By Annie Shiel and Chris Woods
Karrar Sabbar was at his job as an airport security guard in Karbala, Iraq, when he was killed by American airstrikes. Saleh Ahmed Mohammad al-Qaisi was driving near a health center in Al Bayda, Yemen after visiting his family, when he was inexplicably targeted and killed by a U.S. drone. Eighteen-year-old Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar was in her home in Jilib, Somalia when the American missiles struck, killing her and seriously injuring her young sisters and grandmother.
These are just a few of the civilians behind the numbers in the latest Department of Defense (DoD) declaration to Congress on civilian casualties. The annual report, required by Congress under Section 1057 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), covers civilian casualties — deaths and injuries — that occurred during the prior year. Daniel Mahanty, Rita Siemion, Rahma Hussein, and Alex Moorehead covered the reports for 2019, 2018, and 2017 in previous Just Security articles.
Our organizations, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) and Airwars, welcome the release of this latest report, which is an essential tool for transparency regarding U.S. operations that harm civilians, and one that we hope other countries will emulate. But, disappointingly, the report for 2020 — the first to come out of the Biden administration — adds to the legacy of unrecognized harm by, once again, showing significant undercounting of civilian casualties. The report also indicates that the DoD has failed to offer amends to any civilian victims and family members in 2020, despite explicit congressional funding and authorization to do so.