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Obama to disclose drone strike deaths: What will be included – and omitted?

The disclosure is an effort to follow through on the Obama administration's 2013 promise to provide more transparency in its drone program.

Jeff Chiu/Reuters/File
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco speaks in Stanford, Calif., Feb. 13. US airstrikes bombarded an Al Shabab training camp in Somalia Saturday, killing more than 150 militant fighters who were preparing to launch a large-scale attack, likely against African or US personnel, the Pentagon said Monday. The attack comes as the White House announced that it will disclose how many people have been killed by American drones and other counterterrorism strikes since 2009, when President Obama took office

In an effort to expand government transparency, the United States will in the coming weeks publicly release the total number combatant and civilian casualties from US counter-terrorism strikes carried out abroad since 2009, the White House announced Monday.

The assessment won't cover areas of "active hostilities," like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, but will focus on the shadowy regime of strikes the United States has launched against terrorist targets in other parts of the world, such as Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

The report comes after a 2013 pledge by Obama to provide more transparency in its drone program that has become a keystone in America's counterterrorism efforts, amid criticism that the program lacked transparency, and that the strikes kill vastly more people than US officials say.

"We know that not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counter-terrorism effort and the broad support of our allies," according to Lisa Monaco, President Obama's homeland security adviser told the Council on Foreign Relations, Reuters reports.

Other details of the assessment are unclear, but Ms. Monaco said it would reflect the "latest intelligence from all sources" as well as input from human rights groups who monitor US operations, including drone strikes and other counter-terrorism activities.

The announcement comes two days after a US airstrike killed more than 150 fighters the US military says was associated with the extremist group Al Shabab, in Somalia. Pentagon sources said that strike involved multiple drones as well as manned aircraft – and that no civilians were killed.

Human rights groups have long pressed the administration to release more data about the drone program, including how decisions are made with respect to approving targets and how many civilians have been killed as a consequence of the strikes.

In 2013, McClatchy newspapers reported that classified documents showed that the US strikes had killed hundreds of suspected lower-level militants in scores of attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas, contrary to assurances that drone strikes targeted only known leaders of Al Qaeda and allied group.

Human rights groups welcomed the announcement but said the administration should go further.

"This is an important step, but it should be part of a broader reconsideration of the secrecy surrounding the drone campaign," Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters.

"The authority to use lethal force should be subject to more stringent oversight by the public, by Congress, and, at least in some contexts, by the courts," he said.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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