Human rights advocates are calling the Pentagon's newly released figures on civilian casualties during President Donald Trump's first year in office a massive under-count that belies the true scale of carnage and reveals an absence of meaningful investigations into reported deaths.
In its required report to Congress, the Pentagon said Friday that "there are credible reports of approximately 499 civilians killed and approximately 169 civilians injured during 2017" as a result of military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. There were "no credible reports" of civilian casualties as a result of U.S. military operations in Somalia or Libya in 2017, the report claimed. There are still "450 reports of civilian casualties," however, that "remained to be assessed," indicating the Pentagon itself could increase the toll.
"Despite the best efforts of U.S. forces, civilian casualties are a tragic but at times unavoidable consequence of combat operations," the Pentagon's report said.
According to Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, the death toll the Pentagon is owning up to—a month late—seems "astonishingly low," calling the administration's "methodology, investigation, and credibility into question."
Consider, for example, that the monitoring group Airwars said in a tweet on Friday: "For reference, @airwars counted over 2,200 (more than 4x [the Pentagon's number]) civilian deaths due to U.S.-led strikes just in Iraq and Syria **during the first 6 months of 2017** alone. These were mostly—but not all—American strikes." Airwars also noted that in Raqqa, Syria, "1,400 civilians were killed by U.S.-Coalition attacks between June and October 2017."
Another data point to compare with the Pentagon's:— Airwars (@airwars) June 1, 2018
In Raqqa, where at least 95% of air and artillery strikes were American, @airwars estimates some 1,400 civilians were killed by US-Coalition attacks between June and October 2017. https://t.co/OeeIIcUWXKhttps://t.co/E2efC75KH9
In addition, in its assessment of 2017 the group found that at a minimum, 3,900 civilians were killed in Iraq and Syria by the U.S.-led coalition:
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Across Iraq and Syria, casualty incidents tied to likely Coalition strikes more than tripled compared to the year before. To date, the Coalition has conceded 93 events in which it confirms having killed or injured civilians during 2017—up from 58 such confirmed events for 2016. An additional 673 civilian casualty incidents were classified by Airwars researchers as 'Fair' for 2017. An event is assessed as fair when it has two or more uncontested credible sources, and where the Coalition has confirmed it carried out strikes in the area.
Overall, between 3,923 and 6,102 non-combatants were likely killed in these 766 events in 2017— a 215% increase on the 1,243 to 1,904 civilians estimated as likely killed by Coalition strikes in 2016. At least 2,443 additional civilians were reportedly wounded in these 766 events over the course of 2017, a significant increase from the year before.
Contributing to the inaccurate picture of civilian deaths is the Pentagon's failure to actually investigate claims of such casualties, says Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA.
Not only has the Pentagon "deemed that the vast majority of claims of civilian casualties are not credible without ever investigating them," she said that the "investigations that do occur by the Defense Department also do not appear to involve interviews with witnesses nor survivors, nor visits to the locations of the strikes. This further undermines their credibility."
"We call on the U.S. government to meaningfully investigate all claims of civilian casualties and to be transparent about who is killed and harmed in U.S. military operations," she added.
Assessing 2017 under Trump, commentator Sonali Kolhatkar wrote, "The greatest impact of Donald Trump's first year as president has been kept out of sight from most Americans. The wars the U.S. waged during Barack Obama's tenure have sharply escalated under Trump. The result has been a predictable and massive spike in civilian deaths."
"The monstrosities being carried out in our name, and with our tax dollars, are no less our responsibility when we ignore them," she wrote. "Trump's foreign policy may indeed be the most dangerous game he is playing as president."