You don't have javascript enabled!

While you may still browse the report, maps will not load.

Please upgrade your browser and/or enable javascript.

Ben Emmerson, The UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights

Forensic Architecture in collaboration with SITU Research

Forensic Architecture Research Team:
Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator); Susan Schuppli (Senior Research Fellow, Project Coordinator); Jacob Burns (Research Assistant); Steffen Kraemer (Researcher, Film Editor); Reiner Beelitz (Architectural Modelling); Francesco Sebregondi (Researcher); and Chris Cobb-Smith (Research Advisor)

SITU Research Team:
McKenna Cole; Akshay Mehra; Charles-Antoine Perrault; Bradley Samuels; and Xiaowei Wang

Amal Alamuddin, Philippa Webb, Annie O’Reilly, Jessica Dorsey, Sajid Suleman, Anna Bonini, Dawood Ahmed, Krista Nelson, Kristen Johnson and Matthew Oresman and all of their team at Patton Boggs, LLP, Peter Vedel Kessing, Michelle Lesh, Alon Margalit, Siavash Rahbari, Jessica Corsi, Lisa Hajjar, Eliav Lieblich, Mike Canada, Joshua Andresen, Ulrike Franke, Misa Zgonec-Rozej, John Jones QC, Todd Pierce and Colleen Rowley, Iain Morley, QC, Jasmine Zerinini, Pippa Woodrow, Ella Batchelor, Rehana Popal, Nathan Rasiah, James Edenborough, Sarika Arya, Alinda Vermeer, Bridget Prince, Chris Woods, Benedicte Diot, Johanna Hortolani, Blinne Ni Ghralaigh


In Afghanistan, the US and the UK have relied increasingly on RPAs as the conflict has progressed. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) there has been a steady recorded rise in the number of weapons released by RPA's between 2009 and 2012. Figures released by USAF in November 2012 confirm this. The number of RPA weapons releases rose from 294 in 2011 to 447 during the first 11 months of 2012. According to data released by CENTCOM in January 2013 RPAs then accounted for one in four of all ISAF air weapon releases. UK Reapers alone have flown over 46,000 hours in Afghanistan, averaging three sorties per day. As of the end of July 2013 there had been a total of 405 weapons discharged by UK operated RPAs in Afghanistan.

The first RPA-related civilian casualties were reported in February 2002. However, official estimates have not, until recently, disaggregated casualties by reference to the type of air platform used. At the end of 2012 UNAMA released disaggregated figures for the first time. These recorded 16 civilians killed and five injured due to confirmed RPA strikes during the course of the year. In its latest published figures, covering the first six months of 2013, UNAMA documented 15 civilian deaths and seven injuries in seven separate attacks by RPAs targeting anti-government forces.1 UNAMA acknowledges that these figures may be an under-estimate, but assesses that in recent years at least, confirmed RPA strikes appear to have inflicted lower levels of civilian casualties than aerial attacks carried out by other air platforms.2

The UK has reported only one incident in which four civilians were killed and two civilians injured in an RPA strike by the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Afghanistan on 25 March 2011. The incident was investigated by the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) at ISAF which concluded that the operation had been directed at two pick-up trucks believed to be carrying explosives, and found that the actions of the crew had been in accordance with the applicable rules of engagement.3 The US has also partially declassified the findings of one investigation report concerning an incident on 21 February 2010 in which 23 civilians were reportedly killed as the result of an attack on a convoy in which a Predator crew was found to have provided misleading situational information. The report found evidence of inaccurate and unprofessional reporting by the Predator crew, and a predisposition to engage in kinetic activity (the release of a missile). It recommended administrative and disciplinary sanctions.4

Since October 2013, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has reported a significant rise in confirmed civilian casualties reportedly caused by attacks in which remotely piloted aircraft were implicated. In its 2013 report, Afghanistan Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict5, UNAMA records 59 civilian casualties during 2013 as the result of 19 confirmed drone strikes6 (comprising 45 civilian fatalities and 14 non-fatal injuries). As compared with 2012, this represents a three-fold increase in the number of reported civilian casualties from the use of drones by ISAF.

1 UNAMA, Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Mid-year Report 2013.
2 This assessment has recently been called into question by media reports citing research which reached the opposite conclusion (said to be based on classified US data covering a twelve month period between mid-2010 and mid-2011). See US Drone Strikes More Deadly to Afghan Civilians than Manned Aircraft-Adviser.
3 See Air Assault Brigade Defence.
4 Memorandum for Commander, US Forces – Afghanistan, 13 April 2010, Executive Summary for AR-15-6 Investigation, 21 February 2010, Air-to-Ground Engagement into the Vicinity of Shahidi Hassas, Oruzgan.
5 Afghanistan Annual Report Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
6 The UNAMA report points out, at footnote 195, that “[t]he number of civilian casualties from drone strikes may be higher as UNAMA is not always able to confirm which type of air platform was used during an aerial operation (fixed-wing, rotary or remote-controlled) that resulted in civilian casualties”.