The Slatest

Only One of Eight Americans Who’ve Been Killed in Drone Strikes Was Intentionally Targeted

President Obama leaves Thursday’s White House briefing on a drone strike that inadvertently killed two hostages.

Mark Wilson/Getty

The New York Times follows up Thursday’s White House admission that two hostages were accidentally killed in drone strikes with an overview of the killing program’s accuracy, or lack thereof. One arresting fact:

Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and lead author of a 2013 study of drones … noted that with the new disclosures, a total of eight Americans have been killed in drone strikes. Of those, only one, the American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who joined Al Qaeda in Yemen and was killed in 2011, was identified and deliberately targeted. The rest were killed in strikes aimed at other militants, or in so-called signature strikes based on indications that people on the ground were likely with Al Qaeda or allied militant groups.

By “most accounts,” the paper says, seven of those eight were jihadi operatives.

An estimated 476 civilians have been killed in American drone attacks, though, as Slate’s William Saletan wrote in 2013, most other weapons of war create even more widespread collateral fatalities. Slate’s Josh Keating wrote yesterday that drone strikes are likely to remain a favored Obama administration weapon despite this week’s news.