The CIA often doesn’t know who their drones are killing, but they are certain about them being enemy combatants

NBC News has received classified documents that apparently show that one in four of those killed in drone attacks are not necessarily affiliated with any enemy group.   Apparently, they are classified as “other militants” based solely on the fact that they were killed by U.S. drone attacks.  This harkens back to the days of the Vietnam war when the U.S. gauged its success by the number of Vietnamese they killed, classifying them all as enemy simply on the basis of having killed them.

Though the Obama administration has previously said it targets al Qaeda leaders and senior Taliban officials plotting attacks against the U.S. and U.S. troops, officials are sometimes unsure of the targets’ affiliations. About half of the targets in the documents are described as al Qaeda. But in 26 of the attacks, accounting for about a quarter of the fatalities, those killed are described only as “other militants.” In four others, the dead are described as “foreign fighters.”

In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22.

Yet officials seem certain that however many people died, and whoever they were, none of them were non-combatants. In fact, of the approximately 600 people listed as killed in the documents, only one is described as a civilian. The individual was identified to NBC News as the wife or girlfriend of an al Qaeda leader.

Given that teh U.S. is not exactly at war with Pakistan, one would think that the CIA would be a little more careful about indiscriminate killing.  Of course, if the mission is to perpetuate the war on terror by creating as much ill will toward the U.S. as possible, then the CIA is doing a commendable job.  The beneficiaries of perpetual war are probably quite pleased.

According to the NYT article there are two kinds of drone attacks.  “Personality” strikes target known targets. “Signature” strikes are different:

In so-called “signature” strikes, intelligence officers and drone operators kill suspects based on their patterns of behavior — but without positive identification. With signature strikes, the CIA doesn’t necessarily know who it is killing. One former senior intelligence official said that at the height of the drone program in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, as many as half of the strikes were classified as signature strikes.