Your Monthly Drone Update (January ‘13 Edition)

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Those of you who read our explainer on drone warfare may remember that the U.S. carried out an estimated 343 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2008 and 2012, with 2010 being the most active year (128 strikes). During this same period, the drone program and the Obama administration’s secretive “targeted killing” policy came under increasing scrutiny. But as the slide above suggests, drone warfare is only going to become a bigger story as the year progresses. Indeed, as the Defense Department deals with tighter budgets, the cost-effectiveness of drones could make them even more attractive to military planners — despite the fact that they are extremely unpopular around the globe.

With all this in mind, we’re going to check in on the topic every month and provide the latest numbers and news.

This past January, the U.S. government carried out 14 drone strikes of suspected “militants” in Pakistan and Yemen, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. As many as 100 people may have died in the attacks (see the full list below). It is unclear exactly how many drone strikes took place in Afghanistan in January, but the numbers there are probably much higher.

Meanwhile, NBC News published a confidential Justice Department memo this which argues that the U.S. government has the legal authority to kill American citizens if they are “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force.” The argument rests on the notion that targeted killings of American citizens who are terrorists is a form of self-defense permissible under the laws of war. However, the Justice Department also considers these killings legal even if the government has no evidence that the person is plotting to attack the United States.

These issues are likely to be a major topic of conversation during the Senate confirmation hearing of John Brennan, the White House’s counterterrorism adviser and President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, that will kick off Thursday.

Documented drone strikes, January 2013:

Pakistan

January 2: 6-11 killed
January 3: 3-6 killed
January 6: 8-18 killed
January 8: 4-9 killed
January 8: 2-4 killed
January 10: 3-6 killed

Yemen

January 4: 3 killed
January 19: 0-5 killed
January 19: 2-4 killed
January 19: 2-10 killed
January 21: 2-4 killed
January 22: 3-5 killed
January 23: 5-8 killed
January 23: 2-6 killed