ISLAMABAD // Pakistan’s defence ministry said yesterday US drone strikes in the country’s tribal areas have killed 67 civilians since 2008, a surprisingly low figure given previous casualty estimates.
The figure is 3 per cent of the total killed in the past five years according to ministry data.It said there had been 317 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2008, killing 2,160 militants and 67 civilians.
Critics have said the campaign aimed at Al Qaeda and Taliban militants was counterproductive because it killed civilians and some have accused Washington of war crimes.
The US defended the campaign as just, legal and accurate, and insisted that estimates of civilian casualties in the hundreds were excessive.
Pakistan regularly condemned the attacks as a violation of sovereignty and the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, used a trip to Washington last week to press for their end.
According to the defence ministry, not a single civilian died in the 59 strikes conducted in 2012 and 2013, but 319 militants were killed.
The areas targeted by drones are off-limits to foreign journalists and aid groups, which has made it difficult to verify the number and identity of those killed in drone strikes.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London puts the death toll since the campaign began in Pakistan in 2004 at between 2,525 and 3,613. The bureau said that between 407 and 926 of those killed were civilians, which is much higher than the new Pakistani government figure.
The drone programme has tailed off in the past year.
* Agence France-Presse