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Most US drone strikes in Pakistan attack houses

24 May, 2014

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LONDON: Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA's 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals.

By way of contrast, since 2008, in neighbouring Afghanistan drone strikes on buildings have been banned in all but the most urgent situations, as part of measures to protect civilian lives.

But a new investigative project by the Bureau, Forensic Architecture, a research unit based at London's Goldsmiths University, and New York-based Situ Research, reveals that in Pakistan, domestic buildings continue to be the most frequent target of drone attacks, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism..

Over three-fifths (61%) of all drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, with at least 132 houses destroyed, in more than 380 strikes.

At least 222 civilians are estimated to be among the 1,500 or more people killed in attacks on such buildings. In the past 18 months, reports of civilian casualties in attacks on any targets have almost completely vanished, but historically almost one civilian was killed, on average, in attacks on houses.

The research reveals a continued policy of targeting buildings throughout the CIA's campaign in Pakistan, despite an instruction in Afghanistan from the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), the body which commands foreign operations in the country, that forces operate under the rule that 'all compounds are assumed to house civilians unless proven to be clear'.

This rule has been in place since at least September 2008 when, according to a leaked classified report, Isaf introduced a Tactical Directive that 'specifically called for limiting airstrikes on compounds to avoid civilian casualties when Isaf forces are not in imminent danger'.

In both Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan people tend to live in buildings that are often described as 'compounds'. Mansur Mahsud, director of Islamabad-based organisation the Fata Research Center, describes the way people live in these areas: 'One compound is used by many families, like brothers and first cousins, although every family has their own portion or space in the compound.

The compounds in these agencies are quite big – most would measure half an acre or more. Normally you will find 20-25 people living in one compound, and in some cases you will find more than 50.'

When drones attack buildings in Pakistan, the target is typically described in media reports as a 'compound' – and often as a 'militant compound'. But these are usually domestic structures, which are often rented or commandeered by militant groups.

End.

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