US military admits killing 23 civilians around the world in 2020

Pentagon says most civilian fatalities were in Afghanistan, as it admits additional civilian deaths from previous years.

Afghan men stand over the coffins of civilians, who according to the provincial government, were killed in a US-led coalition air raid [File: Parwiz/Reuters]

The US military has admitted responsibility for unintentionally killing 23 civilians in foreign war zones in 2020, far below figures compiled by non-governmental agencies. But it also acknowledged more civilian deaths from previous years.

The tally included civilian fatalities in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria, according to the Pentagon report.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) “assesses that there were approximately 23 civilians killed and approximately 10 civilians injured during 2020 as a result of US military operations,” the document read, part of an annual report required by Congress since 2018 although parts of it remain secret.

Most of the civilian casualties were in Afghanistan, where the Pentagon said it was responsible for 20 deaths, according to the public section of the report.

One civilian was killed in Somalia in February 2020 and another in Iraq in March. The document released to the public does not specify when or where the 23rd victim was killed.

The document says that although Congress allocated $3m to the Pentagon in 2020 for financial compensation to the families of civilian victims, no such compensation has been paid.

Higher count by NGOs

NGOs regularly publish much higher civilian death tolls in areas where the US military is active around the world.

The NGO Airwars, which lists civilian victims of air attacks, said that their most conservative estimates show that 102 civilians were killed in US operations around the world – five times higher than the official Pentagon figures.

The United Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) counted 89 dead and 31 wounded in operations by US-led coalition forces, Airwars said.

In Somalia, where the Pentagon recognises only one civilian death, Airwars and other NGOs estimate the death toll at seven, while in Syria and Iraq local sources report six dead, the NGO said.

“It is clear that the Defense Department’s investigations and acknowledgment of civilian harm remain woefully inadequate,” said Hina Shamsi with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Afghans protest against civilian deaths
Afghans protested in Kabul to denounce the spate of civilian casualties caused by Western forces in the country [File: Ahmad Masood/Reuters]

“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, who heads the ACLU’s National Security Project.

The report also acknowledged that 12 additional incidents in 2017 and 2018, which left at least 50 civilians killed and 22 others injured, “were inadvertently not reported in the past.”

One air raid in al-Zira in Iraq on January 6, 2017 left 16 civilians killed, and another in Mosul on January 12, 2017 that killed 12 civilians.

On August 13, 2017, a further 12 civilians were killed and six others injured following an air raid in Raqqa in Syria. At that time, the US and its allies were battling ISIL (ISIS).

On top of the 50 previously unreported civilian deaths, the Pentagon also said that 12 civilians were killed in al-Bayda in Yemen on January 29, 2017.

“Over the past several years, DoD has continued to refine its practices and procedures for reviewing reports of civilian casualties.”

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera