In 2011, US security analysts received 327,384 hours of video transmission from drones, enough to watch nonstop for 37 years. It’s called “pattern of life” surveillance, meant to reveal suspicious behavior in the United States’ areas of interest. In Waziristan, a region in northwest Pakistan, three or four US drones now buzz overhead day and night.
The robotic voyeurs come armed: drone-launched Hellfire missiles have blasted more than 300 Waziristani homes, mosques and streets in a “covert” CIA-run war against Islamic militants since 2004. Yet despite constant video surveillance, facts about the war’s effect on local patterns of life are hard to find; drone footage is classified, and foreign journalists are barred from the region by the Pakistani government. No one knows how many civilians have died.
In May 2012, an anonymous US “senior administration official” assured the New York Times that accidental casualties in Waziristan numbered only in the “single digits.” Noor Behram, of Mirin Shah, Waziristan, disagrees. Since 2007, he has tracked down and photographed more than 70 drone-strike sites. He digs out missile fragments, bloody ID cards, scraps of clothing. Many of his photos show the bodies of children, wrapped in bright funeral robes or covered in dust, lying next to the rubble of their homes. Noor has seen more than 600 bodies, and makes his own estimate: every extremist killed by a drone costs 15 civilian lives.
In Waziristan, the US administration counts all “military-age males” killed in a strike zone as “combatants” unless their bodies are identified and posthumously proven innocent. But after an attack, it’s hard to prove anything. “We can’t say that it is exactly four persons,” a local recounted to Stanford University researchers of one February 2012 strike. “It could be five or six as well because they were cut into pieces.”
Dronestagram was set up in 2012 by UK writer James Bridle as a way to bring US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia a little closer to home. Bridle follows reports of drone strikes by the UK-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism, and posts annotated, satellite Google images of the strike zones on Instagram the very next day.
01.19.2013 8 dead, Beida Valley (YEMEN)
01.16.2013 8-18 dead, Babar Ghar (SOUTH WAZIRISTAN)01.03.2012 3 dead, Almsanh Bakifa (YEMEN)
12.09.2012 3-4 dead, Murah Shah (NORTH WAZIRISTAN)
11.07.2012 3 dead, Beyt al-Ahmar (YEMEN)
From the pages of COLORS #86 - Making the News.