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Report on Covert US drone strike leading to civilian deaths in Nigeria declassified

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Reaper UAV, File Image.

Drone attacks represent a perennial strand in the history of conflicts the US has undertaken far from its borders, but the details of how the US has used its drone program to assassinate suspected terrorists overseas, and the true gravity of the disastrous consequences of such actions, remain mostly unknown.

The US drone program was originally instituted under George W. Bush during his so called War on Terror. However, the administrations that came after his significantly increased the total number of drone strikes.

Since the inception of the programme US officials have repeatedly claimed that the strikes have been used exclusively against terrorists and with fewer casualties, collateral damage, than other procedures.

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But numerous reports over the past year suggest that an overwhelming majority of the deaths have indeed been civilians.

According to The Intercept US drones were secretly involved in the Rann IDP bombing in 2017 which killed more than 160 civilians, many of them children. The attack also left nine MSF aid workers dead and had seriously wounded 120 other individuals.

US surveillance and intelligence gathering operations have often been deployed in and around Nigeria since 2014, ostensibly to search for children kidnapped by terrorists.

But in the Raan incident, a surveillance plane reportedly circled around the IDP camp which housed 43,000 people before a jet arrived and bombed the area twice, also killing the tens of displaced civilians sheltering there.

The Nigerian Air Force expressed regret for carrying out the strike, but the attack was referred to as an instance of US/Nigerian operations in a recently declassified secret US military document.

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However, the question remains why US involvement in the fiasco is being revealed just now, in 2022; five years after the disaster actually took place?

The reason it's come out now is because Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, is just about to put out a memorandum on improving civilian harm mitigation.

So the government wants people to be aware that, yes, they know there is harm that they're doing, and now they're going to do better.

So this particular event is really quite horrific, that it happened at all, and it's hard to explain why those planes would have been bombing a refugee camp, which clearly the government knew about, the United States knew about it, everybody was well aware that this large and well serviced refugee camp was there. So it's a terrible thing.

Judith Bello, United National Antiwar Movement

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The US drone program was kept secret until 2013. It was the Obama administration that acknowledged the existence of the program, after years of denial by the Bush administration.

 However, the documents that have been acquired over the past years imply that what little has been revealed by the government is likely distorted.

Many have called for greater transparency surrounding the programs; a series of overseas assassinations, which primarily killed civilians, could easily be one of America's worst war crimes.

A new report released by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic has called on the US government to provide an official accounting on who is being killed by drone strikes.

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The report states that in light of the government's unwillingness, and refusal, to provide information on casualties, some tracking organizations have filled the gap, but their estimates are incomplete and, mostly, significantly undercounted.

While stating that lower numbers provide assurances to the public and lawmakers that drone strikes are not harming civilians, the report says the US government owes the public an accounting of who is being killed.

So the American people aren't really aware, as I said, that these strikes are even happening. On the whole, they are not getting this information; it is deliberately being "excluded" from their information space.

At the same time, the people in the government who are actually calling in these drone strikes, and who are targeting what turns out so often to be civilians and children; I don't think they care, because the idea of having ongoing wars is what they want. They want war.

Judith Bello, United National Antiwar Movement

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Meanwhile, Amnesty International has also raised similar concerns stating that 90% of those killed by US drone strikes in an operation in northeast Afghanistan were unintended targets.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization based in London, US drone strikes have killed more than 1500 civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen since 2004.

But despite all the evidence of US wrongdoings, Washington continues its warmongering policies across the globe and it remains to be seen when, if ever, American officials responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians are going to be held accountable for their actions.

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