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Popular debate on U.S. drone strikes often centers on how many individuals are killed, and which of two categories the individuals killed fall into – militant or civilian. U.S. officials emphasize the precision of drone technology and contend that extremely few civilians have been killed. Yet others have questioned these claims and stated that there is evidence to suggest that deaths, and civilian deaths in particular, are much higher than U.S. officials admit.

The uncertainty about civilian deaths is largely due to the U.S. government’s resistance to openly providing information about strikes. In the absence of official data, the most common source for drone strike casualty figures is news reports about particular strikes. Some organizations have catalogued and aggregated these news reports to provide overall estimates of the total number of individuals killed, including the number of “militants” versus “civilians.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Long War Journal and New America Foundation (“tracking organizations”) are among the most influential of such organizations, and their work has in many instances catalyzed debate about the effectiveness and humanitarian cost of strikes.