Casualties in Afghanistan, Iraq much higher than US admitted: NYT

Published December 21, 2021
Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, walk together after returning home from deployment in Afghanistan, at Fort Drum, New York, US. — Reuters/File
Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, walk together after returning home from deployment in Afghanistan, at Fort Drum, New York, US. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: Data collected after years of litigation and months of investigation persuaded The New York Times to conclude that civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were much higher than the United States ever acknowledged.

Summing up its efforts to probe the US wars in the greater Middle East region, the newspaper wrote: “The promise was a war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.” But the documents NYT obtained showed “flawed intelligence, faulty targeting, years of civilian deaths — and scant accountability”.

The newspaper got access to the Pentagon documents about the war through Freedom of Information requests beginning in March 2017 and lawsuits filed against the US Defence Department and the Central Command.

NYT reporters also visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed scores of surviving residents and current and former American officials. The findings, published this week in a two-part report, revealed that the US air war was “deeply flawed” and the number of civilian deaths had been “drastically undercounted”, by at least several hundreds, NYT reported.

The document contradicted the Pentagon’s claim that the drone technology made it possible to destroy a part of a house filled with enemy fighters while leaving the rest of the structure standing. The NYT report revealed that over a five-year period, US forces executed more than 50,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, with much less than the advertised precision.

Noting that before launching airstrikes the military must navigate elaborate protocols to estimate and minimise civilian deaths, the report acknowledged that often available intelligence “can mislead, fall short, or at times lead to disastrous errors”.

The newspaper pointed out that sometimes videos shot from the air did not show people in buildings, under foliage or under tarpaulins or aluminum covers. Besides, “available data can be misinterpreted, as when people running to a fresh bombing site are assumed to be militants, not would-be rescuers”, the report added.

“Sometimes men on motorcycles moving ‘in formation’, displaying the ‘signature’ of an imminent attack, were just men on motorcycles,” the report observed.

NYT cited three specific reports to prove this point. One such case was a July 19, 2016 bombing by US special forces of three presumed Islamic State militant group’s staging areas in northern Syria. Initial reports were of 85 fighters killed. Instead, the dead were 120 farmers and other villagers.

Another example was a November 2015 attack in Ramadi, Iraq, caused by a man seen dragging “an unknown heavy object” into an Islamic State position. The “object”, a review found, was a child, who died in the strike.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

Mianwali raid
Updated 02 Feb, 2023

Mianwali raid

The military needs to share intelligence with civilian agencies to neutralise the militant menace nationwide.
Corruption unlimited
02 Feb, 2023

Corruption unlimited

PAKISTAN’S consistent slide on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index over the last several...
Women police officers
02 Feb, 2023

Women police officers

IN a heartening development, a second female police officer has been appointed as DPO in Attock, weeks after the...
Road to perdition
Updated 01 Feb, 2023

Road to perdition

This is also the time of reckoning for those who sowed the seeds of a disastrous policy against militants.
Transport tragedies
01 Feb, 2023

Transport tragedies

TWO tragedies over the weekend illustrate the weak protocols governing the safety of transport in Pakistan. In fact,...
Disqualifying Jam Awais
01 Feb, 2023

Disqualifying Jam Awais

IT appears that there may be some kind of small punishment after all for PPP lawmaker Jam Awais, who was pardoned ...