WASHINGTON: A US senator has said an estimated 4,700 people, including some civilians, have been killed in the contentious bombing raids of America’s secretive drone war, local media reported.
It was the first time a lawmaker or any government representative had referred to a total number of fatalities in the drone strikes, which have been condemned by rights groups as extrajudicial assassinations.
The toll from hundreds of drone-launched missile strikes against suspected Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere has remained a mystery, as US officials refuse to publicly discuss any details of the covert campaign. But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of the drone raids, openly cited a number that exceeds some independent estimates of the death toll.
“We’ve killed 4,700,” Graham was quoted as saying by the Easley Patch, a local website covering the small town of Easley in South Carolina. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda,” Graham told the Easley Rotary Club. Graham’s office did not dispute his reported remarks but suggested that he had not divulged any official, classified government figure.
A spokesman said that the senator “quoted the figure that has been publicly reported and disseminated on cable news”.
His remark was unprecedented, as US officials have sometimes hinted at estimates of civilian casualties but never referred to a total body count.
“Now this is the first time a US official has put a total number on it,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
If there was an official death toll estimate, it would be classified as secret, he added, raising the prospect that Graham could have broken secrecy laws.
Several organisations have tried to calculate how many militants and civilians may have been killed in drone strikes since 2004 but have arrived at a wide range of numbers.
The figure cited by Graham matches the high end of a tally by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It says the number killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia is between 3,072 and 4,756. AFP