WASHINGTON — An unclassified report on how many civilians the U.S. military killed during 2018 drew sharp criticism by war monitoring groups on Friday.
The Pentagon report, ordered by Congress and released Thursday afternoon, said about 120 civilians were killed and 65 injured because of U.S. military activities in 2018. Those deaths and injuries occurred in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, the Pentagon said.
“Although civilian casualties are a tragic and unavoidable part of war, no force in history has been more committed to limiting harm to civilians than the U.S. military,” the Pentagon said.
The report covers these ongoing military engagements: Operation Inherent Resolve and other military actions related to Iraq and Syria; Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, including support to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led Resolute Support mission; U.S. military actions in Yemen against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS; U.S. military actions in Somalia against ISIS and al-Shabaab; and U.S. military actions in Libya against ISIS and al-Qa’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“DoD has no credible reports of civilian casualties from U.S. military operations in Yemen or Libya in 2018,” the report said..
The numbers were quickly put asunder by groups monitoring civilian casualties in war zones, some who noted the Trump administration in March rescinded the rule requiring U.S. intelligence officials to publicly disclose the number of civilians killed by drone strikes.
“As our table shows, public estimates place the actual civilian toll from U.S and U.S.-led actions ten times higher,” Airwars, which monitors and assesses civilian harm from international military actions, said.
Their statistics show 1,224 civilians were killed during 2018 in Iraq and Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia. Specifically, their numbers were 805 in Syria and Iraq; 406 in Afghanistan; 8 in Yemen; 3 in Libya and 2 in Somalia.
Airwars used numbers provided by the U.N. mission to Afghanistan, its own research and monitoring, and reporting by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that the numbers “simply are not credible” and suggested the Pentagon was eluding the congressional mandate.
The ACLU had previously noted international law prohibits the use of lethal force against civilians outside of armed conflict, “except in very narrow circumstances and as a last resort to prevent an imminent attack.” The organization also has condemned drone strikes that have taken place in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Niger and in other nations, “without congressional authorization or adequate oversight.”
“As the Trump administration doubles down on the secrecy of its killing of civilians abroad, Congress needs to continue exercising its oversight power,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in its statement. “The civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve greater transparency and accountability.”
Of the 13 strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2018 that resulted in civilian death or injury listed by the Pentagon, all but one were from the air. The most deadly was a May 14 air strike at Mishraq Village, Syria, that left 13 dead.
In the 37 strikes in Afghanistan in 2018 that resulted in civilian death or injury, all but eight were from the air. The most deadly were in Kunduz on July 19, that left 12 dead and one wounded, and in Helmand, a frequent target, on Nov. 27 that left 14 dead and three wounded.
The report said the U.S. conducted 36 airstrikes in Yemen, 47 in Somalia and 6 in Libya during 2018. An April 1 airstrike in Galgadud, Somalia, left 2 civilians dead, the report said.
The Pentagon also included revised information for 2017, saying that they now assess that 170 reports of civilian casualties during that year “were credible,” with approximately 793 civilians killed and approximately 206 civilians injured as result of U.S. military actions.
“It should be noted that CJTF-OIR, the U.S.-led Coalition to Defeat ISIS, as a matter of strategy and policy, considers all civilian casualties to be the combined result of “Coalition” action and jointly attributable to Coalition members,” the Pentagon said. “It is rarely the case that a single civilian casualty occurs solely from the actions of one nation’s military activities.”
Airwars and Amnesty International said in April that their new report shows that at least 1,600 civilians died in Coalition strikes on Raqqa, Syria, in 2017 during the battle to evict ISIS. The U.S.-led alliance acknowledged 159 deaths.