In the US, remote-controlled drones are considered great tools in the war on terror. For years Washington has sent these high-tech weapons into western Pakistan, lauding their precision. But a local journalist says he has photographic evidence that civilians are often the victims.
Noor Behram remembers why he started on his mission to photograph the scenes of drone attacks in Pakistan. The reason was 12 dead people — an entire family extinguished in what was officially a US attack on militants. But the 39-year-old, who works for Arabic language news network Al Jazeera, had sources in Waziristan who told him the official story was only half of the truth.
He climbed in his car and travelled from his home in Miranshah to Shawal, the location of the bombing, and he saw something that remains burned into his mind: charred body parts and shredded clothes, hanging from the trees.
“In actuality an American helicopter had attacked a hotel where insurgents were allegedly hiding out,” Behram said. “A family that lived on a neighboring slope heard the noise and watched the incident down in the valley. In this moment a US fighter jet roared over and shot a rocket at their home. Eight women and girls, along with four men, died.”
But on that day, June 27, 2007, the reporter found no word of this family in the newspapers — only news of killed extremists. The shock inspired him to photograph the unacknowledged death and suffering of civilian victims of the war in western Pakistan with the hope of publishing them someday.
“Most of the people are killed by American drones,” he said. “But reports on these incidents also say that a certain number of militants have been killed.”
Almost all of Behram’s photos come from locations in northern or southern Waziristan. They’ve been hit by rockets fired from drones manned from across the world — from control rooms in the US. “I can’t say how many extremists have been killed in reality,” he says. “All I can say is that most of the victims are not militants, but those who aren’t involved. Mostly women and children.”