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Air Force erases drone strike data amid criticisms

Quietly and without much notice, the Air Force has reversed its policy of publishing statistics on drone strikes in Afghanistan as the debate about drone warfare hits a fever pitch in Washington. In addition, it has erased previously published drone strike statistics from its website. Since October, the Air Force had been providing monthly updates ...

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<> on March 7, 2013 in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

Quietly and without much notice, the Air Force has reversed its policy of publishing statistics on drone strikes in Afghanistan as the debate about drone warfare hits a fever pitch in Washington. In addition, it has erased previously published drone strike statistics from its website.

Since October, the Air Force had been providing monthly updates on drone strikes — or in its words “weapons releases from remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).” But today, Air Force Times reporters Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta discovered something was amiss: The statistics published for February “contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been.” In other words: The drone strike data was gone. But that’s not all. The Air Force had also scrubbed drone strike data from earlier monthly reports. In the graphic below, we’ve provided a before and after of the Air Force reports:

So why the change in policy? 

The Pentagon told Air Force Times it had nothing to do with the change, while Air Force Central Command didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Everstine and Mehta point out that the timing of the changes is a tad suspicious given recent actions by a certain Kentucky senator:

On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).

That same day, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told a crowd in South Carolina that strikes by American RPAs have killed 4,700 people.

Coincidence?

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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