US Drones and the Politics of Body Count

News organizations need to be careful about their sources. They appear to report as fact claims made by any entity that calls itself an ‘institute’ or a ‘foundation’. This otherwise commendable report from Russia Today on the murderous US drone attacks is no exception. Like many other media outlets (including, oddly, Democracy Now and Al Jazeera) it reports as fact a dubious report produced by the New America Foundation (NAF), a leading cheerleader for the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has transmuted the drones 98% failure rate into a 67% success rate. None of these media outlets it appears has taken a minute to study the report’s methodology or question the motivations of the organization behind it. The conflicts of interest are serious.

The NAF report is based exclusively on English language media reports, which rely solely on official claims. The officials, both American and Pakistani, for their reasons have an interest in inflating the success rate. Two studies produced by Paksitan’s The News and Dawn (the latter a supporter of the war) show that that the actual success rate is near 2 percent. This estimate has also been endorsed by David Kilcullen, the former senior advisor on counterinsurgency to Gen. David Petraeus. (In response NAF’s ‘Afpak Channel’ published this airy assessment by Christine Fair challenging Kilcullen which relies on yet another ‘institute’, the ‘Aryana Institute’, a sectarian paper organization which actually claims that Pakistanis are thrilled by drone attacks!)

NAF’s ‘Afpak Channel’, which produced the report, discredited itself long ago with its overly rosy assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while it has been featuring commentary which is frequently at odds with reality, it has been reluctant to publish anything that might undercut its sanguine support for the war. It sat on a grim assessment of developments in Afghanistan by IPS’s excellent investigative journalist Gareth Porter before informing him that it won’t be published. Its Twitter frequenlty features juvenile commentary, breathlessly sanguine about US successes in Afghanista and Pakistan. Over all, it is a highly questionable source. I’d urge journalists to show more caution.

UPDATE: Don’t miss this important interview with Kathy Kelly who has just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

One thought on “US Drones and the Politics of Body Count”

  1. Idrees, thank you for this much-needed smack-down of mendacious organizations/foundations like the Aryana Institute and the Af/Pak Channel.

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