Just how many people have America’s drones killed? Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has put the death toll at 4,700—the first time an American official has publicly put a precise figure on the impact of strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles. The South Carolina lawmaker's office said he was citing an estimate already discussed on cable television.
Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, used the figure during a question and answer session on Tuesday with the Rotary Club of Easley in his home state of South Carolina. His remarks were first reported by the Easley Patch.
“We've killed 4,700,” the lawmaker said. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we're at war, and we've taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida.”
Drone strikes, President Barack Obama’s signature tactic for killing suspected al-Qaida and other extremist fighters, have been “very effective,” said Graham. “It's a weapon that needs to be used.”
Drone war expert Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations noted on his blog that Graham’s figure lined up with the high-end estimate by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
“Either Graham is a big fan of TBIJ’s work, or perhaps he inadvertently revealed the U.S. government’s body count for nonbattlefield targeted killings,” Zenko said.
Graham's remarks, as reported, did not specify whether he was discussing CIA drone strikes or military drone strikes.
Obama's expanded drone war has broad popular support in the U.S., according to a poll released earlier this month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. That survey found 56 percent support such strikes and 26 percent oppose them.
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