A real headline today (4/26/10) in the Washington Post:
Amid Outrage Over Civilian Deaths in Pakistan, CIA Turns to Smaller Missiles
The piece–by Joby Warrick and Peter Finn–has government officials (anonymously, of course) providing new assurances:
The technological improvements have resulted in more accurate operations that have provoked relatively little public outrage, the officials said…. The CIA declines to publicly discuss its clandestine operations in Pakistan, and a spokesman would not comment on the kinds of weapons the agency is using. But two counterterrorism officials said in interviews that evolving technology and tactics have kept the number of civilian deaths extremely low. The officials, along with other U.S. and Pakistani officials interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the drone campaign is both classified and controversial.
The piece goes on to offer some numbers:
According to an internal CIA accounting described to the Washington Post, just over 20 civilians are known to have died in missile strikes since January 2009, in a 15-month period that witnessed more than 70 drone attacks that killed 400 suspected terrorists and insurgents. Agency officials said the CIA's figures are based on close surveillance of targeted sites both before and after the missiles hit.
Unofficial tallies based on local news reports are much higher. The New America Foundation puts the civilian death toll at 181 and reports a far higher number of alleged terrorists and insurgents killed–more than 690.
The Post account is one of those instances where accepting the government's (anonymous) claims at face value is really the only way to accept the storyline, since they're unwilling to go on the record or share their data with independent researchers.
The piece includes this strange comment:
The drone strikes have been controversial in Pakistan, where many view them as an infringement on national sovereignty.
Yes, "many" people would probably agree that another country conducting secret, deadly airstrikes in another country infringes that country's sovereignty. Does that conclusion really need to qualified?