By: Dan Mahanty and Alex Moorehead

In a recent essay, retired Major General Charles J. Dunlap Jr. argues that the release of official estimates of the numbers of civilians harmed in U.S. counterterrorism operations  is more likely to “confuse” a public when it comes to assessing the “propriety of the use of force.” Yet Dunlap—who is not alone in his view—is himself misleading when attempting to taint the practice of tracking and assessing civilian casualties by association with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s controversial use of enemy combatant casualty numbers as a metric for success in Vietnam. As Luke Hartig clarifies in his own response to Dunlap’s piece, counting the number of enemy combatants killed as a metric of military success is not the same as counting the number of civilians harmed as a way of assessing the costs of war.