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.