Targeted Killing: Drones

A Meta-Study of Drone Strike Casualties: Version 2.0

By Ritika Singh
Friday, October 25, 2013, 6:29 PM

I've been thinking about the recent Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports in the context of my Meta-Study of Drone Strike Casualties from this summer, in which I examined the different methodologies used by the New America Foundation (NAF), the Long War Journal (LWJ), the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic (CHRC) to count the number of civilian casualties from drone strikes. In that lengthy post, I discussed the criteria and definitions each organization uses to count the casualties, and I provided some thoughts on how to reconcile the discrepancies between each of the estimates.

Today, I updated the meta-study for Security States; readers might find this useful in light of these two reports, as well as last month's interim report from UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson. To my mind, the most important questions raised by these reports are: Just how illustrative are these case studies? How frequent are civilian casualties of the type these reports describe in drone strikes the US government talks about as highly surgical? How many civilian deaths are overlooked by local and international media outlets because of scarce on-the-ground reporting? These are questions on which the groups I mention above have gathered a lot of quantitative data.

On another note, the New America Foundation recently updated the way it tracks casualties in Yemen. As a result, it is a little easier to compare the estimates of the different tracking organizations, so I created a new table for the updated meta-study, which I have pasted below:

Number of Deaths from U.S. Drone Strikes in Yemen from 2002-Present



BIJ (“confirmed” + “possible” drone strikes)


582 - 768



64 - 66


44 - 106


32 - 51


678 - 885


557 – 860

Civilian Casualty Death Rate

7% - 10%


5% - 19%