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The U.S. government’s secretive and expanding use of “targeted killings” and drone strikes since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 is highly controversial. For many years, such killings were carried out as part of counter-terrorism operations and in near-complete secrecy by the Cen- tral Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), including in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, far from any traditional and recognized battlefield. The government did not meaningfully explain their legal basis. The U.S. government has admitted that it killed between 2,867–3,138 people between 2009–2016, in an estimated 526 strikes in areas the government deemed outside of “active hostilities.” Our research reveals that the government has acknowledged approximately 153 strikes, about 20 per cent of the more than 700 reported strikes since 2002. For strikes between 2009 and 2016, independent organizations have recorded an esti- mated minimum of almost 400 civilian casualties in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, while the govern- ment claims that the number is less than 120.

This report finds that the United States has been consistently and excessively secret, although it took some positive steps forward starting in 2010, and made particularly important transparency advances in 2016. These transparency reforms should continue to be strengthened and further built upon. The report identifies recommendations the U.S. and other governments should take to advance transparency, account for past harms, meet their human rights obligations, and set a rights-promoting precedent.