Up to 116 civilians may have been killed in US drone strikes outside of war zones, an assessment by US intelligence officials said Friday.
Between 64 and 116 civilians were killed in counterterrorism strikes outside of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the Director of National Intelligence said in a closely watched report expected to shed light on the United States' often secretive use of drones to target terrorists overseas.
There were 473 strikes taken against terrorist targets between the beginning of President Barack Obama's first term in 2009 and the end of last year, resulting in the deaths of up to 2,581 combatants, the report said. It did not provide a breakdown for where the strikes took place or how many deaths occurred in each strike.
The figure of civilian casualties falls far below estimates by non-governmental organizations that have been critical of the US use of the unmanned aircraft.
The US acknowledged that NGO analyses have put the figure of civilian deaths between 200 and more than 900 people, but claimed its numbers were based on more complete information and said some victims counted as civilians by outside groups were actually combatants.
Amnesty International welcomed the step toward greater transparency, but noted the figures could not be analyzed properly without knowing how the report determined who was considered a civilian.
"This is not the end of the public conversation on US drone strikes, but just the beginning," said Naureen Shah, director of the group's security and human rights programme.
The White House said the release of the figures was part of an effort by Obama to shed more light on the drone programme that has been a crucial part of his counterterrorism strategy.
"The president believes that our counter-terrorism strategy is more effective and has more credibility when we're as transparent as possible," spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The US has made heavy use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, and Obama first promised greater transparency in a speech admitting the use of drones in 2013. An analysis by the Stimson Center think tank earlier this year gave the administration poor marks on actually reforming its drone policy.
Alongside the numbers, Obama announced guidelines Friday formalizing his policies on the use of drone strikes and steps to protect civilians. The move provides guidelines to Obama's successor, but could easily be changed by future presidents.
It calls for the review of any civilian casualties and payment of reparations to the families of those who are killed.
The White House said in the future it will release figures on drone casualties annually on May 1.