On July 1st, President Obama signed an executive order intended to reduce civilian casualties in US military operations outside the theatre of war. It specifically mandated that the US Government “reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties, take appropriate steps when such casualties occur, and draw lessons from our operations to further enhance the protection of civilians”. It also demanded in exquisite legalese the release of data on the number of strikes undertaken by the U.S. Government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities and the resulting death toll.
There are significant limitations to this data. They are, as Open Briefing point out, broad estimates. They only cover strikes conducted under the Obama Administration, including Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Former drone pilots argue that “there is no standard methodology for counting the dead.” Significantly, the ‘best practice’ approach to avoiding civilian casualties mandated in the Executive Order is unlikely to work if there is no contextual data available on the strikes, much less a methodology for counting casualties.