stacked up against the Bureau’s


In the case of
Pakistan, the CIA does not officially acknowledge or comment on its drone
campaign, and the Islamabad government does not publish a casualty count. The
US military has conducted one strike in Pakistan, on May 21 2016, which was
publicly acknowledged and discussed openly by administration officials including
President Barack Obama.

The Yemeni government
in the past would occasionally published some information about “air strikes”
with no indication as to who carried them out. Sanaa did occasionally claim
responsibility for attacks that it is unlikely its rickety air force could have
carried out, such as night-time strikes, or those on moving vehicles. The US
government historically would not discuss its strikes on the record, though
much detail has been leaked to journalists over the years. However in February
2016 the US geographical command in charge of operations in Yemen, Central
Command (Centcom) began publishing press releases detailing its air actions in
Yemen. It has continued to do so, confirming previously reported strikes and
occasionally reporting an air attack for the first time.

Centcom’s reports do
not coincide with all reported US strikes in Yemen. The extra attacks are
either CIA strikes or misattributed attacks by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition
of countries, which has been bombing Yemen since March 2015.

In Afghanistan, the
US-led NATO headquarters in Kabul, Resolute Support, often provide the Bureau
with details of its air attacks in the country. In the past this did include
casualty data though this information has since stopped being provided.

The US Air Force
releases a monthly data sheet, which summarises its operations in Afghanistan.
It includes both strikes and other air sorties, such as intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance flights. The Bureau records these figures alongside
the Bureau’s own data in its Afghan spreadsheet. Reports in early 2017 however
cast some doubt on how comprehensive the US Air Force data actually is.

The majority of our
information stems from news reporting. Commonly cited international media
sources include CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Reuters, the BBC, Associated Press, the
Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the
Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, the
Nation, the Atlantic, Salon, Xinhua, Army Times, Bloomberg, AFP, NPR, Al
Jazeera, and Al Arabiya.

Other international
sources include the New America Foundation, Critical Threats, Long War Journal,
Al Akhbar, Jamestown Foundation, Jihadology, Empty Wheel, Wired, WikiLeaks, the
UN, Reprieve, Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and
Amnesty International.

Pakistani media sources include Dawn, Express Tribune, The Nation, Jang,
Geo TV and The News International. The Bureau also includes reports from the
Pakistan Observer but as we do not view casualty reports from that publication
as credible at present, we do not incorporate their figures into our casualty


Somali media sources include Somalia Report, Africa Confidential,
AllAfrica and Bar Kulan. Press TV has also reported on a number of ‘US drone
strikes’ in the country. However following a Bureau investigation we do not
view these reports as credible. Their claims of US drone strikes in Somalia are
recorded separately (in Press TV’s Somalia claims
) and are not included in our casualty counts.


Yemen media sources include Yemen Post, Yemen Times, Yemen Observer,
Saba News Agency, Gulf News, Waq-al-Waq, Al-Shorfa and Akhbar al-Youm.

Afghan media sources include Pajhwok, Khaama Press, TOLO News and
Afghan Islamic Press.



In Pakistan, the
Bureau has carried out field investigations into possible civilian deaths on
three occasions. It has incorporated further sources, including the fieldwork
of credible researchers (for example Stanford and New York universities) and
evidence filed in legal cases brought in Pakistan and elsewhere on behalf of
civilian drone victims.

Leaked US intelligence
reports and WikiLeaks diplomatic cables deal directly with specific drone
attacks or airstrikes in all three countries. These are cited as sources by the
Bureau where relevant. We have also incorporated pertinent material from
research papers, books and articles by journalists, academics, politicians and
former intelligence officers.

On many occasions,
there is a reasonable consensus between sources. Where contradictory accounts
occur, we strive to speak with particular journalists and sources about their
reports to clarify discrepancies. But where these discrepancies remain we
include the contrasting accounts in the datasets’ narratives of each strike.

We have also
endeavoured to publish material which has not previously been in the public
domain. For instance, we reveal in English the full names of all 44 civilians,
including 22 children, killed by a December 2009 US airstrike on al-Majala, Yemen.
The Bureau translated the details from an original report carried out by a
Yemen parliamentary commission.

We also cross-reference events with the work of other
organisations which record drone strikes in Pakistan, particularly the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal.


How we list the strikes:

We have given each
strike a unique code. This is a sequential number, with a letter prefix.

For Pakistan, the
strikes are numbered with the prefix B for the Bush years, or Ob for Obama
years. On occasion, a single source reports an incident that may – or may not –
be a drone strike. When this occurs, we do not include them in our casualty
counts, but we do include them in our timelines, adding the suffix ‘C’ to the
strike’s code (see Ob28C, Ob39C and Ob130C, for example). Ob0 is a non-lethal
Pakistani operation supported by a US drone, which we include in the timeline
for reference purposes.

For the datasets in
Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen, each strike is numbered with the prefix of SOM,
AFG or YEM respectively.

By ‘strike’, we refer
to a missile or set of missiles fired in at a single location in a short time window.
Where missiles hit more than an hour apart, we count these as separate strikes.
Where drones hit locations more than a couple of miles apart we also count
these as separate strikes, even when they take place in quick succession.

Confirmed/possible US actions:

Monitoring events in
Yemen presents a particular challenge. The CIA, US special forces, the Yemeni
air force and the UAE and Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition have all carried out
strikes in Yemen at one time or another. In 2016 Emirati aircraft reportedly
hit al Qaeda targets near the southern Mukalla port city and a report in
January 2013 claimed the Saudi air force had also bombed the country. It is
often unclear who is responsible for attacks or even whether it is the work of
a manned plane or a drone – although airstrikes are routinely described as
‘drone’ strikes in news reporting.

Where any US
government source or named senior Yemeni source acknowledges a strike has been
carried out by a US drone, we include it in our dataset as a ‘confirmed’ drone
strike. Where three different types of local source – such as government
officials, tribal sources, or eyewitnesses – all report a strike was the work
of a drone, we will also report this as ‘confirmed’. We classify all other
reports of drone strikes as ‘possible’ drone strikes.

The Bureau has notably
undercounted US air strikes in Afghanistan because most air attacks go
unreported in open sources including news media. This is because news of the
strikes do not reach the journalists or sometimes a days’ news agenda is so
full with other important stories, Afghan journalists do not have the time or
inclination to cover yet another possible US air operation.

There are occasions however where incidents have been
attributed to US air attacks by tenuous sources. The Bureau therefore includes
only strikes reported by named Afghan sources, or named and unnamed US sources,
in its spreadsheet. Attacks reported by unnamed or vague sources are listed in
the timeline as Cstrikes, for
further investigation.


How we reconcile the material:

Even within a single
report there can be contradictory information on how many individuals were
killed or what the target was – for example the report might say it was ‘either
a house or a vehicle’ that was hit. Reconciling accounts from multiple sources
can be even more difficult.

Where credible sources
differ over how many people were killed we provide a minimum and maximum count
of the number of people reported killed. This is why our casualty counts are a
range – and over time the cumulative difference between minimum and maximum
reported casualties becomes quite pronounced.

However, we do not
simply present a range from the lowest to highest reported casualties. Where
early reports are updated, for example when the death toll rises as people die
of their injuries, or where an early high estimate is lowered as rescue work
progresses, we use the updated total in our casualty count.

It is quite common for
only one source to report civilian casualties, or for ambiguous reporting to hint
at civilian casualties, for example by referring to the dead only as ‘local
tribesmen’ or ‘people’ rather than the more frequently used ‘militant’.

Where the reporting is
vague but appears to indicate civilian casualties, we will include the line
‘Possible reported civilian casualties’ in that strike’s casualty figures in
the Timeline.  This aims to act as a marker for future investigators
though has no impact on our casualty counts. Where the reporting is more
specific, but conflicts with other reports or is from a single source, we use
the formula 0-X in our count of civilian deaths, with X referring to the
highest reported number of civilian casualties.

This ensures that the
minimum total number of reported civilian deaths is unchanged but the maximum total
incorporates these possible civilian deaths. Our own charts and other strike
visualisations always use only our minimum reported casualty counts.

What are our definitions of who has been killed and injured?

Of more than 3,000
people the Bureau has identified as being reported killed in US covert attacks
since 2002, less than a third have so far been identified by name. We do not
know who the majority of the dead are. However, field reports from journalists,
government officials and militant sources often provide clear suggestions that
they are allegedly militants.

A house or compound
might be identified as being linked with a particular militant faction. A
destroyed vehicle may be claimed to have contained militants. In such cases –
and where the Taliban in Pakistan, Islamic State in Afghanistan, al Shabaab in
Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or Ansar al Sharia in Yemen, have
not confirmed an attack – we refer to those injured and killed as ‘alleged
militants’ or ‘alleged terrorists’. The bulk of those killed fall into this

We use the term
‘militant’ to describe all organised, named groups that bear arms and that are
not part of Pakistani, Somali, or Yemeni military, police, paramilitary or
militia forces. In the case of Somalia, UN and African Union forces are also on
the ground, and are distinguished from militants.

However, as academics
at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic noted in a
2012 report on counting drone strike casualties, the term ‘militant’
is politically and emotively charged, yet has no accepted legal definition.
Although the Bureau records reports of alleged militant casualties in the
narratives describing each strike, we do not keep a specific count of reported
‘militant’ deaths. We keep tallies only of reported civilian deaths and of
total casualties.

We report all
instances where civilians are credibly reported to have been killed or injured,
using the 0-X formula described above where accounts vary as to whether
civilians or militants were killed. It is fairly common for reporting to refer
to the dead as ‘people’, ‘local tribesmen’ or ‘family members’ rather than
specifically referring to civilians. At times the indication of civilian
casualties is clearer – such as when reports refer to ‘militants and local tribesmen’
being killed. For all of these formulations, we will include possible civilian
casualties in our casualty count using the 0-X formula.

This approach has been
borne out by field researchers, including those commissioned by the Bureau, who
have often identified civilian deaths in incidents where the initial reporting
referred to the dead as ‘people’ or ‘tribesmen’, or indicated uncertainty over
the identity of the dead.

When reporting on
casualties among children we employ the United Nations-designated age range of
0-17 years inclusive. Where possible we report the child’s age.

All times and dates
used are harmonised to Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan or Yemen local time.

* Last modified in February 2017 to clarify how the changing
situation in Yemen has affected our counting processes. It was also amended to
include details of the US government’s publishing its own casualty estimates
from counterterrorism strikes. And it was modified to reflect our new
Afghanistan dataset. It was previously changed in February 2013 to clarify our
casualty counting process and how we count civilians, as well as to include
recent developments, and in March 2012 to reflect new data sets for Yemen and


AUMF: One week after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress
passed the Authorisation for Use of Military Force allowing the US president to
authorise military action against those responsible and their “associated
forces”. This has been used to authorise strikes against terrorist groups in
places such as Yemen and Somalia.


Blue on Blue: An incident of “friendly fire”. Friendly fire is when a military
force attacks a non-enemy, allied force by mistake.  The Bureau recorded
three of instances of the US striking Afghan forces in 2016.


CAS: Close air support (CAS) sorties is a specific military term for
aerial missions that target enemy forces on the ground near friendly forces.
These kinds of attacks can be pre-planned or carried out on an ad hoc basis
under what is called dynamic targeting. 


CAS with at least one weapons release: The closest analogue
to the lay term “air strike”. The US Air Force does not count individual
strikes, as there could be multiple missiles fired or bombs dropped on various
targets during the same sortie, or mission. This can lead to confusion over


CIVCAS: Civilian casualty


Collateral damage: Military terminology for the incidental killing or
wounding of a non-combatant or damage to a non-combatants property during an
attack on a military target.


Double-tap strike: A practice where one strike is launched followed by
a second strike hitting those that respond. This is controversial as it often
kills civilian responders or rescue workers.


EKIA/EWIA: Enemy Killed In Action/Enemy Wounded in Action.


Force protection strike: Rules that allow the US to take out threats to
international forces as well as partner groups who are “in extremis”.


Imminent threat: According to the PPG, the US will only use lethal
force against a person that “poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S.
persons”. A leaked White Paper argued
however that this condition “does not require the United States to have clear
evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place
in the immediate future”.


ISR: Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – essential
battlefield information gathered by a variety of aircraft.  The predator
and reaper drones perform this function, with the ability to fly slowly for
hours on end over the same area, hoovering up information with their video
cameras, infrared cameras, and sophisticated radar systems.


Kill List/Disposition matrix: A database of terror
suspects approved for kill or capture. Knowledge of the CIA and military
maintaining such a list surfaced in 2010 following the approval of the
targeted killing of a US citizen in Yemen

MQ-1B Predator:
A less advanced version of the MQ-9 Reaper.


MQ-9 Reaper:
A more advanced version of the MQ-1B Predator.
The Reaper drone is both a “hunter-killer” and an intelligence-gathering platform.
It can fly for hours on end, orbiting far above the battlefield hoovering up
information through its infrared and TV camera, and array of other sensors. It
can also take out targets with Hellfire anti-tank missiles or 500lb laser
guided bombs. 


Non-combatant: A civilian not taking part in active hostilities.


Objective:  An individual, group or object identified as a military


Personality strike: A drone strike targeting a particular individual
based on their identity.


Precision strike: A term often used by the US military to describe
US attacks. It is thought to refer to a drone strike.


Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG): Signed in 2013, the PPG is a
formal policy governing kill or capture missions outside declared battlefields,
including drone strikes.


Protector: A reaper drone certified to fly in
European Union airspace.


Strategic effects strike: The term used by the US military for strikes against
the Taliban in Afghanistan under new rules passed in June 2016 giving US
commanders greater leeway to target the group.


Signature strike: A drone strike where the identity of the
person/persons targeted is not known but their “pattern of life” or
 indicates they are involved in terrorist activity.


Targeted killing: The United Nations has
described targeted killing
 as the following: “Targeted killing
is the intentional, premeditated and deliberate use of lethal force, by States
or their agents acting under colour of law, or by an organized armed group in
armed conflict, against a specific individual who is not in the physical
custody of the perpetrator.”


RPAS: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.


UAV: Unmanned aerial vehicle or drone.


Watchkeeper – A UK made drone. The Watchkeeper is unarmed and radio
controlled. It was designed from scratch for the British Army with the aim of
providing aerial surveillance to the troops in Afghanistan but the fleet was first used just weeks
before troop withdrawal in 2014


Drones have been part
of warfare since the 19th century, arguably, when the Austrians used
pilotless hot-air balloons to bomb Venice


Development of pilotless flying machines such as those
operated today began almost as soon as the Wright brothers demonstrated powered
flight with the first remote control planes
developed during the First World War

Unmanned technology
advanced in the interwar period. The term drone itself started to be used at
this time, after the UK developed the Queen Bee, a bi-plane converted to be
controlled by radio from the ground.

Like many military
drones at that time, the Queen Bee was a remote controlled target for
anti-aircraft gunners to use for target practice. Others, including the
infamous Nazi V1 “Doodlebug,” were still essentially guided bombs – primitive
versions of today’s cruise missiles. 

By the late 1950s
however the US and others found they could use unmanned, remotely piloted
aircraft as spy planes. Radio-controlled and fitted with film cameras, the
small drones flew over China and North Vietnam gathering imagery intelligence
but not risking the lives of pilots, or the diplomatic fallout of US airmen
being captured by Communists.

Drones were still only
a niche technology during the Cold War. They were unreliable, small yet
expensive, and pilots had to be within range of their analogue radio signals,
often having to fly their drones while sat in a nearby manned aircraft.

They were overshadowed
by globe spanning satellite networks and much sexier, supersonic manned spy
planes, such as the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird, which were much more in tune with
the white scarf bravado of Air Force pilots.

The genesis of the
drones orbiting today’s battlefields came in three key technological leaps.

First came the work of an Israeli aviation genius who in the 1970s
started to develop aircraft with glider-like properties. Incredibly long, thin
wings that could hold the plane aloft at altitude for hours on end, more than
24 hours flight.

This endurance is a
fundamental reason why today’s armed drones, such as the General Atomics Reaper
drone, are so in vogue. The key is keeping the pilots on the ground: the drones
are lighter than manned aircraft and they don’t have to land when they get
tired, they just swap seats with a fresh crew.

Their ability to
loiter proved invaluable in the 1990s, during the escalating conflict in the
former Yugoslavia. There was a dearth of good intelligence about Serbian tank
and troop movements. US supersonic jets were struggling to spot the Serbian
forces in the thick Balkan forests but the drones could stay on station for 24
hours at a time, kept their unblinking eye on their targets.

Combining this
loitering with the second crucial advance, the use of transmitters to send the
footage straight back to battlefield commanders, is credited with convincing
Nato generals they needed to start bombing the Serbs again, so hastening the
signing Dayton peace accords.

The US has since taken
those Balkan systems further. The signal to control them, and the returning
video footage, are now transmitted through satellite networks, not radio waves.
In 2000 the US took the final leap forward when the Air Force and CIA became
the first to successfully fit drones with missiles, as part of a failed CIA
attempt to kill Osama bin Laden.

These satellite
controlled hunter-killer drones allow pilots to control their aircraft from
half a world away and it allows generals, spies and politicians to watch the
war they are waging on the other side of the world, live on TV from anywhere in
the world.

America’s drones
started life as spy planes and were augmented to become assassination weapons.
And they have been used in at least seven countries to fulfill exactly those
roles, throughout Washington’s 15 year, ongoing war on terror. They have been
hoovering up information, feeding the military’s insatiable demand for
battlefield intelligence, and finding and killing terrorists and insurgents.

The US drone war massively expanded under President
Barack Obama. Responding to evolving militant threats and the greater
availability of remote piloting technology, Obama ordered ten times more
counter-terror strikes than his predecessor
 George W Bush over
the course of his term.


It is not just that
Obama has put more of a certain type of aircraft in the skies. The
low-footprint nature of drone strikes – which can be carried out without having
personnel in the country being hit – made it politically easier for the US to
mount operations in countries with which it was not technically at war.
Hundreds of strikes have been carried out in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia,
carried out by the highly secretive Central Intelligence Agency and Joint
Special Operations Command at the Pentagon.

Advocates say the drone programme has saved American
lives and reduced the need for messy ground operations like the 2003 invasion
of Iraq. But it has also killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians,
according to data collected by the Bureau and the NGO Airwars – a reality which experts have warned
could have a radicalising effect on the very societies US drones are trying to
eliminate extremists from. Human rights organisations have lambasted the
targeted killing programme for its “clear violations of
international humanitarian law.”


The US has been carrying out targeted killings with drones around
the world for more than 15 years. As the rate of strikes increased through the
years so too did the criticisms from rights groups and civil liberties

Among the most
consistent, and vociferous, points of contention has been the legal basis for
the counter-terrorism campaign.

Over time US
government gradually began discussing its legal justification for the strikes,
starting in 2010 with a speech by the State Department’s top legal advisor. The
speech gave a broad outline of the government’s position on “lethal
counterterrorism operations” though did not actually address the topic of drone
strikes. It would be another two years before the administration officially
acknowledged the drone campaign even existed.

Information has come
out of the administration in dribs and drabs since then. Some was given up
voluntarily, in speeches and briefings, but much had to be forced out of the
White House through lengthy court battles.

Ultimately, the US
government has revealed a considerable amount about the legal basis for the
strikes. It has been commended in many quarters for the scope of the
information it has provided, albeit reluctantly. The transparency however has
not quelled the criticism.

There is just one law
that underpins the whole basis for the US being at war with al Qaeda and its
cronies that has been even remotely scrutinised by Congress. The Authorisation
for the Use of Military Force Act was drafted by the Bush White House in the week
after the 9/11 attacks.

At its heart is a
sixty-word sentence that gives the US president the power to “use all necessary
and appropriate force against those nations, organisations, or persons” that he
or she determines was behind or helped the people who carried out the attacks.
It was passed into law by Congress on September 16 with only one dissenting

The AUMF’s scope gave
the president a free hand. It has no time or geographical limits; it
technically allows the president to fight a perpetual global war. It also
empowers the president to go after individuals as well as nation states.

Within weeks of it
becoming law the US and its allies had invaded Afghanistan, going after the
Taliban and al Qaeda. A year later the US carried out its first drone strike
beyond active battlefields, killing six al Qaeda fighters in Yemen. 

By 2004 the US was
striking al Qaeda, the Taliban, and various other armed groups in Pakistan.

AUMF is so broad that
it allows the President to target new enemies without the usual authorisation
from Congress. The scope has grown from just the Taliban and al Qaeda – AUMF is
now being used to justify strikes against groups that did not exist when al
Qaeda attacked the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.

The Obama
administration started claiming that they had the power to use drones against
al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces”, despite the term not appearing
in the Act. The administration said it means entities closely linked to al
Qaeda, such as its Yemeni franchise or its fighters in East Africa.

However, AUMF has also
been invoked to legally justify targeting Islamic State (IS) fighters in Iraq,
Syria and Libya without further authorisation from Congress, which US lawmakers
criticised as more than a bit of a stretch. The Obama administration says it’s
legitimate as IS was born out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a legitimate target under
AUMF since 2004.

The law has been
extended to include Somali terrorist group al Shabaab. America has been
targeting its leaders for more than seven years because, the US says, they were
members of both al Qaeda in East Africa and al Shabaab. However, the group as a
whole was only judged to be an al Qaeda “associated force” in late 2016.

Obama repeatedly
promised to “refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 AUMF  but to no
avail. He used AUMF throughout both his terms to justify the drone campaign.

President Bush and Obama oversaw 620 strikes
in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (outside the active war zones of Iraq,
Afghanistan and latterly Syria). That number only looks set to rise.


The US’s conflict with
terrorist organisations associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban is boundless
because these groups can and do operate in countries around the world, it says.
And it is legal, the US claims, because of the inherent right to self-defence
and because the strikes comply with the laws of armed conflict.

Critics say this is
tantamount to a boundless forever-war. Beyond AUMF, thousands upon thousands of
words have been crafted by administration lawyers but they are “legal rules
that are neither fully articulated to the public nor reviewed by any court,”
explains civil liberties lawyer Jameel Jaffer in his book The Drone Memos.

The legal positions
and policy documents drafted by the Obama administration in the latter years of
his presidency put some limited constraints on how drones can be used. But
nothing in these documents is set in stone, Jaffer explains. President Donald
Trump has inherited the powers provided by AUMF: there is no constraint on how
he can use them.

Naming the Dead: The

A US Reaper at Kandahar airbase (David

Naming the Dead is an attempt to identify by name the people
reportedly killed by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. It is an ongoing
project run by journalists from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, who
have been tracking covert US strikes in the region since early 2011.

At the time of writing, the Bureau has identified more than 550
individuals by name. Many others are identified through their relationships,
tribes, nationalities or by other means. We present what has been reported
about the dead in two main ways: an alphabetical list, and in individual pages
according to the strike in which they died.

This methodology explains how we have approached the current
project. The areas it addresses are presented below in alphabetical order.

Casualty counts

Due to the
challenges of reporting from the remote tribal regions in which drone strikes
take place, it is common for news reports to disagree with one another over the
death toll and other details.

Where this happens, we record reported deaths or injuries as a
range, reporting both the lowest number of casualties and the highest. The
exception to this is where early reports of casualties have been superseded by later
ones, in which case we take the latest report of casualties.

Where sources disagree about whether civilians or children were
killed in a particular strike, or where the reporting is ambiguous over the
status of the dead, we record this using the 0 [zero] -X range, where X is the
highest number of civilians or children reported killed. This means our
lower-end range only includes claims of civilians that are supported by
multiple sources.


In the Bureau’s
drone strikes database, we require multiple sources to report a strike before
we regard it as confirmed. In the Naming the Dead database, we may record a
name that has been reported by a single source. This reflects the considerable
difficulties in getting data. For each name, we publish the source or sources
that reported them killed (see Sources and Cited Sources, below).

Where multiple variants of one name are reported we present them
all in the database.

As with all the Bureau’s drone-related data, we welcome
correction, corroboration and further information. Email us at


We have categorised
each named casualty as either militant, civilian or unknown. These statuses are
based on how each individual is reported by original sources.

• Civilian

The Bureau
classifies all individuals credibly reported as civilians as such, and also
records as possible civilians those described as ‘tribesmen’, ‘locals’ or

The Bureau almost always classes women as civilians: in the FATA
region of Pakistan, where the strikes take place, reports of female militants
are exceedingly rare.

However there are isolated cases where there is a suggestion
that women have participated in militant activities, such as that of Raquel Burgos
, a Spanish-born woman married to a high-ranking al Qaeda
militant. Reports after her death indicated Garcia may have acted for al Qaeda
as a courier or ‘low-level operative’.
For this reason she is classed as ‘unknown’.

• Alleged militants

The term ‘militant’ is politically and emotively charged, but has no
accepted legal definition, as researchers at Columbia Law School pointed out in
their October 2012 study on
counting drone deaths. The Bureau’s main drone strike database records the
numbers of deaths in two main categories: ‘civilian’ and ‘total’.

However ‘militant’ is widely used in reporting on drone strikes
and other events in Pakistan’s tribal northwest to refer to members of the
numerous armed extremist groups that control swathes of the region.

Reports of strikes often offer clear indications that the dead
are alleged to be members of these armed groups: other members of the groups or
government officials may confirm this, or the targeted building may be referred
to as being linked to a particular group. Where the available reporting
indicates that an individual was a member of an armed group we record them as
‘Alleged militant’ in the data. The Bureau provides as much detail as possible
on the sources for this claim, and their alleged affiliation and rank, where it
profiles individuals in case studies.

• Member of armed group

Some individuals are acknowledged by multiple primary and secondary
sources as members of armed groups. Where there is a weight of credible
evidence suggesting an individual was a member of a specific armed group, the
Bureau categorises them as a member of this organisation, for example ‘Al Qaeda
member’ or ‘Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan member’.

The Bureau will accept a single source as sufficient evidence of
membership of an armed group when it comes directly from the individual or from
the armed group. Jihadist sources sometimes acknowledge an individual’s role in
their organisation, for example by publishing biographies or ‘martyrdom’
statements, or by named members of the group acknowledging that the deceased
was a member. The individuals themselves may have self-identified as members of
a group, for example by appearing in videos or giving media interviews under
the flag of that organisation.

Where individuals are described as a member of an organisation
by three independent types of source, the Bureau also classes them in this way.
These sources could include US, Pakistani or international governmental bodies
listing an individual on most-wanted or sanctions lists; unnamed spokesmen for
armed groups acknowledging the deceased was a member; and detailed reports in
credible media, for example.

• Unknown

There are examples where there is conflicted reporting of an
individual’s status. While this remains unreconciled, the individual’s status
is ‘unknown’.

• Child

The Bureau adopts
the UN’s definition of a child as being individuals aged 0-17 inclusive. The
age of a drone-strike victim is not always reported. However, there are
signifiers for when a victim is of child age. For example, the school grade may
be reported, enabling an estimate of their age; or they might be reported as
being too young to attend school.

Children are almost always counted as civilians. But there are
four possible exceptions, in a strike that took place on August 30 2009 (given
the Bureau code Ob30). Survivors’ testimony describes the four as ‘trainee
militants’. However it is not clear from the age of the survivors or the
language in the source material if the four were children or adults when they
died. Their gender and status are currently classified as ‘unknown’.

• Ranks of militants

The Bureau has
classified those credibly reported to be militants using the following

Senior: An individual
who has been described as a senior commander or senior operative; the leader of
a militant group, and his deputies and close aides; shura (leadership
council) members; a regional or national commander; chiefs and deputy chiefs of
operations or training; and key commanders.

Mid-level: Individuals
described as commanders and local commanders.

Unclear: Where reports
conflict or are ambiguous about their rank.

Unknown: Their rank is
not specified in the reporting.

Drone strike

By ‘strike’, we
refer to a missile or set of missiles fired at a single location in a short
time window. Where missiles hit more than an hour apart, we count these as
separate strikes. Where drones hit locations more than a couple of miles apart
we also count these as separate strikes, even when they take place in quick


Naming the Dead is
partly funded by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. The project
was also included in the second appeal of the Freedom of the Press Foundation,
which invited donations from members of the public to organisations including
WikiLeaks, Truthout and the Center for Public Integrity. The Bureau of
Investigative Journalism is philanthropically funded, with the bulk of its core
funding provided by David and Elaine Potter.

Levels of

Only a small
proportion of those killed in drone strikes are identified by name, but many
others are at least partially identified in other ways. Reporting often
mentions that among the dead were the wife, children, or other family members
of a named individual, or that the dead were members of a particular faction,
or that they were believed to come from particular countries.

In the initial phase, Naming the Dead is publishing those
identified by name. Future phases will include the publication of individuals
identified in these other ways.


Every strike or
event covered in Naming the Dead contains active links to the news reports,
statements, documents and press releases that we have used as our sources. We
also incorporate images and video clips relating to specific events. The data
is active and changes according to our best present understanding. New
information on a particular strike or action can emerge months or even years
after an event.

• Media sources

The most
comprehensive public information on casualties generally lies in the thousands
of press reports filed by reputable national and international media outlets.
The bulk of our sources are in English, but in addition we sometimes
incorporate reporting in Urdu.

Commonly cited international media sources include CNN, MSNBC,
ABC News, Reuters, the BBC, Associated Press, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the
Independent, Time, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York
Times, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, the Nation, the Atlantic, Xinhua, Army
Times, Bloomberg, AFP, NPR, Al Jazeera, and Al Arabiya.

Other international sources include the New America Foundation,
Critical Threats, Long War Journal, Al Akhbar, Jamestown Foundation,
Jihadology, Empty Wheel, Wired, WikiLeaks, the UN, Reprieve, Human Rights
Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Amnesty International.

Pakistani media sources include Dawn, Express Tribune, The Nation,
Jang, Geo TV and The News International. The Bureau also includes reports from
the Pakistan Observer but as we do not view casualty reports from that
publication as credible at present, we do not incorporate their figures into
our casualty counts.

• Other sources

The Bureau has
carried out field investigations into possible civilian deaths on three
occasions. The data also incorporates the fieldwork of credible researchers
(for example Stanford Law School and New York University School of Law) and evidence
filed in legal cases brought in Pakistan and elsewhere on behalf of civilian
drone victims.

Leaked US intelligence reports and WikiLeaks diplomatic cables
deal directly with specific drone attacks or individuals, particularly
high-level militants. Sanctions lists and ‘most wanted’ lists can provide
further detail.

Jihadist forums and websites sometimes eulogise senior militants
with biographies and martyrdom statements. These are cited as sources where

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

On many occasions, there is a reasonable consensus between
sources. Where contradictory accounts occur, we strive to speak with particular
journalists and sources about their reports, to clarify discrepancies. But
where these discrepancies remain we aim to reflect the contrasting accounts.

We cross-reference events with the work of other organisations
that record drone strikes in Pakistan, particularly the New America Foundation and
the Long War Journal.

• Cited sources

Most reports cited
by the Bureau themselves cite a source or sources. Because of the sensitivities
around discussing drone strikes and the precarious security situation in
Pakistan’s tribal regions, sources often speak on condition of anonymity. Such
sources often form the basis of a report: journalists very rarely visit the
scene of a strike because of the dangers of working in the tribal areas of

Sources are identified in the referenced report or document.
This varies from a report citing a single anonymous ‘source’ to sworn
statements submitted to the High Court in London.

Official sources range from unnamed US, Pakistani and European
government officials of varying degrees of reported seniority (ranging from,
for example, anonymous local government officials to senior US intelligence
officials) to named politicians and officials, among them the former President
of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf.

Both anonymous and named militant sources are included. Again,
there are varying degrees of reported seniority: from unnamed ‘militant
sources’ to statements from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan
Taliban, acknowledging a militant’s death.

The Bureau has recorded each source and the news report, press
release, statement or document that cited it beside each entry in Naming the

Spellings of names

The names of drone
strike victims identified in the Bureau sources are often translated or
transliterated. While the names have standard spellings in the original
language – Urdu or Pashto, for example – they do not in the English reports.
Therefore we use standardised conventions and spellings.

Names ending with -ullah are reported as one or two words; for
example, Saifullah or Saif Ullah. We are standardising these names as a single
word. Similarly, names ending with -uddin or -udin are reported as one or two
words; for example, Badruddin. We are standardising these names as a single

Abd el, Abd al and Abdul are used variously and at times
interchangeably. When reported as a first name we are using Abdul. And the
Bureau is using Abdul for preference as a middle name, except in instances when
an individual is clearly reported as an Arab, when we are using an Arabic
variant: Abd al. Similarly, we will use Ismail for preference but exchange it
for Ismael for Arab individuals.

The title Maulana, Maulvi or Mullah are used interchangeably in
reporting. For preference, we are using Maulvi. However, when a particular
title is firmly attached to an individual in reporting we will follow that
convention; for example: Mullah Omar.

The names Fazal and Fazle are distinct names and not misspelled
transliterations of the same name. And we have decided on the following
standardised spellings:

– Fayyaz not Fayaz

– Gul not Gull

– Haji not Hajji

– Mohammed not Mohammad or Muhammad

– Osama not Usama


We have translated into Urdu the following key information about
the dead: their names; their reported status, militant, civilian or unknown;
the tribal agency where the lethal strike hit; and the date of the strike. The
aim is to ensure as many readers as possible – particularly in Pakistan – can
at least identify the dead. It is our ambition ultimately to translate all the
information we publish about the dead.

There are three words or phrases in Urdu used to refer to
militants: Inteha Pasand (
انتہا پسند), which most closely translates to extremist;
Shiddat Pasand (
شدت پسند), meaning militant; and Dehshat Gard (دہشت  گرد), which means terrorist. We are using the literal
translation of militant, Shiddat Pasand (
شدت پسند).

There is no standard term in Urdu for civilian. The most
commonly used terms are Gher Fauji (
غیر فوجی), meaning non-army;
Bay Gunnah (
بیگنا) or Masoom (معصوم), meaning innocent; and Aam Shehri (عام شہری), meaning ordinary
citizen. We are using Aam Shehri (
عام شہری), as it is the
closest to civilian.

We have had difficulty translating several names. This is most
likely because they were translated or transliterated incorrectly from Pashto
to Urdu, or from either Pashto or Urdu into English. We have translated these
names phonetically from how they were reported. We have included what we
believe the original names might have been before they were translated or
transliterated. Our reasons for these suggested alternatives are detailed
below. There are two exceptions, which we believe are typographical errors and
have been altered from the reported original before being translated: Qaru
Almzeb and Nimatullah have been changed to Qari Almzeb and Naimatullah.

– Bakhan (بخان)

Bureau alternative: Khan (خان)

Again our translators agreed it is not a Pakistani name. Again
it could be a local title, or a nickname created by merging two names: Bahadur
Khan, for example. Or it could be that the name Khan was distorted during the
reporting or translating process.

– Leetak (لیتک)

Bureau alternative: Lateef (لطیف)

Our translators agreed Leetak is not a Pakistani name. However
they believe it could be a nickname, a local title or a variation on a local
name with foreign influences, from Uzbek or Tajik for example. Or it could be a
distortion of the name Lateef.

– Mohammed Sheen (محمد شین)

Bureau alternative: Mohammed Sh (محمد ش)

It was not clear if the name Sheen is the individual’s surname
or if it represents an Urdu letter with the phoneme [ʃ] (sh). If so it could be
an initial or somehow the full name was curtailed to its first letter, perhaps
when a source told a reporter the name over a poor telephone connection.

– Najid (نجید)

Bureau alternative: Majid (مجید)

We believe Najid could well be a Pashto name but not one our
translators had come across. It could therefore be a corruption of the more
common Majid.

– Shahbuddin (شاہبالدیں)

Bureau alternative: Shahabuddin (شہاب الدین)

Shahbuddin could have been a typing error or it could be a
legitimate variation on the traditional name Shahabuddin.

– Sultanat Khan (سلطنت خان), Mohammed Yaas Khan (محمد یاس خان) and Shahkir (شاہ کر)

Bureau alternatives: Sultan Khan (سلطان خان), Mohammed Yaar
Khan (
محمد یار خان) and Sahkir (شاکر)

These names could be legitimate variations on the traditional
names that our translators have suggested as alternatives.

– Zarmali (زرمالی خان)

Bureau alternative: Zamaryalai (زمریلیٔ خان)

Our translators did not recognise this name and felt it could be
translated to Zarwali. But a correspondent for BBC Pashto Service declared it
most likely a corruption of the name Zamaryalai.

 The Bureau
collects data on US strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen from
government, military and intelligence officials, and from credible media,
academic and other sources, including on occasion Bureau researchers. We
collect and present quantitative data on strikes and casualty estimates in
 spreadsheets, and qualitative data in narrative timelines. Please note
that our data changes according to our current understanding of particular
strikes. The information contained in the spreadsheets and timelines represents
our best estimates.