Washington, DC (May 2, 2019) – In accordance with Sections 1057 and 1062 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), today the U.S. Department of Defense issued its Annual Report on Civilian Casualties in Connection with United States Military Operations. In response to the unclassified report, which states that 120 civilians were killed and 65 civilians were injured as a result of U.S. operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia during the preceding year, CIVIC’s U.S. Program Director Daniel Mahanty issued the following statement:
“At this time last year, we welcomed the first U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) report on civilian casualties as a step toward greater transparency in U.S. military operations. While there is still room for improvement, this year’s report shows progress and makes a substantive contribution to the public’s understanding of the impact of conflict on civilians, adding important details around how many civilians have been killed or injured as a result of U.S. or U.S.-led coalition operations. Unfortunately, as with regular reporting from active theaters of operations, the report very likely understates the number of casualties caused by U.S. military operations as a result of procedural and policy flaws that inhibit more accurate estimates.
“All the same, as a result of the report, we are better able to identify the DOD policies, methods, and procedures that are improving and those most in need of refinement, such as the way DOD assesses the credibility of external allegations, and the efforts made to actively seek information from civilians and third parties to further corroborate claims. Identifying room for improvement is critical to achieving more accurate assessments and estimates of civilian harm, both to ensure that such harm is acknowledged and, as appropriate, civilians are offered amends, as well as to enhance DOD’s own understanding of harm so that it can better prevent civilian casualties in future operations.
“The report brings into sharp relief the fact that U.S. government agencies that do not operate transparently may not be applying the same standards when using lethal force, which introduces an unnecessary degree of inconsistency and undermines the effort represented by the DOD report.
“This year, as we recognize the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council taking up Protection of Civilians on its agenda, we commend DOD for this critical step toward transparency around allegations of civilian harm. But more can – and should – be done. Just last year, the UN Secretary General called on all countries to develop national protection of civilians policies and adopt even higher standards of transparency. Today’s report, which is the result of a constructive exchange between Congressional and Pentagon leaders and ongoing dialogue with civil society, has the potential to achieve laudable levels of protection and demonstrate the benefits of transparency and constructive civil military relations to U.S. allies and partners.”