Pentagon: US military operations killed 132 civilians in 2019

Greg Nash

U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia killed at least 132 civilians in 2019, a Pentagon report released Wednesday said.

The annual report, mandated by Congress, also said at least 91 civilians were injured in U.S. military operations in those countries.

The Department of Defense (DOD) added that its assessments did not find any civilian casualties from U.S. military operations in Yemen and Libya.

“All DoD operations in 2019 were conducted in accordance with law of war requirements, including law of war protections for civilians, such as the fundamental principles of distinction and proportionality, and the requirement to take feasible precautions in planning and conducting attacks to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and other persons and objects protected from being made the object of an attack,” the Pentagon said in its report.

In 2019, President Trump ended an Obama-era requirement to report on the number of people killed outside of traditional war zones in places such as Libya, Somalia and Pakistan. The Trump administration cited duplication with the Defense Department’s report, which Congress mandated in an annual defense policy bill.

The report ended by Trump included a tally of those killed in drone strikes carried out by the CIA, while the Pentagon’s congressionally mandated report does not measure those casualties.

Outside watchdog groups say the Pentagon severely undercounts the number of civilians killed. For example, prominent monitor Airwars, which tracks the war against ISIS, estimates U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria in the first half of 2019 alone killed between 416 and 1,030 civilians.

“The Department of Defense’s submission of this year’s report marks some progress in terms of transparency of U.S. military operations. The content of the report, however, suggests that the Pentagon is still undercounting civilian casualties,” Daphne Eviatar, the director of the Security with Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

“These reports can be a crucial accountability mechanism for thousands of families around the world waiting for justice, and a tool for transparency for everyone concerned about what is being carried out by the United States military in its operations every year,” Eviatar added. “But for these reports to meaningfully contribute to the accountability process, they must contain concrete information based on thorough investigations, and must lead to reparations for the families of the victims. So far, that’s not happening.”

The Pentagon report acknowledges differences in numbers from outside groups, arguing they are due to different methodologies. 

“Some organizations conduct on-the-ground assessments and interviews, while others rely heavily on media reporting. Although such information can be valuable, this information alone can be incomplete, and it is important to ensure its validity,” the report said, adding the U.S. military assessments incorporate information from outside groups as well as data not available to them such as intelligence sources.

The Pentagon report said at least 22 civilians were killed and 13 injured in Iraq and Syria, 108 killed and 75 injured in Afghanistan and two killed and three injured in Somalia.

The Pentagon also revised the casualty counts from 2018 and 2017. Additional assessments found another eight civilians killed in Syria in 2018 and 71 more civilians killed in Iraq and Syria in 2017, according to the report.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition fighting in the civil war that is supported by the U.S. military has been blamed for thousands of civilian deaths, but the Pentagon report looked at only U.S. military actions against ISIS and al Qaeda in Yemen.

The report said officials found “no credible reports of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military actions in Yemen during 2019.”

In Libya, the Pentagon said it got one report of possible civilian casualties out of the four strikes the U.S. military conducted against ISIS in 2019, but that a “review of operational data, video surveillance and other data” from intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance assets deemed the report to be “not credible.”

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