President Barack Obama issued an executive order to reduce civilian deaths by drone strikes and require the U.S. government to publicly report the number of civilian deaths each year.
Obama's order requires the U.S. military to follow "best practices" to limit civilian casualties; improve channel to work with international medical aid groups to treat injured civilians; improve intelligence-gathering to limit civilian casualties; and be more transparent about civilian deaths from drone strikes by releasing an annual report about drone strike operations, including the number of civilian deaths.
The order, which mandates a transparency criteria Obama resisted up until the final year of his presidency and can be canceled or changed by a future president, according to The New York Times, comes after the White House finally released its own numbers of civilian deaths from drone strikes since 2009.
According to those White House figures, 473 drone strikes during the Obama administration have killed between 64 and 116 civilians.
The numbers only include drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Libya. They do not include drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria because those areas are considered “areas of active hostilities.”
But the U.S. government's numbers were disputed by independent groups that have analyzed the number of civilian deaths from drone strikes.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based group that analyzes deaths from drone strikes, estimated that the number of civilian deaths since 2009 is more likely to be between 380 and 801.
Obama's executive order requires that government numbers of civilian deaths include reporting from independent groups. However, it's not clear if the numbers released on July 1 included any outside reporting.
Author and Muslim rights advocate Reza Aslan was more blunt about the U.S. government's numbers.
“If you actually believe drone strikes have killed just 116 civilians you are an idiot!” he tweeted.