Haunting portraits of the victims of America’s drone war in Pakistan.
Photographs by Massimo Berruti
On the evening of Sept. 7, 2009, Sadaullah Wazir (above) was breaking a Ramadan fast with his family when drone missiles struck his grandfather’s home in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Early reports said the blast killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a high-level al Qaeda operative, but this was later proved false. According to the British human rights organization Reprieve, the only individuals hit were civilians. Sadaullah, who was around 15 years old at the time, lost his legs and an eye. Three of his relatives were killed in the blast. (Sadaullah died of an infection after this picture was taken.)
Since at least 2002, the United States has employed unmanned aerial vehicles as a key tactical weapon in the global war on terror. Although used to target militants in a range of countries, drone strikes have been particularly prevalent in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan, a known staging ground for al Qaeda and related Islamist forces. Drone attacks have undermined the al Qaeda leadership that coordinated the 9/11 attacks, but they also have slain hundreds of civilians.
Italian photojournalist Massimo Berruti has been photographing victims of American drone strikes, most of them from the tribal areas, since 2011. The Pakistan Army and militant groups restrict access to North Waziristan, so Berruti can only photograph his subjects when they are able to leave the area. In most cases, he has found, people who have survived drone attacks have little left in the way of support. “Their lives are wiped out, their houses destroyed, their families killed,” Berruti says. “Even if the government provided aid, this kind of loss is not refundable.”