The tempo of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan has slowed significantly in recent months, and anonymous officials tell The Associated Press that the reason has to do with the public's intensifying criticism of the program, which has reportedly killed hundreds of civilians since 2004.
While the attacks are by no means stopping, their frequency has reached a low not seen since the secret program began in Pakistan, with 16 strikes occurring so far this year. That's a far cry from the peak of 122 strikes in 2010, according to data from the New America Foundation, whose most recent estimates show those strikes killed 97 alleged "militants" and four "others" in 2013. Current and former intelligence officials tell AP that public scrutiny has led the program to be more focused on "high value" targets, supposedly dropping the controversial practice of "signature strikes," which attack anonymous individuals based solely on behavior observed in the field.
Recent estimates show drones killed 97 "militants" and four "others" in 2013
The statements seem to be in line with those from President Obama, who said during a speech in May that he would roll back the CIA program and limit targets to those who constitute a "continuing, imminent threat." But a Justice Department legal memo leaked prior to the speech broadly defines "imminent" to include any plot which "may or may not occur in the near future." The administration has also defended its demonstrated ability to execute — without charge or trial — American citizens who fit that criteria.
The decreased number of strikes comes after massive public outrage in Pakistan, where the high court in Peshawar has ruled that US drone strikes constitute war crimes and violations of the country's sovereignty. Ben Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on civil rights, reached similar conclusions during his own investigation of the ongoing US drone campaign. In the past, Pakistani officials have publicly spoken out against drone strikes while secretly consenting to them behind closed doors. But anonymous US officials told the AP that the strikes decreased after Pakistani officials made it clear the attacks could not continue at the current rate, citing concerns over the civilian death toll.