The National Security Program

Key Findings
  • The CIA drone campaign began in Yemen in 2002 and in Pakistan in 2004. 

  • Drone strikes in Pakistan rose steadily under President Barack Obama in 2009, to their peak of 122 in 2010.

  • Starting in 2011, strikes in Pakistan began to decline, while they spiked in Yemen, particularly as the Obama administration began using drones to support the Yemeni government's battles against al-Qaeda-linked militants in 2012.

  • The civilian and "unknown" casualty rate from drone strikes has fallen steadily over the life of the program.

  • PAKISTAN: The casualty rate in Pakistan for civilians and "unknowns" -- those who are not identified in news reports definitively as either militants or civilians -- was around 40% under President George W. Bush. It has come down to about 7% under President Obama.

  • PAKISTAN: Only 58 known militant leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, representing just 2% of the total deaths.

  • PAKISTAN: In 2012, 2% of the drones' victims were characterized as civilians in news reports and 9% were described in a manner that made it ambiguous whether they were militants or civilians.

  • PAKISTAN: In 2013, civilian casualties are at their lowest ever. That is partly the result of a sharply reduced number of drone strikes in Pakistan -- 26 so far in 2013, compared with a record 122 in 2010 -- and also more precise targeting. 

  • YEMEN: The civilian and "unknown" casualty rate over the life of the drone campaign is 14-15%.

  • YEMEN: U.S. drones have killed at least 35 key al-Qaeda militants, including the Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011, and Fahd al-Quso, who was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

  • YEMEN: In 2013, civilian casualties are at their highest ever. This is largely due to a single drone strike that killed between 11 and 15 people are they headed to a wedding on December 12. 

Pakistan Drone Strike Totals

total strikes
2080 - 3428
total killed
258 - 307
civilians killed
1623 - 2787
militants killed
199 - 334
unknown killed

Yemen Strike Totals

total strikes
753 - 965
total killed
81 - 87
civilians killed
641 - 828
militants killed
31 - 50
unknown killed