The Obama administration claims its drone program, which uses missiles fired by unmanned aircraft to kill people in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen, allows precise targeting of terrorist threats. But a September 2012 study based on interviews with more than 100 people in affected areas of Pakistan concludes that the impact on civilians has been much more extensive than the U.S. government wants the public to believe. 

According to the report, prepared by New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Stanford University’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, American drone strikes have directly killed nearly 900 noncombatants, including 176 children, and injured more than 1,200 since June 2004. But the impact goes beyond that. The report notes that the strikes make it difficult to live normal lives, free from the fear of sudden death from the sky. Many Pakistanis in areas such as Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, and Rawalpindi are reluctant to meet in large public groups or to come to the aid of those injured in drone attacks, because rescuers also have been hit. 

The study argues that the U.S. government should care about these effects because they undermine the notion that the drone program makes Americans safer. “The number of ‘high-level’ targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2 percent,” the study concludes. “Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks.”