US Airstrikes & Civilian Killings Since 9/11

Airwars puts the death toll between 22,000 and 48,000, with that large gap reflecting the difficulty of tracking these fatalities.  

2018 Chicago protest against the Saudi war in Yemen. The blue backpacks stand for each one of the children killed in the Saudi attack on a school bus with a bomb manufactured by Lockheed-Martin.(Charles Edward Miller, Flickr, CC BY SA-2.0)

By Kenny Stancil
Common Dreams

Airstrikes conducted by the United States have killed between 22,000 and 48,000 civilians since Sept, 11, 2001, according to a report published by Airwars, a military watchdog that monitors and seeks to reduce civilian harm in violent conflict zones.

The new analysis, released ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the retaliatory launch of the so-called War on Terror, came just days after a U.S. drone strike killed at least 10 members of a single family in Kabul amid the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Most media accounts point out that more than 7,000 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 wars, but only some go on to state the massive civilian death toll, and “almost exclusively in generalities,” researchers lamented.

While Brown University’s Costs of War project estimates that over 387,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the War on Terror, Airwars sought to answer a specific question: How many civilians have likely been killed by U.S. airstrikes in the last 20 years?

The answer, Airwars found, is least 22,679, and potentially as many 48,308 civilians.

Acknowledging the imprecision of their estimate, the group noted that “the gap between these two figures reflects the many unknowns when it comes to civilian harm in war.”

“Belligerents rarely track the effects of their own actions — and even then do so poorly,” researchers wrote. “It is left to local communities, civil society and international agencies to count the costs.”

The Pentagon has declared a minimum of 91,340 airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — seven countries the U.S. military invaded or assaulted with bombs or drones — in the past 20 years. Notable peaks occurred during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and between 2015 and 2017, the height of the military offensive against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Given the dubious nature of data supplied by the U.S. military — which notoriously undercounts civilian fatalities — Airwars “gathered together every reliable assessment of direct civilian harm caused by U.S. actions” to construct a dataset that includes information from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Iraq Body Count, The Nation, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and their own previous studies.

“Wherever possible we sought to measure civilian harm just from U.S. airstrikes but in some cases, such as the first years of the Iraq invasion, it was impossible to disaggregate airstrikes from artillery fire and other heavy munitions, which were therefore included,” researchers noted. “Likewise in some U.S.-led coalitions it was impossible to determine whether each individual strike was American, though U.S. airpower has dominated all such campaigns.”

Based on its comprehensive review of credible sources, Airwars identified 2003 as the deadliest year of the War on Terror, “when a minimum of 5,529 civilians were reported to have been killed by U.S. actions.”

“The next deadliest year was 2017, when at least 4,931 civilians were likely killed, the vast majority in alleged coalition bombing of Iraq and Syria,” researchers wrote. “However, if we include maximum estimates of civilian harm then 2017 was in fact the worst year for civilian casualties, with up to 19,623 killed.”

According to Airwars, 97 percent of reported civilian deaths during the War on Terror took place in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Joe Dyke, senior investigator at Airwars, told Middle East Eye that “for much of the last 20 years people living in Washington or New York could have been forgiven for forgetting their country was at war.”

“Whether a drone strike in a Yemeni village or a military base in rural Afghanistan, it often felt far removed — almost another world — but that isn’t how it felt for those millions of people living in those conflicts,” Dyke added.

Meanwhile, in an email responding to Airwars’ request for official military estimates of civilian causualties in post-9/11 U.S. wars, the Pentagon said that “the information you request is not immediately on hand in our office as it spans between multiple operations/campaigns within a span of between 18 and 20 years.”

This article is from  Common Dreams.

7 comments for “US Airstrikes & Civilian Killings Since 9/11

  1. pol bel
    September 10, 2021 at 21:21

    Bin Laden led the tango until everyone hates the US and they run out of credit. Mission accomplished!

  2. Crede Calhoun
    September 9, 2021 at 10:50

    Way way more than this.
    200,000 innocent Iraqis that did not attack us were killed according to the Lancet.

  3. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    September 9, 2021 at 09:46

    Depuis le début des opérations de destruction menées par le Nazgul de Washington en Afghanistan, ce sont des millions de morts que Washington a sur la conscience.

    C’est vrai! Mais la BÊTE n’a pas de conscience; vous connaissez la BÊTE, la dictature bourgeoise affairiste cléricale libérale.

  4. JDD
    September 8, 2021 at 20:47

    Brown’s study vastly undercounts the casualty toll of the so-called “war on terror.’ First, it counts only civilian deaths, ignoring the huge losses of combatants on both sides resulting from the US invasion and attempts at regime change which is Syria are over 500,ooo and at least 250,00s in Afghanistan, and perhaps another 50,000 in Iraq. Second, it does not consider the civilian deaths which resulted from disintegration of civil society and resulting sectarian warfare caused by the takedown of the governing institutions, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Recall the daily suicide bombings in Iraq in which over one hundred thousands were killed simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and add to that the carnage created by ISIS and US proxies in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Then also consider the number made homeless by the trashing of their cities and infrastructure, which measures in double-digit millions. Lastly, it does not account for the massive toll caused by the killer sanctions put in place after Desert Storm (500,000 children) and now causing widespread starvation in Syria. So put in perspective, the number of “387,000 civilians is a gross undercount, a practically useless number when assessing the true cost of the misnamed “war on terror.”

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      September 9, 2021 at 13:20

      Thank you. I agree.

    September 8, 2021 at 15:56

    Sapiens seem to follow the old rule of -“-An eye for an eye “—A tooth for a tooth .”

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      September 9, 2021 at 13:20

      Only when the eye or the tooth does not belong to them.

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