The US deploys military forces in over 150 countries around the world, with approximately 165,000 active-service personnel stationed outside its territories and hundreds of military bases covering nearly all the continents. Contrary to its pompous promises of maintaining peace in conflicted zones, what the US left behind is underestimated civilian casualties and innumerable untended families.
Last week, US Department of Defense (DoD) published its annual report on civilian casualties, confessing that there were some 23 civilians killed and 10 injured in 2020 as a result of US military operations in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. An additional 63 historical deaths and 22 injuries were reported for the years ranging from 2017 to 2019, mostly in Syria and Yemen, which “were inadvertently not reported in the past.”
The 21-page Pentagon document, quietly released and partly classified, has b-een a requirement under S-ection 1057 of the 2018 N-ational Defense Authoriz-ation Act (NDAA). Since 2017, 773 civilians in total have been killed and 335 injured based on US DoD’s own tally.
Independent observers and NGOs regularly publish much higher civilian death tolls than the figures that US is willing to admit. This year is no exception.
Airwars, a UK-based nonprofit company tracking and archiving international wars against Islamic State and other militant groups, estimated that a minimum of 102 civilians have been killed in US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria last year – five times higher than the official Pentagon figures.
The United Nations As-sistance Mission in Afgha-nistan (UNAMA) which has been recording extensive data on civilian harm since 2009 attributed 120 civilian casualties in 2020 to US-led coalition forces.
Casualties from US actions in Afghanistan, in particular, appear to have been officially undercounted. While the Pentagon reports only 20 deaths and 5 injuries caused by its own actions in the country last year, UNAMA says that US-dominated international forces killed at least 89 civilians and injured 31 further more.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liber-ties Union (ACLU)’s Nati-onal Security Project, accu-sed the Biden administrati-on of obscuring the full toll of US military operations. “The grossly inadequate official accounting for the costs and consequences of the US lethal actions abroad prevents meaningful public oversight and accountability for wrongful deaths and perpetual war policies,” Shamsi said.
While the US keeps trumpeting its contribution to regional stability and world peace, hundreds of victim families receive no compensation both morally and financially.
The DoD’s document admits that although US Congress allocated $3 million to the Pentagon in 2020 for financial compensation to the families of civilian victims, no such compensation has been paid so far. “It is striking that in 2020, the Defense Department did not offer or make any amends payments to impacted civilians and families despite the availability of funds from Congress,” said Shamsi. “Civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve far better than this.”
The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s research in 2019 indicated that there were inherent obstacles in US military’s investigations into civilian harm and a very high barrier for civilians to lodge a formal claim.
For instance, US military commander’s dual role in both directing operations and in ordering investigations of harm resulting from those operations creates an internal tension and a potential conflict of interest. Plus, the military rejects all external civilian casualty assessment and relies solely on its internal records. Non-military sources, such as survivors and witnesses, NGOs, and the media, are generally ignored. Worse still, there is no easily identifiable or accessible mechanisms for affected civilians to report military harms.
Take Afghanistan for example. After nearly two decades’ military presence in the country, the US has fought a war unwinnable. Its proposals for Afghan peace appear to be little more than lip service – over the years, the US has been trying to impose its own version of peace on this country, driven by its own agendas and priorities, without considering the will of the Afghan people. While the US attempts to drop out of the morass it first started, it’s now the innocent Afghan people who bear the brunt of the war legacies.
UNAMA revealed that, in the first half of 2019, more civilians were killed in Afghanistan by US (717) than by insurgents (531). Air strikes, mostly carried out by American warplanes, killed 363 civilians, 89 children included.
In 2020, according to UN Human Rights Office, despite an overall drop in civilians killed and injured, there was an alarming spike in civilian casualties since the start of Afghan peace negotiations in September. “Afghanistan remains among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian. I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
The exact number of US military-caused civilian casualties may never be truthfully revealed. Were the US proxy warfare worldwide counted, the figure would surely be much larger. If the US genuinely holds the belief that all lives are created equal, it ought to spare no efforts to provide a correct number for the deceased and compensate their families for its savaging military operations.
The biggest irony of the time is that the US, a self-styled human rights defender, is no better than a killer nation, a mass-killing machine, and slaughter central.