“[The Department of Defense] assesses that there are credible reports of approximately 499 civilians killed and approximately 169 civilians injured during 2017,” reads the Pentagon’s report to Congress, as per CNN.
The casualty figures include those killed by airstrikes, and take in operations in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. The report did not include figures from Somalia or Libya, as there were “no credible reports” of civilian casualties there. The report added that a further 450 reports of civilian casualties from the same period have yet to be examined.
During the first year of the Trump presidency, bombing operations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan were all stepped up. 4,361 bombs were dropped in Afghanistan in 2017, compared to 1,337 in 2016. In Iraq and Syria, 39,577 bombs were released in 2017, up from 30,743 in 2016.
The yearly publication of the report has been mandatory since former president Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2016. This year’s report was originally due for publication in early May, but was delayed for unknown reasons.
The Pentagon kept records of civilian casualties under the Obama and Bush administrations, but was not legally compelled to make the figures public. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 380 and 801 civilians were killed by drone strikes alone between 2009 and 2015, as Obama ramped up the US’ targeted-killing program. That same program would result in the drone assassination of US citizens in Yemen and Pakistan.
Administrations past and present like to portray their military operations as clean and professional. Obama called his use of drone warfare “exceptionally surgical and precise,” while Trump described his airstrikes on Syria this April as “perfectly executed.”
Reality, however, is not as sanitized. The Pentagon report shrugs off civilian casualties, calling them an unavoidable consequence of war.
“Despite the best efforts of US forces, civilian casualties are a tragic but at times unavoidable consequence of combat operations,” it reads. “This is especially true when fighting in urban areas and against adversaries like ISIS and al-Qaeda who use civilians as shields and whose tactics include intentionally endangering the lives of innocents.”
According to another official report released this week by the United States Central Command, at least 892 civilians have been killed by coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria since the campaign against Islamic State (ISIS, formerly IS/ISIL) began there in 2014.
These figures are disputed, and Airwars, a nonprofit group tracking the war, claims that over 6,000 civilians have been killed since 2014.