American officials are disputing the findings of a secret Pakistani government report, the first known internal Pakistani assessment of America's lethal drone program, that says U.S. drones killed scores of civilians in a three-year span and that nearly 100 of those were children.
The Pakistani report, obtained and published this week by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, details 75 drone strikes and their alleged collateral damage between 2006 and 2009. Of 746 people killed by drones in that period, the BIJ report says, at least 147 "are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children."
The government report, titled "Details of Attacks by Nato Forces/Predators in FATA" (Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas), is described as being derived from reports from "an extended network of government contacts" in the areas of the drone strikes, including local officials. Some information is drawn from paid informants, the BIJ said.
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secretive drone program, told ABC News they believed the Pakistani government's findings are unsubstantiated.
"The notion that the United States has undertaken operations in Pakistan that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis is ludicrous," a U.S. official said. "There is no credible information whatsoever to substantiate the report's distorted figures."
The official called the report's methodology into question, calling the information "indirect input from a loose network of Pakistani government and tribal contacts… far from authoritative."
The U.S. government has previously acknowledged accidentally killing civilians in its drone program since 2004, but put the total number at closer to 50. U.S. officials made that admission in 2011 when the BIJ published their own data on drone strikes, alleging 385 civilians had been killed in Pakistan since 2004 and that 168 of those were children. As with the new report, the U.S. officials called into question the methodology that led to those findings.
"We see the battlefield in real time; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism doesn't," a U.S. official said in 2011. "This group's allegations about individual strikes are, in every case, divorced from the facts on the ground."
The new Pakistani government report alleges that most of the children killed between 2006 and 2009 died in a single strike on a religious school in October 2006. The Pakistani report put the dead at 80 children, according to the BIJ. Local news reports at the time put the figure at 69.
In 2011, the U.S. official estimated that American drone strikes had taken out approximately 2,000 suspected militants, including high-level terror leaders, and this February, following criticism over the deaths of four Americans by drone strike – only one of whom was actually targeted -- the White House defended the kill program.
"We conduct these strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing, actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent further attacks and, again, to save American lives," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said then. "These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise."